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Research Report

Conflict Prevention and Early Warning in the Political Practice of International Organizations

Clingendael Institute
Copyright Date: Nov. 24, 2004
Published by: Clingendael Institute
Pages: 88
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Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 7-8)
    Jan G. Siccama
  2. (pp. 1-2)

    International organizations have always been active in the settlement of conflicts between, and sometimes within, their member states. For many organizations that focus on political co-operation it is, indeed, one of their central tasks. However, they rarely actually resolve such conflicts by tackling the merits of the case concerned and by realizing an agreement on the contentious issue between the disputants. Rather, international organizations are often preoccupied with the management of conflicts. This involves the containment or transformation of disputes in less conflictual forms of interaction or the reduction and restriction of the means with which the parties pursue their...

  3. (pp. 3-7)

    The concept of early warning has only recently made its way to the field of “high politics” and the settlement of conflict. It used to be employed only in more specialized areas, as in the form of military warning systems for the prevention of surprise attacks or military accidents. Thus, computerized warning systems linked to satellites were meant to give timely warning of the launching of nuclear missiles by rival superpowers (Rupesinghe, 1994). The concept of early warning was also elaborated in relation to the prevention of natural disasters, such as drought and food shortages (f.i. Atwood, 1991).

    In recent...

  4. (pp. 9-21)

    This chapter will first discuss the way in which the concepts of security, conflict prevention and early warning are used in the political practice of the Organization on Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Then it reviews the phenomena that the OSCE treats as signals of potential (violent) conflict. This is followed by an analysis of the instruments and mechanisms with which such signals are processed.

    The concern of the OSCE with early warning derives from a comprehensive concept of security. The Helsinki Summit Declaration of 1992 states that the OSCE’s approach to conflict is based on the “comprehensive concept...

  5. (pp. 23-32)

    It may be argued that various provisions in the UN Charter contain an implicit early warning, or at least a conflict preventive, component. The Secretary-General, for example, is entitled to bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter that may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security. In other words, the chief UN official may respond to, and the Security Council become seized with, situations in which violent conflict has not (yet) erupted. The General Assembly may call the attention of the Security Council to such situations as well (see articles 11.3, 34 and 99 UN Charter;...

  6. (pp. 33-42)

    One can argue that, when the Organization of American States (OAS) was established in 1948, it was intended as a collective security system for the Western hemisphere (Byron, 1984 and Vandevanter, 1970). In the Cold War era the United States gave considerable priority to averting challenges to its position in the America’s that emanated, or were supposed to emanate, from outside the two continents. This preoccupation with extra-continental, i.e. Eastern bloc, threats was to some extent shared by the Latin American members of the OAS. For the most part consisting of authoritarian, conservative regimes, the spread of communist doctrine and...

  7. (pp. 43-58)

    Until now the concept of early warning has not conquered a place in the set of instruments and mechanisms that African international organizations have at their disposal for the management of disputes.

    It is only in the more technical areas of international co-operation, especially food and agricultural policy, that the concept has become more or less firmly established. Thus, various African countries are aiming at the operation of early warning systems that provide advance notice of impending crop failure, food shortages, drought and (potential) famine.¹ An important inter-African example of this is the work done by the Inter-Governmental Authority for...

  8. (pp. 59-69)

    Security in South-east Asia is a complicated matter. Different colonial experiences, ethnic, religious and ideological tensions throughout history, violent great-power rivalries during the Cold War and unprecedented economic dynamism in the present time, have resulted in an intricate regional security environment. Notwithstanding these facts, the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) has until now been able to produce security, stability and a sub-regional order. ASEAN has even developed a political role as a forum for preventing, managing and resolving conflicts among its members, “a record possibly unmatched in the contemporary experience of the Third World” (Sopiee, 1986). Especially its role...

  9. (pp. 71-78)

    There appear to be two forms of early warning: one in theory and one in practice. The first one can be found, carefully constructed and defined, in scholarly treatises and was outlined in chapter II. The concept of early warning as used in political practice hardly bears any relation or similarity to this theoretical construct. It is rarely defined or conceptually distinguished from other terminology. This is even true for the UN and OSCE, although in the latter case a working definition was provided by the High Commissioner on National Minorities.

    Thus, while theory carefully distinguishes between conflict prevention and...