Study investigates conflict prevention warnings

November 16, 2012
Study investigates conflict prevention warnings
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Professor Christoph Meyer from King's College London in the United Kingdom presented his research on the impact of warnings on policy decision-making vis-à-vis violent intra-national conflicts at the recent United Nations Disarmament Week, an annual observance that begins on the anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. Professor Meyer received a European Research Council Starting Grant worth EUR 754,000 for his research, which was presented in the journals Media, War & Conflict and International Studies Review. Professor Meyer's findings are an outcome of the FORESIGHT ('Do forecasts matter? early warnings and the prevention of armed conflicts') project.

Professor Meyer and his team investigated the conditions under which warnings mediated by high-profile politicians and media played a key role in the prevention of violent conflict in different countries and regions, including Estonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Georgia, Kosovo, Sudan/Darfur, Rwanda and Turkey/North Iraq over the last 20 years or so. They also looked at how warnings affect international organisations like the EU and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as well as some countries like Germany, the and the United States.

The ERC recipient's findings highlight the impact of early warnings for the prevention of armed conflict. Besides their content, source credibility and interpersonal relations between forecasts and decision-makers are also important components. Professor Meyer explained that we currently do not have enough information to forecast conflict, which is due to the rift between qualitative and quantitative approaches to forecasting conflicts. Another challenge is the lack of incentives to act early before a crisis occurs.

'International organisations, politicians and media ought to focus on "the heroes of prevention",' said Professor Meyer. 'This requires a change in mindset and rewarding people who take risks associated with warming and are prepared to act on it.'

Doing so would allow new methods to be introduced, helping regional, national and international institutions cultivate and use knowledge within their groups. Both 'top-down' and 'bottom-up' propagation of important insights on prevention would result.

Commenting on the support from the EU, Professor Meyer said: 'My ERC grant was a tremendous opportunity, almost a scientific nirvana, which allowed me to devote more time to research and to build an interdisciplinary team that enabled me to realise the project. ERC grants are prestigious - so it definitely helped me in making a case for my promotion to professor in March this year.'

With respect to the FORESIGHT project, both the intelligence community and governments will be affected by this work, helping them ensure that their work is being noticed and seen as relevant. Last February, Professor Meyer received an ERC 'Proof of Concept' grant to further develop a forecast-based web application called 'Impact Tracer', which could be used to trace a large number of texts over time according to specific needs.

Explore further: Number of conflicts in the world no longer declining

More information: Otto, F. and Meyer, C.O., 'Missing the Story? Vol. 5, No 3, 2012; Re-casting the Warning-Response-Problem: Persuasion and Preventive Policy, International Studies Review, Vol. 12, No 4, pp. 556-578.

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