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Research Report

‘Worse, Not Better?’: Reinvigorating Early Warning for Conflict Prevention in the Post-Lisbon European Union

John Brante
Chiara de Franco
Christoph Meyer
Florian Otto
Series Editor Sven BISCOP
Copyright Date: Jun. 1, 2011
Published by: Egmont Institute
Pages: 51
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 5-8)

    The end of superpower competition stopped many so-called proxy wars and the international community invested heavily in efforts to bring old conflicts to an end.2 But still about four or five new armed conflicts are breaking out each year with little change observable over the decades.3 Costly peace-making has surged and often proven effective, but no comparative efforts have gone into preventing conflicts from occurring in the first place. When prevention works it can save lives, avoid mass atrocities against civilian populations and create the preconditions for a lasting peace. Even when we leave the humanitarian arguments aside, a number...

  2. (pp. 9-16)

    The EU enlargement process, its neighbourhood policy and some important elements of development policy are typically described as being cases of structural prevention. Operational tools range widely from fact-finding and mediation missions (as in Estonia 1992) to pre-emptive deployment of troops (as in Macedonia 1992) and targeted sanctions. These differences are highly significant as structural prevention can be planned and implemented top-down, whereas operational conflict prevention requires planners and decision-makers to respond relatively quickly to bottom-up warning signals in order to avoid risks and grasp opportunities. Warnings disrupt the normal mode of foreign policymaking but without forcing it into crisis...

  3. (pp. 17-24)

    With regard to Task 1 – anticipating future threats – EU analysts face the same epistemological challenges as their national equivalents. The fundamental uncertainties and complexities of thinking about future political, social, and human behaviour do not depend on what organisation you work for. Moreover, the high number of delegations, the various CSDP missions, and the EUSR offices around the world provide the EU with a strong ‘informational infrastructure’. For long-term estimative analysis of conflict outbreak one should not exaggerate the importance of clandestine HUMINT, IMINT and SIGINT collection capacities. EU forecasting will thus not suffer from a lack of...

  4. (pp. 25-28)

    This section focuses on the challenging tasks surrounding the prioritisation of warning messages and decisions about whether, when and how to act. The focus on policy-planners and decision-makers in this section should not detract from the argument made earlier that the success of warning-response depends to a significant extent on the nature of the relationship between warning producers and consumers. This can, indeed, facilitate regular dialogue, mutual respect, and fast-track personal warning but also, on the contrary, hinder warning success when there are strong hierarchical relations that punish bottom-up questioning of dominant assumptions and a culture of blame which makes...

  5. (pp. 29-38)

    Although the extent of their influence is contested, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are arguably important providers of both early warning and response:29 By both location and activity, NGOs are often the first to notice increasing tensions and to intervene as they usually have a wealth of information regarding the conditions and grievances that give rise to violence and the capacity to respond promptly even if not always exhaustively. In particular, NGOs’ first-rate information and situation assessments can complement intelligence services’ products and do represent an invaluable resource for regional and international agencies that do not have their own intelligence capabilities.


  6. (pp. 39-46)

    The role of the news media in warning of intra-state conflict is an ambiguous one: no other non-governmental actor equals them in terms of reach, and their reporting is not only crucial for informing the public but also civil servants and political decision-makers. Furthermore, the media can heavily influence the public discourse about warnings and are able to determine how long an issue stays in the public domain. At the same time however, the news media are frequently criticised for not dedicating attention early enough and mostly following government leads or events on the ground, instead of proactively covering impending...