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Collapse in Venezuela

Set in June 2018. Venezuela’s government defaults on foreign loans, and the ensuing financial panic precipitates a true economic and political collapse.


This case is set in June 2018.


After an economic collapse sparks popular protests, the president of Venezuela flees the country. Two members of the ruling party claim the presidency, but neither is able to stabilize the economy or establish full control. Meanwhile, protests continue, factions of the military abandon the government, violence escalates, and drug trafficking and paramilitary activity increase. Believing that the situation in Venezuela poses a threat to international peace and security, the UN secretary-general has called a meeting of the Security Council to formulate an international response. The response will entail balancing a variety of considerations, including economic stabilization, regional security, a stable flow of oil, protection of human rights, and restoration of democratic governance and the rule of law.

Lead Image
Venezuelan protest.

The Situation

Venezuela’s government defaulted last month on a large package of foreign loans, and the ensuing financial panic precipitated a true economic collapse. Their bolivars suddenly worthless, and with food and basic necessities in short supply, protestors stormed the Miraflores Palace, causing President Nicolas Maduro to flee the country. Two members of the ruling party have since claimed the presidency, but neither has been able to rally the disparate parts of the party, stabilize the economy, or establish control over most of the country’s territory. Meanwhile, protests continue and factions of the military have abandoned the government. Violence is escalating and Venezuela’s borders and coasts are increasingly unpatrolled, leading to rising reports of activity by drug traffickers and guerilla groups. The UN Security Council meets to weigh the situation, which both poses threats to global security and offers the chance to improve relations with an influential regional power and major oil exporter. The response will entail balancing a variety of considerations, including economic stabilization, regional security, a stable flow of oil, protection of human rights, and restoration of democratic governance and the rule of law.



  • Sovereign default and economic collapse
  • Peacekeeping, peacebuilding, and peacemaking
  • Weak states
  • Multilateralism
  • Political and economic ideologies
  • Sovereignty
  • Terrorism



  • Costs, benefits, and risks of military and other interventions
  • A stable flow of oil
  • Protection of human rights
  • Challenges of economic and political development
  • Regional security in the Americas
Guide Sections
UN logo
The UN Security Council

“I believe the people of the world rely on the United Nations to help them achieve two great purposes. They look to it to help them improve the conditions under which they live. And they rely on it to fulfill their profound longing for peace.”

— Harry S. Truman, President of the United States, October 24, 1946

1.1 Overview

The United Nations is the largest and most prominent international organization, its membership including nearly all the world’s countries. It was established in 1945, after the end of World War II, by the United States and some four dozen other countries in an effort to build a more peaceful and cooperative postwar world. The United Nations has four main priorities: to keep peace throughout the world, promote fundamental human rights, strengthen international law, and pursue “social progress” and higher standards of living.

One of the most important functions of the United Nations is the maintenance of international peace and security. This is primarily the task of the UN Security Council, a decision-making body that comprises fifteen countries—five hold permanent seats and ten are elected on a rotating basis. The five permanent members (known as the P5) are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The council’s main responsibilities are to evaluate threats to international peace and security and to promote the peaceful resolution of disputes. When a peaceful settlement cannot be reached, the Security Council can impose diplomatic or economic sanctions and even authorize the use of force to resolve conflicts and prevent new ones. Since its founding, the Security Council has addressed a variety of issues, such as civil wars, terrorism, arms control, and natural disasters.

Despite its prominent position, however, the Security Council’s influence is limited. Any action requires the unanimous agreement of the P5, meaning that no resolution can be adapted if even one permanent member votes no—or vetoes—the measure. This kind of agreement is often difficult to reach, especially when a permanent member thinks its interests will be jeopardized if the measure passes. Moreover, the United Nations lacks its own military forces and thus cannot compel countries to follow its directives. In other words, it has no enforcement power. In short, the Security Council can do only what its member states agree that it should do and are prepared to implement. These factors mean that countries, especially major powers, can bypass the Security Council or ignore its decisions. Nonetheless, the United Nations is the only organization with essentially universal membership, making it—despite its weaknesses—an important feature of international affairs.

The UN Security Council
UN headquarters in New York.

“We have never had a true system of global governance, much less a fully democratic one. Still, across many decades, we established solid foundations for international cooperation. We came together as united nations to build institutions, norms and rules to advance our shared interests.”

— António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, September 25, 2018

1.2 The UN System

Since its founding in 1945, the United Nations has grown to include 193 member states, several subsidiary bodies, and a network of offices and programs around the world. The nature of the issues on the UN agenda has evolved over time. The Cold War and its associated conflicts dominated for much of the twentieth century. Hostility between the United States and the Soviet Union held up much UN activity, and the Security Council was often deadlocked, given the veto each country held as a permanent member. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, this dynamic began to change. In the past twenty years, issues including climate change, terrorism, and international migration have shifted the UN focus away from interstate conflict to problems that transcend national borders.


The United Nations is divided into six principal organs or parts: the General Assembly, the Secretariat, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and the Security Council.

The General Assembly deliberates on the widest range of issues, spanning all areas of the United Nations’ work, and is the only body in which all 193 UN member states are represented, each having one vote. General Assembly resolutions are nonbinding—in other words, they are recommendations.

The Secretariat carries out the institution’s day-to-day work. Led by the secretary-general and comprising tens of thousands of staff members from various countries, the Secretariat administers peacekeeping missions; staffs UN offices around the world; and operates communications, financial, and many other functions. As the organization’s chief administrative officer, the secretary-general attends sessions of UN bodies, consults with world leaders and other interested parties, issues reports on the work of the United Nations, and acts as a spokesperson for the organization.

The United Nations also includes the Economic and Social Council, tasked with coordinating and discussing economic, social, and environmental issues; the Trusteeship Council, created to provide international supervision for decolonization and now largely inactive; and the International Court of Justice (ICJ), responsible for settling legal disputes between states.

See More
The UN Security Council
Un peackeepers.

“UN Security Council Resolutions are only as effective as their enforcement.”

— Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, December 17, 2015

1.3 The UN Security Council

The Security Council is tasked with identifying and addressing threats to international security. In addition, it makes recommendations to the General Assembly for the appointment of the secretary-general and the admission of new members to the United Nations. Security Council decisions are communicated through resolutions, which are formal texts that outline steps to be taken and the reasoning behind those steps. In the absence of agreement, the body may also issue presidential statements, which are similar in content and form to a formal resolution but do not legally bind member states.



Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States make up the permanent members of the council. The remaining ten members are elected by the General Assembly to serve two-year terms. In electing nonpermanent council members, the General Assembly considers two factors. It must consider the “contribution of Members of the United Nations to the maintenance of international peace and security and to the other purposes of the Organization.” In practice, this stipulation means that aggressive, norm-defying countries tend not to be elected to the council and that countries that contribute significantly to the United Nations (financially or in the form of personnel and equipment) appear more frequently. Second, nonpermanent members must reflect an equitable geographic distribution, meaning members must be elected from each of the major regions of the world.


The Security Council presidency is held on a rotating basis by both permanent and nonpermanent member states. The position rotates in English alphabetical order by country name, each country holding office for one month. The president presides over meetings and serves as the Security Council’s representative before all other UN organizations. However, it is the UN secretary-general, and not the Security Council president, who sets the agenda for council meetings. The president simply approves this agenda.

Subsidiary Organs

Various subsidiary organs exist to support the Security Council’s mission and implement its resolutions. These range from committees on sanctions, counterterrorism, and nonproliferation to international criminal tribunals that prosecute those responsible for genocide and war crimes. The council also maintains partnerships or close relationships with a variety of other elements in the UN system, such as the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, which manages peacekeeping field operations, and the International Court of Justice, to which it often refers cases.


Meetings of the Security Council are typically called when a state—even a nonmember (one of the two observer states at the United Nations or other states whose sovereignty is disputed)—brings a dispute to the Security Council’s attention, when the General Assembly refers a question to the council, or when the secretary-general raises a concern about international peace and security. Once the president decides that a meeting is necessary, he or she calls for a session to address the issue.

Both UN members and nonmembers, the latter if they are parties to a dispute being considered by the Security Council, are invited to participate, though nonmembers do not have a vote in the council’s discussions. If a Security Council member is party to the dispute being discussed, it must abstain (in other words, formally decline) from voting.

Both Security Council members and invited participants may introduce a draft of a resolution—a ruling or recommendation made by a UN body—expressing a Security Council decision. After debating proposals, any member may call for a vote. A resolution needs nine votes to pass. However, a dissenting vote from any of the five permanent Security Council members can defeat a resolution, no matter how many affirmative votes it receives. This powerful dissenting vote is known as the veto. Permanent members may use their veto for any reason; typically, they do so to stop resolutions that threaten their national interests. Security Council members may also abstain from voting; in such a case, a resolution passes as long as no other member exercises a veto. Permanent members sometimes abstain from a vote if they disagree with a resolution but are not sufficiently opposed to veto it.

Powers, Functions, and Tools

If a resolution passes, the Security Council has several powers that it can use to ensure that resolution’s implementation. Certain Security Council resolutions are considered legally binding on all UN member states, meaning that the countries are obligated to comply with the terms of the resolution. This sets the Security Council apart from other UN organs, which are empowered only to issue recommendations.

The United Nations’ founding document, the UN Charter, lays out the tools the Security Council can use to execute its work. These are established in Chapter VI and Chapter VII of the charter. Under Chapter VI, the council can only make recommendations of how parties should resolve a dispute. Under Chapter VII, however, the council may use more forceful methods. Generally, resolutions under Chapter VII are considered binding.

Chapter VI: Peaceful Settlement of Disputes

Chapter VI allows the Security Council to seek solutions to disputes by “negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means.”

Actions taken under Chapter VI include

  • referring legal disputes to the International Court of Justice,
  • recommending terms for the settlement of conflicts,
  • facilitating dispute resolution through a formal arbitration, and
  • launching peacekeeping missions.

The recommendations made under Chapter VI are just that—recommendations. They cannot be imposed on the parties concerned without their consent.

Peacekeeping missions may fall under Chapter VI or Chapter VII. In the case of Chapter VI missions, forces are deployed to help maintain a peace agreement, cease-fire, or other such arrangement that has already taken hold between warring parties. Peacekeeping missions under Chapter VI may include unarmed observers, lightly armed troops, or both. Their goal is to prevent new outbreaks of conflict and peacefully resolve disputes that arise. UN personnel tend to be stationed along a boundary line, such as a national border, and their role is usually to report infractions of peace agreements rather than to intervene. Critically, Chapter VI peacekeeping missions require the consent (or agreement) of the parties involved in the conflict, are considered impartial, and do not use force except in self-defense.

Chapter VII: Maintaining or Enforcing Peace

Chapter VII addresses “action with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression.”

Actions taken under Chapter VII include

  • severing diplomatic relations;
  • imposing economic sanctions, ranging from comprehensive economic and trade sanctions to more targeted measures such as arms embargoes, travel bans, and financial or diplomatic restrictions;
  • creating international tribunals, such as those for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia;
  • establishing or modifying peace enforcement or peace-building missions; and
  • calling for military intervention, either by multinational forces (organized, e.g., by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO]) or by regional organizations (such as the African Union).

Unlike Security Council resolutions issued under Chapter VI, those adopted under Chapter VII are binding. Two examples of Chapter VII resolutions are Resolution 1695, which in 2006 imposed sanctions on North Korea for its nuclear program, and Resolution 1973, which in 2011 established the legal basis for military intervention in the Libyan civil war.

One of the most frequently used tools under Chapter VII is the imposition of sanctions. Sanctions are restrictions on a country, organization, or individual, typically limiting the target’s ability to travel, trade, or access financial resources. They can be used to discourage certain future actions, such as building nuclear weapons, to pressure a party to act, or to punish it for violating international rules. Sanctions can target entire sectors of a country’s economy, but more commonly the Security Council pursues targeted—or smart—sanctions against certain industries, businesses, or individuals. These can include arms embargoes, travel restrictions, or financial asset freezes.

Sanctions have become a popular tool because they offer a way to intervene in an issue without the risks and costs associated with the use of military force. However, sanctions have raised some concerns as well. Critics have argued that even highly targeted sanctions can have unintended consequences, especially on already vulnerable populations. Furthermore, the Security Council lacks a concrete method of enforcing its sanctions, instead relying on individual countries to enforce them; if sanctions are weakly enforced, the target may be able to work around them, avoiding their effects and potentially discrediting the value of sanctions in the future.

If nonmilitary options, such as sanctions, fail to resolve a dispute, the Security Council may authorize a peace enforcement mission. Unlike Chapter VI peacekeeping missions, Chapter VII enforcement missions do not require the consent of the parties involved and are authorized to “take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.” The personnel involved may include heavily armed troops and may use force in situations other than self-defense. Chapter VII peace enforcement missions can take different forms. Sometimes they are undertaken by UN peacekeeping forces and operate under UN command, but in other instances they can be led by a coalition of member states authorized to do so by a Security Council resolution.

In practice, the line between Chapter VI and Chapter VII missions is not always clear. A Security Council resolution does not need to explicitly refer to the chapter it is invoking. Moreover, a mission’s mandate—or description of its mission—may change over time to adjust to changing circumstances; a mission established under Chapter VI may be expanded to also fall under Chapter VII if the situation evolves and requires a more robust intervention.

The UN Security Council
Migrants and UNHCR soldiers.

The world has changed and the UN should change and adapt. If we don’t change the council, we risk a situation where the primacy of the council may be challenged by some of the new emerging countries”

— Kofi Anan, Former Secretary General of the United Nations, September 23, 2015

1.4 Current Issues

The Security Council was able to expand its activities considerably at the end of the Cold War. Because the United States and the Soviet Union were no longer in direct opposition, the number of vetoes declined significantly and the council was able to take action on a greater range of issues, including civil conflicts, climate change, and humanitarian crises. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, international terrorism came to the forefront of the council’s agenda.

Despite this increased activity, the Security Council continues to face significant challenges. The United Nations greatly expanded its peacekeeping efforts after the Cold War. But peacekeeping missions have faced criticism for being underfunded, for being limited in scope, and for abuses committed by peacekeepers themselves. In some cases, such as in Rwanda in 1994, peacekeepers have been accused of failing to prevent genocide.

In recent years, renewed tension between Russia and the United States has emerged as an obstacle to Security Council action. Most notably, observers and Security Council members themselves have sharply criticized the council’s inability to take action on the Syrian civil war, despite multiple reports of war crimes and an estimated death toll of at least five hundred thousand people. Russia, an ally of Syria’s government, has vetoed several resolutions aimed at stabilizing the conflict and alleviating the growing humanitarian crisis, arguing that any such resolution would be a violation of Syria’s sovereignty (in other words, the Syrian government’s authority over its territory). Use of vetoes has increased in the last decade, Russia and the United States casting the majority of them.

These challenges have led many UN members, including the United States, to call for changes to the Security Council. Many observers argue that the council’s composition, which allots the five permanent seats to the winners of World War II (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), does not reflect the power structure of today’s world. They argue instead for extending permanent membership to more members. Another source of criticism has been the P5’s veto, which, critics assert, undermines the council’s ability to take action.

Reform, however, is controversial and complicated. Any reform of the Security Council would require an amendment to the UN Charter that is approved and ratified by a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly and then a vote in the Security Council, where the permanent members would enjoy their usual right to veto. Given this, any reform of the UN Security Council that is not supported, or at least tolerated, by the P5 is unachievable, and garnering such support or tolerance will almost certainly prove impossible.

Guide Glossary


arbitration:a method of dispute resolution in which the parties submit their claims to an agreed-upon and impartial third party, who renders a decision that the parties agree to obey.


cease-fire:an agreement by one or more parties to a conflict to end military activities at a specified time, often for the purpose of allowing the pursuit of peace negotiations or the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Cold War:the contest between the United States and the Soviet Union—and, by extension, capitalist democracy and communist dictatorship—that characterized international politics between the post–World War II years and the early 1990s. Deemed a “cold” war because the rivalry never resulted in direct warfare between the two, the contest nevertheless sparked proxy wars in other countries and many close calls, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.


embargo:a ban on trade with a certain country or entity. Embargoes can restrict the trade of all goods, or target certain commodities, such as weapons.


genocide:the intentional mass destruction of a group of people based on religion, ethnicity, or another identity or characteristic. The United Nations (UN) recognized the act of genocide as a crime under international law in 1948.


international law:a body of formal rules and norms considered binding among states. It is one of the organized bases upon which states interact with each other in the international system. Sources of international law include treaties, such as formal bilateral defense pacts or the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and international customs, such as general prohibitions against slavery and genocide, many of which are also formally codified.


norm:a broadly accepted principle of behavior that may not be formally written but is generally agreed on and followed by members of a group, such as countries in the international system.


Resolution:a formal document articulating an opinion or decision by a UN body.


sanction:a tool of statecraft, frequently involving economic measures such as asset freezes and trade restrictions, used to exact a certain behavior or outcome from another party. The U.S. and EU sanctions against Russian companies and individuals that aim to encourage Russia to end its interference in Ukraine are an example.
sovereignty:supreme or absolute authority over a territory.
Soviet Union:officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the political entity in existence from the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution to the early 1990s that encompassed modern-day Russia and fifteen neighboring countries. With a communist economy and totalitarian system of government, the Soviet Union grew to be the other major superpower in the post–World War II era. As such, it was the principal antagonist of the United States during the Cold War.


terrorism:the use of violence to incite fear and achieve an objective, usually a political one.
trusteeship:the supervisory administration of a territory by another country. The intention is generally to help the territory prepare for independence. One of the core functions of the United Nations, upon its founding in 1945, was to supervise various territories governed under trusteeship. Over time, all became autonomous or independent.


United Nations:an international organization composed of 193 independent member states that aims to promote international peace and stability, human rights, and economic development. The United Nations was established in 1945 and remains the only organization with practically universal membership among the world’s countries. It includes the Security Council, General Assembly, and a range of other bodies; a secretary-general, currently Ban Ki-moon, serves as its leader. The United Nations also has an array of affiliated programs and agencies, such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
United Nations Security Council:the principal UN body charged with maintaining international peace and security. The UN Security Council is the only UN body with the authority to pass resolutions that are binding on the 193 UN member states. It includes five permanent member states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and ten rotating members elected to two-year terms. The five permanent members have veto power over resolutions, making their agreement necessary for a resolution’s approval. This structure provides strong international legitimacy to Security Council resolutions but also stymies action when the major powers disagree.


Veto:the right to reject a decision and block it from taking effect. The UN Security Council’s five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) each have the ability to veto Security Council resolutions.


Yugoslavia:a former country in Southeastern Europe. Between 1992 and 2008, Yugoslavia broke into seven independent countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia.
Case Notes Sections
Venezuela protest
Venezuelan protest.

“Venezuela is the victim of world media attacks designed to construct a supposed humanitarian crisis so as to justify a military intervention.”

Nicolas Maduro, President of Venezuela, October 13, 2018

2.1 The Issue 

Home to thirty-one million people, Venezuela plays an important role in South America and the global economy. This role is driven largely by its energy wealth, which is powered by the world’s largest known oil reserves. This oil is important to a number of economies, including those of the United States, China, India, and many Caribbean countries. Despite this central role, Venezuela presents a significant challenge to international peace and security. In recent years, political and economic conditions in the country have grown increasingly unstable, posing a threat to the economies and security of its neighbors and trading partners and fueling a growing humanitarian crisis.

Under Hugo Chavez, a leftist leader who governed Venezuela from 1999 until his death in 2013, the government enjoyed years of domestic approval—in part because of its extensive spending on social programs, made possible by high oil prices. But Chavez’s economic policies—such as increasing market interventions and mismanagement of the state-owned energy company—spurred inflation and led to declines in investment and production in the non-oil sectors of the economy.

The government lost political support after Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s longtime deputy, took over as president in 2013. Maduro’s administration repeatedly responded to challenges by cracking down on dissent. It arrested opposition leaders and accused Western countries of meddling in its domestic affairs. In 2014, the plummeting price of oil drove Venezuela’s economy into further crisis, as oil is the country’s only major export. Meanwhile, crime escalated in many forms that continue today. In urban areas, including the capital, Caracas, kidnappings, murder, and robbery plague both affluent and poor neighborhoods. Terrorist organizations such as the Colombian National Liberation Army (ELN) use the rural Venezuela-Colombia border as a safe haven and drug-trafficking corridor.

Venezuelan protest.
Caracas aerial view

 “I never thought we could find ourselves in this situation. We’re not used to living like indigents. But Venezuela is destroyed. People are dying of hunger.”

— Ana Garcia, Venezuelan citizen, April 18, 2018

2.2 Background

Political and Economic History

Venezuelans enjoyed one of the highest living standards in Latin America during the twentieth century, thanks largely to the country’s immense oil wealth. The government poured money into modernization projects, including roads, railways, schools, housing projects, industrial parks, and hundreds of state-owned enterprises. During the mid-1980s, however, oil prices plummeted, leading to a decade of economic crises. Severe inflation and growing unemployment gave rise to discontent among Venezuela’s poor. Measures taken by the government to cut spending and raise taxes sparked unrest, which ultimately unraveled the traditional political system.

Unhappiness with the economic and political situation led to the election of Hugo Chavez as president in 1998. He ran under the banner of his newly created political party, which called for an end to corruption, more spending on social programs, and a redistribution of oil wealth. Chavez won the election with 56 percent of the vote, ushering in what he called twenty-first-century socialism, or Chavismo.

Chavez used both democratic and antidemocratic tactics to consolidate and maintain his power, including rewriting the constitution in 1999, firing government employees not loyal to him, and cracking down on freedom of expression after an attempted coup in 2002. During his presidency, Chavez also restructured the economy and increased spending significantly. He used oil proceeds and debt to boost government spending on social programs, an integral part of his populist appeal. Social spending rose to 21 percent of the gross domestic product in 2006, four times the 1998 figure. Military spending also increased. Between 2004 and 2011 the government bought $13 billion in arms, more than any other Latin American country. But these increases in social and military spending occurred as Venezuela’s main revenue stream, oil, was becoming less profitable. Crude oil production fell from a high of 3.3 million barrels per day in 1997 to 2.5 million per day in 2013. To fund its expenditures, Venezuela began borrowing heavily from other countries. Its public debt increased almost sevenfold, from $31 billion in 1999 to $216 billion in 2012.

Chavez nationalized other sectors of the economy in addition to the oil industry, including cement, electricity, steel, and telecommunications. Nationalization hurt domestic businesses, reduced local entrepreneurship, and weakened the non-oil economy, making foreign companies wary of investing in Venezuela. The erosion of the non-oil economy; declining production at the state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA); and years of excess spending laid the foundation for a full-blown economic crisis.

Foreign Relations

Upon coming to power, Hugo Chavez adopted an anti-West stance, seeking to undermine U.S. interests in the region and build closer ties with Venezuela’s Caribbean and Latin American neighbors. He launched several initiatives to bolster economic cooperation in the region and with allies, including selling heavily subsidized oil and pursuing strategic alignments with authoritarian powers such as China, Iran, and Russia. Venezuela signed a major weapons deal with Russia in 2005 and soon became one of its most important customers. Iran also invested in the Venezuelan oil industry and sold arms to its government. Venezuela’s relationship with China is mostly based on foreign investment, oil, and trade. All of this has contributed to Venezuela’s position as a regional center of anti-Americanism. Yet Venezuela has continued to sell its oil to the United States—nearly seven hundred thousand barrels per day in 2017.

Venezuela’s neighboring countries—Brazil, Colombia, and Guyana—also have clear economic, political, and security interests in Venezuela, in part because of the significant number of refugees seeking to flee Venezuela. Of these countries, Colombia has been the most affected by the refugee flow. As of 2018, at least 660,000 Venezuelan refugees had entered Colombia, most citing food scarcity as their reason for leaving Venezuela. Colombia has also accused Venezuela many times of allowing criminal and terrorist organizations to seek safe haven in its territory; as Venezuela’s government weakens, the ungoverned spaces between Venezuela and Colombia become more susceptible to these groups.

Current Events

Chavez died from cancer in 2013, two months into his fourth term. His handpicked successor, Nicolas Maduro, narrowly won the special election following Chavez’s death but, lacking Chavez’s charisma and military ties, could not command the same support. Maduro had less influence on the disparate ruling party factions and leadership than Chavez did and was unable to rectify the worsening economic and political crisis. As oil prices fell, the economy contracted 10 percent in 2015, and inflation skyrocketed. Inflation officially topped 180 percent that year—and reached 80,000 percent in 2018. Facing $10 billion in debt payments in 2016 and few possibilities of loans from traditional creditors, Venezuela had little money to pay for even basic food imports.

The Maduro government has become increasingly autocratic; as the government took steps to consolidate power, the spring and summer of 2017 saw a wave of violent protests. In March, the Venezuelan Supreme Court briefly stripped the National Assembly of power and later banned opposition leader Henrique Capriles from running for office for fifteen years. In July, the country held elections for members of a new assembly tasked with rewriting the constitution. Because the opposition boycotted the vote, members of Maduro’s party won all the seats on a violent election day. The elections, though widely denounced by the opposition and the U.S. government, enabled Maduro to seat a legislative “superbody” with the authority to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution. The new Constituent Assembly is empowered to enact laws on a range of issues, effectively stripping the opposition-run National Assembly of its authority.

Venezuelan protest.
Maduro in front of a Chavez mural

“What we hope is that dialogue can be possible and that we avoid an escalation that could lead to the kind of conflict that would be a total disaster for the Venezuelan people and for the region.”

— Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, January 24, 2019

2.3 Role of the UN Security Council

The deteriorating conditions in Venezuela are a growing economic, political, and security challenge to Venezuela’s regional neighbors and the world at large. The instability could further facilitate the spread of drug trafficking and terrorist groups in the region. Additionally, because Venezuela is the world’s eleventh-largest producer of crude oil and sells large amounts of its oil on the global market—most notably to the United States, China, and India—an interruption in Venezuelan oil flows could raise global oil prices, driving up costs for both manufacturers and consumers. Petrocaribe countries risk more severe economic effects from Venezuela’s disorder. Moreover, the humanitarian crisis is worsening, and neighboring countries are limited in their capacity to receive and provide for the increasing number of refugees from Venezuela.

For these reasons, the United Nations has a strong interest in restoring stability to and improving humanitarian conditions in both Venezuela and its neighbors. UN agencies, alongside other aid organizations and the United States, have supplied humanitarian assistance to Colombia, though the country still struggles to keep pace with the worsening situation. Maduro, for his part, has refused offers of foreign aid, denying that any crisis in Venezuela exists. But current circumstances, which have led him to flee the country, may present an opportunity to both deliver aid directly and act to restore stability in Venezuela.

Although action by the Security Council could greatly improve conditions in Venezuela, establishing a consensus among council members will be difficult. Venezuela’s long-standing opposition to the United States and the economic and diplomatic ties Caracas has maintained with Beijing and Moscow may give rise to diverging interests among the permanent members of the Security Council. Council members will need to navigate these conflicting interests and act quickly to forge a course of action on Venezuela.

Policy Options

In this context, the UN Security Council has four major policy options to consider. Most are not mutually exclusive and can be combined.

Diplomatic and Economic Interventions

The Security Council could use various diplomatic and economic methods to help reestablish basic order and support the reemergence of democratic institutions and economic stability in Venezuela. One option is to facilitate or support negotiations toward a democratic transition. These could take place under the auspices of the UN secretary-general or be mediated by an outside organization, such as the Organization of American States, of which Venezuela is a member. If the Security Council can bring Venezuelan leaders to the table, it could push for elections to decide the country’s future—elections that the United Nations could facilitate and monitor.

In economic terms, the Security Council could offer funds or other assistance to keep Venezuela’s oil flowing, provide emergency loans, and help Venezuela renegotiate its debt. The International Monetary Fund or Inter-American Development Bank could be called on to provide Venezuela with emergency loans to provide basic services for its citizens. The council could also facilitate the renegotiation of Venezuela’s debt to other countries, international banks, or international organizations, enabling the country to lessen its debt burden and return to international markets. Financial and diplomatic actions can also reinforce each other. For example, economic benefits could be tied to holding elections. Alternatively, the Security Council could threaten or enforce sanctions on Venezuelan leaders who are preventing a negotiated political transition.

This option is likely to be less controversial among the Security Council’s permanent members than a more robust response would be. If successful, it could help restore stability to Venezuela; a new Venezuelan leader could begin the process of rebuilding Venezuela’s economic and political institutions. However, such a result cannot be guaranteed; it is not even certain that Venezuelan leaders would listen to calls for negotiations. Moreover, the desirability and effectiveness of diplomacy is likely to depend on who it is that takes power.

Establish a Peacekeeping Mission

The Security Council could seek to adopt a resolution establishing a peacekeeping mission in Venezuela. The mission would likely be established concurrently with political negotiations and would have the mandate of ensuring access to humanitarian aid and preventing civil conflict among rival political factions. Such an operation would be undertaken under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, meaning that peacekeepers would operate primarily as observers and mediators, using force only in self-defense.  

A peacekeeping mission could facilitate a peaceful resolution to the crisis and greatly improve Venezuelans’ access to critical aid. Gaining the support of the permanent members to establish such a mission would be difficult, however. Even with their support, a Chapter VI peacekeeping mission would require the consent of Venezuelan leaders, who might be reluctant to allow UN troops to enter the country. Moreover, a peacekeeping mission would be expensive. The Security Council would need to request contributions of troops and supplies from UN member states, who might not want to put their troops at risk. Venezuela’s military is well armed, given heavy military investment under Chavez; if peace breaks down and leads UN forces into conflict with the Venezuelan military, the mission could see significant casualties.

Call for Military Intervention

The Security Council could adopt a resolution declaring one or both claimants to Venezuela’s presidency illegitimate and calling for an intervention to restore and maintain order, facilitate an agreement among competing political groups, and oversee a political process leading to free and fair elections. Such an intervention could be undertaken by an individual state, a coalition of states, or a regional organization such as the Organization of American States. Authorizing a military intervention in Venezuela is the most extreme option, but the one most likely to bring about lasting change. It would likely be better supplied and consist of better-trained troops than a Chapter VI UN peacekeeping mission. Moreover, authorizing an intervention by UN member states would fall under Chapter VII of the charter, not Chapter VI, meaning it would not require the consent of Venezuelan leaders, and troops would be able to use force for reasons other than self-defense.

However, a military intervention would be the most difficult option to implement. First, a resolution calling for intervention is likely to be controversial among Security Council members, especially given the conflicting interests of the veto-wielding permanent members. Even if the resolution were to pass, success could not be guaranteed. A military intervention would likely be opposed by political leaders—and perhaps citizens—in Venezuela and the region more broadly. An intervening force would in all probability face fierce resistance, putting personnel at risk and adding to the challenge of mounting a diplomatic process leading to a democratic transition. All the while, forces would need to assist in the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Venezuelans enduring violence, shortages of basic goods, and other consequences of the crisis.

No Action

The Security Council could decide that it would be unable to take meaningful action on Venezuela in light of conflicting interests among council members. In this case, Security Council members could issue a presidential statement expressing concern about the situation but ultimately leave action up to individual states. As the situation worsens, however, this decision could give rise to criticisms of the Security Council for failing to take action in a humanitarian crisis.

See More

Case Notes Glossary


austerity:strict economic measures, such as tax increases and cuts to social spending, intended to reduce government deficits and debt. Such programs are common as a condition of bailout funds, including in Europe’s financial crisis in recent years. Austerity’s champions, such as Germany, view it as an essential step for indebted governments to rein in their spending. Detractors, such as the United States and countries receiving bailouts, such as Greece, argue that austerity compounds human misery and stymies the growth necessary for countries to eventually pay down their debts.


bilateral:undertaken between two entities, generally countries.


Chavismo:Hugo Chavez’s ideology of twenty-first century socialism. Though not precisely defined, Chavismo tended to include a populist focus on providing social and economic benefits to the masses, as well as anti-corporate and anti-American sentiments. Chavez also emphasized popular political participation, though in practice he sought to strengthen his personal political control.
coup d’état:a government takeover, often led by the military, that does not use the country’s codified mechanisms for changing power (such as elections).


default:failure to make a payment on a bond or loan as scheduled.


fuel subsidy:a government payment intended to lower the cost of fuel for drivers and other consumers. The payment can take various forms but typically compensates producers for charging less than market price. Though often criticized for burdening government budgets while encouraging wasteful consumption, subsidies are tremendously popular among consumers and therefore difficult for governments to remove.
Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia):left-wing, nominally Marxist guerrilla group that has fought against the government of Colombia since it was established in 1964. Designated by the United States as a terrorist organization in 1997, the FARC derives most of its revenue from kidnapping and drug trafficking, for which it uses the Venezuelan-Colombian border region as a safe haven. The Colombian government and the FARC signed a peace deal in 2017, though criminal gangs and other guerilla groups have expanded their activities in the dissolved group’s wake.


Hugo Chavez:the leftist president of Venezuela from 1999 until his death in 2013. Chavez first came to national attention as an army officer when he led a failed coup d’état in 1992. After running for president on a socialist platform, he restructured the economy, increased social spending, pursued regional cooperation with leaders sympathetic to his ideology, and expressed vehement anti-American views.


International Monetary Fund (IMF):a multilateral financial institution established in 1944 that exists to foster stability and growth in the international monetary system, in part by observing countries’ monetary and currency exchange policies and providing them with technical assistance. As the global economic crisis firefighter, the IMF offers loans to struggling countries, usually conditional on the adoption of certain policies to manage their economies and return them to sustainable growth.


multilateral:undertaken among three or more entities, usually countries. The term frequently describes organizations such as the United Nations (UN).


National Liberation Army (ELN):a guerilla group, founded in 1964 by radical Catholics inspired by Cuba’s communist revolution, whose principal adversary is the Colombian government. Smaller than the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the ELN has nonetheless mounted deadly attacks and earned significant revenue from kidnapping, extortion, and, more recently, drug trafficking. Designated by the United States as a terrorist organization in 1997, the group has participated in on-and-off peace negotiations with Colombia’s government.
nationalization:a process in which a private business or industry becomes a public one operated by a national government. Nationalization may or may not involve compensation to the previous owners. Leaders may nationalize businesses or industries in order to seize greater control of profits or natural resources, but may also do so for other reasons, as when the United States nationalized the provision of airport security after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Nicolas Maduro:the president of Venezuela since 2013 and Hugo Chavez’s longtime deputy and handpicked successor. Many Venezuelans and observers see Maduro as less charismatic than Chavez, and his tenure has suffered from a shortage of legitimacy and decreased influence on party leadership, the military, and government institutions, compounded by Venezuela’s worsening economic crisis.


oil price shock:a large and rapid change in the price of oil. The term typically refers to a price increase, which tends to hurt consumers and countries that import oil. However, the price of oil can also quickly decline, reducing the income of oil-producing countries such as Venezuela.
Organization of American States (OAS):a regional organization whose membership consists of the thirty-five countries of the Americas. Founded in 1948 to strengthen peace, democracy, and cooperation among its members, the OAS today works on such issues as human rights, security, development, and democratization. Over the decades it has undertaken initiatives to monitor human rights, provide electoral oversight, promote development, and enhance security in the region.
Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC):an organization of twelve oil-producing countries seeking to coordinate their policies in order to keep oil markets stable and advance their interests as producers. In particular, OPEC often seeks to affect oil prices by increasing or decreasing production, though its ability to do so is imperfect. Venezuela was among five founding members of OPEC in 1960.


Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV, or United Socialist Party of Venezuela):the ruling party of Venezuela, founded by Hugo Chavez in 2007 through a merger of coalition parties.
PetroCaribe:a program established by Hugo Chavez in 2005 in which Venezuela provides subsidized oil to thirteen Central American and Caribbean countries.
Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA):Venezuela’s state-owned energy company. Long a massive source of government revenue, PDVSA’s operations began to falter as Chavez sought greater control over the company and failed to reinvest enough money to keep its production steady.


referendum:a vote, typically organized by a government, in which participants approve or reject a certain policy proposal. This is a form of direct democracy, in which citizens themselves (as opposed to elected representatives) make a policy decision.
refugee:an individual forced to leave home due to conflict or natural disaster who, unlike an internally displaced person (IDP), crosses a recognized international border and does not stay in his or her home country.


sanction:a tool of statecraft, frequently involving economic measures such as asset freezes and trade restrictions, used to exact a certain behavior or outcome from another party. The U.S. and EU sanctions against Russian companies and individuals that aim to encourage Russia to end its interference in Ukraine are an example.


unilateral:undertaken by only one entity, generally a country.
Role Play Sections
Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.
Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.
Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.

3.1 Role

Welcome to your role as a participant in the UN Security Council (UNSC)! You should have received an email with your role assignment, but if you did not, you can view your assignment by clicking on the “My Simulations” tab on your account page. At this point, you should have reviewed essential background information about the UN Security Council, read the case, watched the accompanying videos, and perused some of the additional reading. Whether you have been assigned a specific role as an individual or part of a group, we suggest you read the case once again to identify material that is particularly relevant to your role or that requires further investigation. After that, you will conduct independent research as you write your draft resolution clauses and prepare for the role-play.

There are four subsections that follow. Research and Preparation (3.2) will aid your research for the draft resolution clauses and provide additional reading to guide your research; the Guide to the Draft Resolutions (3.3) provides information about position memos and an example; and the Guide to the Role-Play (3.4) provides more information on the in-class role-play.

Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.
Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.
Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.

3.2 Research and Preparation

Your role sheet contains three parts: a description of your role, issues for consideration, and research leads. The role description details the position you will portray in the role-play. The issues for consideration will guide your thinking and assist you in approaching the case from the perspective of your assigned role. Most relevant, however, are the research leads. Going beyond the reports and articles linked to throughout the case and in the reading list, these research leads provide suggested materials and topics for further research specifically relevant to your assigned role. Below are some tips to review as you prepare for the role-play exercise.

Research and Preparation

  • Draw on the case notes, additional case materials, and your own research to familiarize yourself with

    • the goals of the UN Security Council in general and of this Council meeting in particular;
    • the national interests at stake in the case for the country you’re representing and their importance to national security;
    • the aspects of the case most relevant to your country;
    • the elements that a comprehensive UN Security Council resolution on the case should contain; and
    • the major debates or conflicts likely to occur during the role-play. You need not resolve these yourself, of course, but you will want to anticipate them in order to articulate and defend your position in the UNSC deliberation.
  • Set goals for your research. Know which questions you seek to answer and refer back to the case notes, additional readings, and research leads as needed.
  • Make a list of questions that you feel are not fully answered by the given materials. What do you need to research in greater depth? Can your classmates help you understand these subjects?
  • Using the case materials, additional readings, and discussions with your classmates, weigh the relative importance of the interests at stake in the case. Determine where trade-offs might be required and think through the potential consequences of several different policy options.
  • Conduct your research from the perspective of your assigned role, but be sure to consider the full range of country positions and foreign interests, whether diplomatic, military, economic, environmental, moral, or otherwise. This will help you strengthen your policy position and anticipate and prepare for debates in the role-play.
  • Consider what questions or challenges the secretary-general or other UN Security Council members might raise regarding the options you propose and have responses ready.



  • Consult a wide range of sources to gain a full perspective on the issues raised in the case and on policy options. Seek out sources that you may not normally use, such as publications from the region(s) under discussion, unclassified and declassified government documents, and specialized policy reports and journals.
  • Remember: Wikipedia is not a reliable source, but it can be a reasonable starting point. The citations at the bottom of each entry often contain useful resources. 
  • Just as policymakers tackle issues that are controversial and subject to multiple interpretations, so will you in your preparation for the writing assignments and role-play. For this reason, evaluate your sources carefully. Always ask yourself:
    • When was the information produced? Is it still relevant and accurate?
    • Who is writing or speaking and why? Does the author or speaker have a particular motivation or affiliation that you should take into account?
    • Where is the information published? Determine the political leanings of journals, magazines, and newspapers by reading several articles published by each one.
    • Who is the intended audience?
    • Does the author provide sufficient evidence for his or her analysis or opinion? Does the author cite reliable and impartial sources?
    • Does the information appear one-sided? Does it consider multiple points of view?
    • Is the language measured or inflammatory? Do any of the points appear exaggerated?
  • Take note of and cite your sources correctly. This is important not just for reasons of academic integrity, but so that you can revisit them as needed.
  • Ask your teacher which style he or she prefers you use when citing sources, such as Modern Language Association (MLA), Chicago Manual of Style, or Associated Press (AP).

Reading List 


2.1 The Issue

Danielle Renwick, “Venezuela in Crisis,” CFR.org Backgrounder, March 23, 2018, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/venezuela-crisis.

Matt O’Brien, “Venezuela is on the Brink of a Complete Economic Collapse,” Washington Post, January 29, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/01/29/venezuela-is-on-the-brink-of-a-complete-collapse/?utm_term=.69c4c5f2d7e0.

“From Rags to Riches to Rags: Venezuela’s Economic Crisis,” Al Jazeera, February 14, 2018, https://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/the-big-picture/2018/02/riches-rags-venezuela-economic-crisis-180211123942491.html.


2.2 Background

Richard Lapper, “Venezuela and the Rise of Chavez,” CFR.org Backgrounder, November 22, 2005, http://www.cfr.org/venezuela/venezuela-rise-chavez-background-discussion-paper/p9269.  

Keith Johnson, “How Venezuela Struck it Poor,” Foreign Policy, July 16, 2018, https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/07/16/how-venezuela-struck-it-poor-oil-energy-chavez/.

Michael McCarthy, "Six Things You Need to Know About Venezuela’s Political and Economic Crisis,” Washington Post, May 18, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/05/18/6-things-you-need-to-know-about-venezuelas-political-and-economic-crisis/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.e07b7d805de3.


2.3 Role of the UN Security Council

Jared Genser, “Venezuela Needs International Intervention. Now.” New York Times, May 30, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/30/opinion/venezuela-needs-international-intervention-now.html.

Dan Restrepo, “Venezuela in Crisis: A Way Forward,” Center for American Progress, October 16, 2018, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/security/reports/2018/10/16/459352/venezuela-crisis-way-forward/.

Todd Royal, “Venezuela’s Loss is Russia and China’s Gain,” National Interest, January 4, 2018, https://nationalinterest.org/feature/venezuelas-loss-russia-chinas-gain-23937.


Further Reading

Zeeshan Aleem, “How Venezuela went from a Rich Democracy to a Dictatorship on the Brink of Collapse,” Vox, September 19, 2017, https://www.vox.com/world/2017/9/19/16189742/venezuela-maduro-dictator-chavez-collapse.

Dany Bahar, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Economic Sanctions on Venezuela,” Brookings, July 25, 2017, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2017/07/25/between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place-economic-sanctions-on-venezuela/.

Lauren Carasik, “Tough Talk in Venezuela Won’t Work,” Foreign Affairs, April 2, 2015, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2015-04-02/fighting-words.  

Nicholas Casey and Ana Vanessa Herrero, “Ranks of Political Prisoners Grow as Democracy Ebbs in Venezuela,” New York Times, March 31, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/31/world/americas/venezuela-political-prisoners-nicolas-maduro.html?_r=0&ref=nyt-es&mcid=nyt-es&subid=article&login=email&auth=login-email.

Gabriella Cadahia, “US Actions Toward Venezuela Contradict Professed Concern,” The Pitt News, June 27, 2018, https://pittnews.com/article/133224/opinions/us-actions-toward-venezuela-contradict-professed-concern/.

Javier Corrales, “Don’t Blame it on the Oil,” Foreign Policy, May 7, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/05/07/dont-blame-it-on-the-oil-venezuela-caracas-maduro/.

Max Fisher and Amanda Taub, “How Venezuela Went From the Richest Economy in South America to the Brink of Financial Ruin,” Independent, May 21, 2017, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/how-venezuela-went-from-the-richest-economy-in-south-america-to-the-brink-of-financial-ruin-a7740616.html.

Patrick Gillespie, “Five reasons why Venezuela may be the world’s worst economy,” CNN Money, February 20, 2015, http://money.cnn.com/2015/02/20/news/economy/venezuela-economy-inflation/?iid=EL.

Rick Gladstone, “How Venezuela Fell Into Crisis and What Could Happen Next,” New York Times, May 27, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/28/world/americas/venezuela-crisis-what-next.html.

Annette Idler, “Venezuela’s Instability Has Far Broader Implications. Here’s What’s At Stake,” Washington Post, August 10, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/08/10/venezuelas-instability-has-far-broader-implications-heres-whats-at-stake/?utm_term=.6b1d7ceb235b.

Anatoly Kurmanaev, “The Tragedy of Venezuela,” Wall Street Journal, May 24, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-tragedy-of-venezuela-1527177202?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=8.

Gerard Latulippe, “Venezuela is in Crisis. Where’s The International Community?” Huffington Post, May 31, 2017, https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/gerard-latulippe/venezuela-crisis_b_16881660.html.

Ernesto Londono, “‘Their Country Is Being Invaded’: Exodus of Venezuelans Overwhelms Norhtern Brazil,” New York Times, April 28, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/28/world/americas/venezuela-brazil-migrants.html?module=inline.

James Marson and Anatoly Kurmanaev, “Struggling Venezuela Asks Russia to Restructure Its Debt,” Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2017, https://www.wsj.com/articles/struggling-venezuela-asks-russia-to-restructure-its-debt-1504892399?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=1.

Nicolas Maduro, “Under my presidency, Chavez’s revolution will continue,” Guardian, April 12, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/apr/12/my-presidency-chavez-revolution-continue.  

William Neuman and Nicholas Casey, “Venezuela Election Won by Maduro Amid Widespread Disillusionment,” New York Times, May 20, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/20/world/americas/venezuela-election.html?searchResultPosition=9.

Michelle Nichols, “Russia, China, others Boycott US Meeting at UN on Venezuela,” Reuters, November 13, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-politics-un/russia-china-others-boycott-u-s-meeting-at-u-n-on-venezuela-idUSKBN1DE056.

Michelle Nichols, “United Nations Security Council Turns Eye to Venezuela Crisis,” Reuters, May 17, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-politics-un/united-nations-security-council-turns-eye-to-venezuela-crisis-idUSKCN18D24J.

Ciara Nugent, “How Hunger Fuels Crime and Violence in Venezuela,” TIME, October 23, 2018, http://time.com/longform/hunger-crime-violence-venezuela/.

Matt O’Brien, “Venezuela is on the Brink of a Complete Economic Collapse,” Washington Post, January 29, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/01/29/venezuela-is-on-the-brink-of-a-complete-collapse/?utm_term=.69c4c5f2d7e0.

Shannon K. O’Neil, “A US Military Intervention in Venezuela Would Be a Disaster,” Council on Foreign Relations, September 18, 2018, https://www.cfr.org/article/us-military-intervention-venezuela-would-be-disaster.

Andrew Rosati, “Inflation in This Country Will Skyrocket to 1,000,000% by 2019, Experts Say,” Money, July 24, 2018, http://money.com/money/5346971/inflation-in-this-country-will-skyrocket-to-1000000-by-2019-experts-say/.

Holly K. Sonneland, “Update: How Is the International Community Responding to Venezuela?” Americas Society, Council of the Americas, September 13, 2017, https://www.as-coa.org/articles/update-how-international-community-responding-venezuela.

Tamara Taraciuk Broner, “The Exiles: A Trip to the Border Highlights Venezuela’s Devastating Humanitarian Crisis,” Human Rights Watch, November 14, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/video-photos/interactive/2018/11/14/exiles-trip-border-highlights-venezuelas-devastating.

Amanda Taub, “11 Stunning Photos of the Protest Movement Sweeping Venezuela,” Vox, February 26, 2015, http://www.vox.com/2015/2/26/8115535/venezuela-protests-photos.

Transparency International, “Corruption and Human Rights Violations in Venezuela,” June 2, 2015, http://www.transparency.org/news/feature/corruption_and_human_rights_violations_in_venezuela.  

Jamila Trindle, “Are U.S. Sanctions a Gift to Venezuela?” Foreign Policy, March 12, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/03/12/are-u-s-sanctions-a-gift-to-venezuela/.   

Robert Valencia, “Donald Trump on Venezuela: ‘Every Option is on the Table. The Strong Ones and the Less Than Strong Ones,’” Newsweek, September 26, 2018, https://www.newsweek.com/maduro-trump-venezuela-crisis-united-nations-option-table-1139676.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, “It’s Time for UN Security Council to Send Strong Message to Venezuela,” Human Rights Watch, November 13, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/13/its-time-un-security-council-send-strong-message-venezuela.

“UN Security Council Holds First Informal Meeting on Venezuela Crisis,” The Santiago Times, May 17, 2017, https://santiagotimes.cl/2017/05/17/u-n-security-council-holds-first-informal-meeting-on-venezuela-crisis/.

“UN Security Council to Discuss Venezuela Crisis,” VOA News, November 10, 2017, https://www.voanews.com/americas/un-security-council-discuss-venezuela-crisis.

Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.
Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.
Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.

3.3 Guide to the Memoranda 

A major goal of the Model Diplomacy program is to strengthen your ability to write concise, articulate, and persuasive documents that busy colleagues can absorb quickly. You will complete two assignments: a set of draft clauses for a UN Security Council resolution and a policy review memo. These assignments will improve your writing skills and give you a taste of how global foreign policy is conceived, coordinated, and executed.


UN Security Council Documents


What is a UN resolution?

A UN resolution is a formal expression of the opinion or will of a UN body. Resolutions follow a common, relatively strict format and are published online once approved. They are written and approved (or rejected) in a complex process. They typically go through several drafts, and multiple countries are typically involved, though a single country may write a draft resolution on its own and seek a direct vote. You will navigate an abbreviated version of this collaborative process in your role-play.

A Security Council resolution has three sections:

  • header
  • preambular clauses
  • operative clauses

The entire resolution is one long sentence; individual items are separated by semicolons and commas. The header gives the date, an alphabetical list of countries that have contributed to the document (sponsors), and the name of the issuing body (in this case, the Security Council). This body serves as the subject of the sentence.

Preambular clauses provide a framework through which to view the issue by outlining past action on the subject (usually in treaties, conventions, and previous resolutions) and explaining the purpose of or need for a resolution. Preambular clauses are unnumbered, begin with adjectives or verbs, and end with commas. Common preambular words include

  • alarmed by
  • considering
  • convinced
  • emphasizing
  • guided by
  • having adopted
  • keeping in mind
  • mindful of
  • (re)affirming
  • recognizing
  • taking note/noting
  • underscoring

An example of an existing preambular clause is

  • Underlining that the NPT remains the cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation regime and the essential foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament and for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Operative clauses state the opinion of the organ and the actions to be taken. Unlike preambular clauses, operative clauses are sequentially numbered and follow a logical progression, each clause calling for a specific action. Operative clauses begin with italicized verbs, sometimes modified by adverbs, and end with semicolons (with the exception of the last clause). Common operative words include

  • authorizes
  • calls for
  • condemns
  • decides
  • emphasizes
  • (re)affirms
  • recommends
  • reiterates
  • requests
  • stresses
  • supports
  • urges

The last operative clause in a Security Council resolution is almost always “Decides to remain seized of the matter.” In line with Article 12 of the UN Charter, this language keeps the issue under the Security Council’s authority and prevents the General Assembly from taking its own action. An example existing operative clause is

  • Urges all States that have either not signed or not ratified the Treaty, particularly the eight remaining Annex 2 States, to do so without further delay.

Click here to see a full example of a UN Security Council resolution.

What is a presidential statement?

A presidential statement is made by the president of the Security Council on behalf of the council. It is adopted at a formal council meeting, issued as an official document, and published. No formal vote is taken on a presidential statement; instead, it is adopted by consensus (the agreement of all members, though some may abstain). Member states have the option of voicing opposition to the statement, which is then recorded in the document. Often released when the council cannot reach consensus on a resolution or is prevented from passing one by a permanent member’s veto, presidential statements are similar in content and tone to resolutions but tend to be less specific. They are not legally binding.

All presidential statements generally follow the same loose structure, which is more flexible and relaxed than that of a UN resolution:

  1. Overview: an overview of the meeting or informal session that gave rise to the statement in question.
  2. Body: five to fifteen paragraphs, each beginning with “The Security Council,” reflecting the consensus opinion of council members and sometimes providing an overview of past actions on the subject. A presidential statement is often used to reaffirm the council’s support for ongoing UN missions and initiatives or to provide progress reports on these initiatives. 
  3. Signature: the signature of the president of the Security Council.

Click here to see a full example of a UN Security Council presidential statement.

Guidelines for UN Security Council Clauses


Your assignment prior to the role-play is to prepare a set of prepared clauses for a potential Security Council resolution. These clauses, along with those of other students, will form the basis of the discussion in the role-play.

You should bring

  • two to three preambular clauses that describe the issue at hand, consider the international context, and outline previous agreements and existing organizations; and
  • three to four operative clauses that present responses to the situation.

Each operative clause should present a complete proposal. Make sure that your proposed solutions are within the powers of the Security Council and are practical. Your operative clauses might be designed to work in concert (perhaps economic sanctions, mediation, and a peacekeeping force) or might be a set of alternatives from which you hope one will be adopted (perhaps three peacekeeping proposals that differ in their details).

In writing each of your operative clauses, consider the following points:

  • Who: Who is acting, and for whose benefit?
  • What: What is the response specifically?
  • When: When will it be implemented? Is there a deadline, a time frame, or recurrence?
  • Where: Where will it be implemented specifically?
  • Why: Why is this solution effective?
  • How: How will this solution be implemented? If countries must support the response, how will they be persuaded to do so?
  • Funding: How will the response be funded?

If your operative clauses start to get long and messy, use subsidiary clauses!

The goal should be to create clauses that include all the information necessary for putting the plan into action. It can be helpful to imagine an official tasked with carrying out the resolution and asking whether they have all the information they need to implement it.

Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.
Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.
Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.

3.4 Guide to the Role-play

Your role-play will feature three types of UN Security Council meetings:

  1. Public Meeting (Debate)

Public meetings are the most common type of formal Security Council meeting. They are open to the press and verbatim records are published. In addition to Security Council members, non–council members directly affected by the matter at hand may be invited to participate.

  1. Public Meeting (Adoption)

Adoption meetings are public meetings in which the Security Council votes on resolutions and presidential statements. In addition to Security Council members, non–council members can request to be invited and make statements but cannot vote.

  1. Informal Meeting

Informal meetings are held outside the Security Council chamber, have no rigid procedure or official record, and allow for private discussions and negotiations. They are usually used to develop and discuss draft resolutions and presidential statements.

Role-play Guidelines

  1. Stay in your role at all times.
  2. Follow the general protocol for speaking.
    1. Signaling to Speak

      1. The president of the UN Security Council will administer the meeting and should decide on a speaking order. Wait to be called on by the president.
      2. If you would like to speak out of turn, signal to the president, perhaps by raising a hand or a placard, and wait until the president calls on you.
    2. Form of Speech
      1. Address country representatives as Mr. or Madam Ambassador.
      2. Do not exceed predetermined time limits. If you exceed these limits, the president will cut you off.
      3. Frame your comments with a purpose and stay on topic.
    3. Listening
      1. Take notes while others are speaking.
      2. Refrain from whispering or conducting side conversations.
      3. Applause and booing are not appropriate. Your words will be the most effective tool to indicate agreement or disagreement.


Role-play Tips

  • There is no right or wrong way to participate in a role-play, but the better prepared you are, the more likely you will be able to advance a position effectively, and the more you and your classmates will get out of the experience.
  • Be patient during the role-play. Do not hold back from sharing your perspective, but be sure to give others a chance to do the same.
  • Where there are competing interests, make the judgment calls that you would make if you were a country representative, as informed by your earlier consideration of potential trade-offs. Ensure that the consequences of various decisions are carefully weighed.
  • Where appropriate, find common ground with other members of the UN Security Council during the role-play. With whom might you work in advocating your proposed policies? You may find that combining several policy ideas into a new proposal with broader support is an effective strategy if the debate is at an impasse
  • Decide whether you would like to develop a potential resolution collaboratively in a large group, in a smaller group of like-minded countries, or by yourself. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each approach?
  • Think critically about the strengths and weaknesses of your approach as the discussion continues. It is important to subject your own arguments to the same scrutiny that you apply to those of your fellow students. Rethink your arguments as appropriate to take into account the feedback and counterarguments that other members present.
  • You cannot win or lose the role-play. Instead, you should aim to offer a well-reasoned articulation of your position while making concessions and adjustments where you believe they are warranted.
Line Item
1. Public Meeting
2 minutes per participant
  1. Receive a five-minute briefing from the secretary-general on the issue to be discussed.
  2. Present opening statements.
  3. Crystalize the central questions of debate.
Procedural Notes

During opening statements, the president of the UN Security Council will recognize country representatives in the order in which they request to speak, and no representative may speak again if others have not yet spoken. Following opening statements, country representatives are free to openly debate the statements made, evaluating the various positions on their merits.

2. Informal Meeting
30 to 60 seconds per participant
  1. Debate each participant’s proposed clauses.
  2. Edit, add, or drop proposed clauses and combine them into one or more draft resolutions.
  3. Draft a presidential statement using proposed clauses and/or new material if no draft resolution appears acceptable to the group.
Procedural Notes

The president will recognize country representatives in the order in which they request to speak. Representatives should limit their statements to one minute each, but if time allows the president may permit them to speak longer. The president may also invite any participant to speak as he or she deems it appropriate. Any participant may motion for a ten- to fifteen-minute break, during which representatives can move freely and work on their draft resolutions individually or in small groups.  

3. Public Meeting
1 to 2 minutes per participant
  1. Hear summaries of any draft resolutions as well as arguments for and against adoption.
  2. Vote on draft resolutions in order of submission.
  3. Attempt to adopt a presidential statement by consensus if no resolutions are proposed or passed.
Procedural Notes

The president will call first on the draft resolution’s main author(s) and then on other countries that wish to make arguments for or against the resolution. To be adopted, Security Council resolutions must receive at least nine votes in favor and no dissenting votes (vetoes) from any of the five permanent members. A state may abstain, often to indicate ambivalence or mild disapproval (in contrast to strong opposition). According to the charter, abstentions are mandatory if the state is a party to the dispute in question. Abstentions by permanent members do not count as vetoes; the resolution will pass if it receives the necessary nine votes.

Wrap Up Sections
Obama, Xi Jinping, and Ban Ki Moon.
The UN Security Council

4.1 The Debrief

If time permits, you will participate in a debrief following the UN Security Council’s final vote.  

Be active in this debrief. The role-play might seem to be the most challenging part of the experience, but the debrief is equally important. It will reinforce what you learned during the role-play exercise and refine your analytical skills. It will also force you to step out of your role and to view the case from a personal perspective. You will have the opportunity to discuss any challenges you encountered and how you felt about the UN Security Council vote. The debrief will close with a reflection on the complexities and challenges of multilateral negotiations. This should help clarify your understanding of what you learned and answer any lingering questions. This exercise will also assist you in completing your final assignment, the policy review memo.  

Obama, Xi Jinping, and Ban Ki Moon.
The UN Security Council

4.2 Reflecting on the Experience

The following questions are proposed to guide the discussion in the in-class debrief. This is not an exhaustive list and may vary depending on how your role-play exercise unfolded.  If your class does not hold a debrief, these questions will nonetheless help you reflect on the role-play and write your policy review memo: 

  • Which issues received adequate attention during the role-play? Which, if any, received excessive attention or were left unresolved?
  • Did the group consider long-term strategic concerns, or was it able to focus only on the immediate issue and the short-term implications of policy options?
  • Did time constraints affect the discussion and influence the drafting process?
  • What techniques did you use to convince others that your policy position was the best option? What were successful strategies employed by others?
  • What were the most significant challenges to your position? Did any make you rethink or adjust your position?
  • Did your points cause anyone else to change his or her arguments or position?
  • What political, economic, and other issues arose that you had not previously considered?
  • How did the simulation change your perspective on multilateral negotiations?
  • If you could go back, what would you have done differently in presenting and advocating your point of view?
Obama, Xi Jinping, and Ban Ki Moon.
The UN Security Council

4.3 Policy Review Memo

The policy review memo is your final assignment in the Model Diplomacy simulation. In the debrief discussion after the role-play, you and your classmates went beyond the role you played and thought about the issue from a variety of perspectives. Now that the UN Security Council meeting and debrief are behind you, you can consider whether you personally support your recommended policy given the subsequent discussion. Shedding your institutional role and writing from a personal point of view, you will craft a policy review memo that outlines and reflects on the policy options discussed, incorporating and critiquing the UN Security Council’s decision where appropriate.

No matter which role you played originally, take into account all that you have learned. Your instructor will want to see if and how your understanding of the issue and of the policymaking process has evolved from that expressed in your position memo.

As for the position memo, a sample policy review memo is provided for your reference.

Policy Review Memo Guidelines

  • Subject (one short paragraph): Offer a brief statement about the significance of the issue as it relates to global politics and international organizations. Provide just enough information about the crisis so the reader can understand the purpose and importance of your memo. Be sure to include an initial statement of whether you agree or disagree with the UN Security Council’s decision.
  • Options and analysis (one paragraph per option): Present and analyze the options that were discussed during the debate, deliberation, and/or debrief. Discuss their drawbacks, benefits, and resource needs. Be sure to acknowledge any weaknesses or disadvantages of the proposed options.
  • Recommendation and justification (several paragraphs): Identify and explain your preferred policy option or options in more detail. Here, you can explain why you personally favor one or more of the recommendations that you initially presented or the UN Security Council voted on, or different options entirely. If you choose to support the options you presented in your position memo, make sure to justify why you feel yours is still the best position.
  • Reflection (one to two paragraphs): Discuss how your position and the final UN Security Council decision are similar; if they are not, discuss how they are different. Use this section to give your thoughts on what the UN Security Council should have included in its resolution or presidential statement and what you would have done differently. Remember, this is from your point of view; you are no longer advocating on behalf of a country or a UN agency.