It was a pleasure to return to the leafy and beautiful school grounds of Wycombe Abbey last weekend for the second Wycombe Model Arctic Council (WYCOMAC), which took place alongside Wycombe Abbey’s Model United Nations conference.
Originally scheduled for January, WYCOMAC 2 was postponed to May due to the pandemic, and disruptions to scheduling meant that it was a small conference this year, with just 12 pupils from two secondary schools in the UK. But smaller diplomatic simulations often offer greater opportunities for speaking, negotiation and consensus-building, and in this regard WYCOMAC 2 didn’t disappoint. Small, yes—but bijou!
Like our other recent MAC conferences, SCOTMAC 1 and NORMAC 6, WYCOMAC 2 took place against the violent backdrop of Russia’s unprovoked and immoral invasion of Ukraine. Russia also happens to hold the rotating Arctic Council chair until May 2023, and soon after the invasion the other seven Arctic states issued a joint statement declaring that they were unable to proceed with Arctic Council meetings under current modalities. The Arctic Council’s vital diplomatic work has been paused since then.
War is a failure of diplomacy, and it was impossible to begin a model diplomacy conference such as WYCOMAC without first saying ‘No to war!’. Polar Aspect MAC conferences teach the principles of cooperation, collaboration and consensus—principles with which war is incompatible. In this context, WYCOMAC takes on special salience as a channel through with youth can demonstrate their commitment to dialogue, and their capacity for concord.
Fortunately, as explained in Polar Aspect’s statement on Ukraine, there was no question of any pupil, teacher or observer having to accept a fictive Russian chairmanship of WYCOMAC, as all Polar Aspect MACs are chaired by a third-party Secretariat that I myself direct. Polar Aspect MACs also respect the Arctic Council prohibition of the discussion of military matters. WYCOMAC delegates were therefore able to proceed with their simulation of the Arctic Council, an organisation that remains of enduring value, and to discuss the important the important environmental, social and governance challenges facing the region and its peoples.
At WYCOMAC 2, delegates discussed the continued transmission of Indigenous Knowledge from elders to youth. Indigenous Knowledge is vital to the cultural survival of Arctic Indigenous peoples, and its transmission between generations preserves and augments one of humanity’s vast storehouses of knowledge. Playing the roles of representatives of the eight Arctic States and six Arctic Indigenous peoples’ organisations that take part in the real-world Arctic Council, delegates spent two full days grappling with the challenges around this issue.
Negotiations began on the Friday in the context of a meeting of the Arctic Council’s Sustainable Development Working Group. In this meetings, delegates exchanged initial views on the meaning and importance of Indigenous Knowledge, and on concerns around its continued intergenerational transmission. The aim was to identify areas of agreement and disagreement to inform later negotiations. The WYCOMAC Secretariat documented discussions so that delegates could review them overnight. Delegates then adjourned on Friday evening for a delicious diplomatic dinner organised by Wycombe Abbey—followed by an impromptu disco!
On Saturday, delegates took on the roles of the Senior Arctic Officials of Arctic States and Arctic Indigenous peoples’ organisations, and they attempted to draft a jointly agreed declaration on the issue under discussion. As a small group, a few of whom had prior experience of MAC, they made impressive progress, focusing not only on the content of their declaration but also on the process of negotiations. They made effective use of informal discussions to work through disagreements and finesse wording, and efficient use of formal discussions to record their agreements. The small-group format also allowed me as WYCOMAC Director to use interventions and reflection sessions as much to help delegates gain a better understanding of the Arctic and the issue under discussion as to advise them on overcoming obstacles to reaching consensus. A perfect combination from a teacher’s point of view!
Though the conference was short and delegates had to use all their time, they nevertheless quite comfortably agreed the second High Wycombe Declaration. According to the delegates themselves, their success also owes much to the fact that all 12 of them were female, with a natural commitment to collaboration rather than a masculine tendency towards posturing! However that may be, it was extremely gratifying to observe these young women conduct their meeting with such deftness and professionalism, and to see how the MAC veterans amongst them had learned from the difficulties they encountered in earlier simulations. Many congratulations!
Feedback from the delegates after the conference suggests that they found the experience educational and enjoyable:
- ‘It was a great experience and I look forward to future MAC conferences!’ – Pupil
- ‘I really enjoyed this experience, and would love to participate in another Arctic Council if I have the opportunity to’ – Pupil
- ‘I definitely know more about the Arctic and Indigenous peoples after this conference’ – Pupil
- ‘I am particularly grateful in learning more about negotiation skills’ – Pupil
- ‘Only sad that it had to be cut down and changed on such short notice [due to the pandemic]! ‘ – Pupil
- ‘Very fun! Would recommend’ – Pupil
Very many thanks to all the pupils who took part in WYCOMAC 2, and to Wycombe Abbey for hosting us. Special thanks must also go to Polar Aspect associate Joshua Gray, who lent his considerable MAC talents to the simulation as rapporteur.
Wycombe Abbey have kindly invited us back already for a full WYCOMAC 3 next year, so if you or your school would like to take part, please don’t hesitate to contact us!
Amazing! Well done for running all of this in such complicated political circumstances. It must have added a heightened awareness of how fragile Arctic cooperation can be to a deeper understanding of how absolutely necessary it is.