OECD Observer

Early warning

Conflict and Fragility - Preventing Violence, War and State Collapse: The Future of Conflict Early Warning and Response

The trouble with crises is that it is hard to predict which direction they will go. Concerted efforts can help reduce the risk of a deterioriation, but not guarantee it.

This is in large part the role of the OECD, to further economic progress and co-operation while at the same time promoting peace and prosperity. The capacity to predict crises helps political decisionmakers to prevent violent conflict. But in spite of past experience, the international community is still unprepared to deal with new types of threats, such as terrorist acts and the criminalisation of conflicts.

The data used to develop early warning and response systems can be about people, such as poverty data, or events. For example, if social conflicts occur often, a trend becomes evident. When the frequency of those conflicts increases, it is reasonably safe to conclude that a major conflict will probably erupt. This system is effective, but the required data can be inaccurate, or simply too thin in some countries. Predicting conflicts under those conditions becomes difficult. Graphs, charts and surveys can also be used, but what is essential is for decisionmakers to understand the data in the local context.

There is consensus on what makes for a "good" early warning system: it is one that is "close to the ground" or has a strong, field-based network of monitors; it uses multiple sources of information; it makes good use of communication and information technology; it provides regular reports and updates on conflict dynamics to national and international actors; and it has a strong link to those who will respond to an impending conflict. With more corporations now using early warning and risk-assessment tools, governments can enlist new partners in their efforts to track instability and prevent outright violence. This book offers recommendations on how international actors can take advantage of both technological advances and local actors on the ground to create a "third generation" of early warning systems.

Order at www.oecd.org/bookshop

See also www.oecd.org/governance

ISBN 978-92-64-05980-1

©OECD Observer No. 272, April 2009