Systemic Disconnects: Why Regional Organizations Fail to Use Early Warning and Response Mechanisms

By Wulf, Herbert; Debiel, Tobias | Global Governance, October-December 2010 | Go to article overview

Systemic Disconnects: Why Regional Organizations Fail to Use Early Warning and Response Mechanisms


Wulf, Herbert, Debiel, Tobias, Global Governance


To what extent does empirical evidence confirm or question the value of conflict early warning and response for effective practice by regional organizations? This article presents a brief overview of existing key EWR mechanisms and analyzes if, and under what conditions, these mechanisms might be a useful peace and security promotion tool for regional organizations. It looks at three regional and subregional organizations--the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States/Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group in West Africa, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in East Africa that have established such conflict EWR mechanisms. Until now, these tools have not been adequately implemented or fully used. The principal reason for this is not a lack of sufficient EWR data. Instead, regional organizations often fail to respond in time to prevent an emerging violent conflict because of weaknesses of the organization and political disagreements within the organization. Keywords: early warning and response, regional organizations, African Union, Economic Community of West African States, Inter-governmental Authority on Development, peacebuilding.

AMONG THE MANY ASPECTS IN THE DEBATE ON BROADER CONCEPTS OF global governance, two largely unrelated desires can be identified: First, regional organizations are increasingly requested to provide security by engaging in the prevention of violent conflict and in peacebuilding. (1) Second, since the mid-1990s, conflict early warning and response (EWR) has been conceived as a means of preventing violent conflict in order to protect people's lives. (2) Partly on the insistence by and with the assistance of donor organizations, some regional organizations, especially in Africa, are now beginning to use EWR as a peace and security instrument to prevent crises. This comes at a time when the methodologies of EWR have improved. After a decade and a half of experience, we raise the question in this article whether both of these trends--to implement EWR and for regional organizations to use this tool to prevent conflict--have improved the security of the people. Our research questions are the following:

1. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the existing EWR mechanisms?

2. Have they been put to appropriate use in predicting and preventing violent conflict by regional organizations?

3. What is the experience of regional organizations in implementing EWR mechanisms?

4. Can regional organizations capitalize on the most recent progress in EWR research?

Our analysis enables us to present preliminary results on two separate fields of inquiry and offer conclusions on their value if combined as in the case of regional and subregional organizations in Africa.

Early Warning and Response Mechanisms: How Do They Work?

Our hypothesis is that the predictive capacities of conflict EWR mechanisms have greatly improved over the past two decades. (3) However, they still suffer from two deficiencies: First, the underlying theories (or, at least, hypotheses) about causal chains toward violence and the role of small events are not always spelled out in EWR models, which are either based on simplified rational choice models or on statistical findings from large-n analysis. The lack of focus on small events is additionally due to a disconnect between the local level (where the majority of violent conflicts take place and where monitoring systems vary a lot or have not systematically been established) and the center of attention of EWR models on global or macrodata. Furthermore, empirical evidence suggests that the link between warning and response remains weak. Response is often lacking, despite clear warning signals. The current conflict in Darfur, for example, was not acted on in a timely fashion, but not because of a lack of information on the emergence of the conflict. All the indications of a major conflict were known. …

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