Written by Priyan Senevirathna, this chapter of the book is a good overview of the conflict early warning methodology employed by the FCE. While labeled as a “unique” system, we should keep in mind that several other third generation conflict early warning and response systems exist, such as in Timor-Leste and Kyrgyzstan.
Of note, however, are the 30 field monitors attached to FCE field offices and the use of SMS. The latter is “primarily targeted at activating those who are in [sic] the ground for immediate [preventive] action […].” This is an important component of the FCE’s system.
Senevirathna suggests that, “by activating an immediate ground level conflict preventive agent, the FCE Early Warning system can first contain violence that may erupt in a given location and take immediate action for spreading further into different parts of the region which are still unaffected.”
I liked this description because it reminded me of the spread of contagious diseases and the need to quarantine or contain this spread. And we know from the field of preventive health that one once of prevention is worth a pound of cure. What strikes me as missing from the FCE approach is a strong focus on preparedness. There are no vaccines for conflict, but perhaps the equivalent is preparedness. While FCE staff members “plan out the early response strategy for the respective issues at hand,” this is still reactive rather than preparative.
Related to this is Senevirathna’s definition, or stated purpose of early warning; the function of an early warning system is to send “the right information at the right time to the right people to take timely action for prevention of conflicts.”
I like this approach because it is simple and a good contrast to more traditional definitions which would focus on sending the right information to the right officials, thus sidelining civil society altogether. I also like the definition because of the link to timely action for prevention. What Senevirathna’s definition lacks however, is any reference to preparedness—which for me is a centerpiece of third generation early warning systems.
I was pleased to see Senevirathna tackle the issue of early warning for whom and for what. The author refers to Chapter 3 in which Kanno writes that “closeness to conflict areas enables one to understand the situation better and intervene rapidly and appropriately.” This important shift in discourse from mainstream approaches to conflict early warning.
In the past, the mind-set was that we could not draw on local field monitors because they would be too biased, which would skew the information collection process. Another thought was that local field monitors would be “too close” to the conflict, and like frogs in slowly heating water would not notice the increase in temperature. The chapters by Senevirathna and Kanno suggest a different and refreshing approach; one in which local communities are finally given the trust and respect that they deserve.
I was also pleased to read that a number of Embassies are involved in the FCE initiative—something I have not seen done in other third generation approaches. Representatives from the British High Commission, the Delegation of the European Commission and several others meet on a monthly basis with the FCE and other multi-lateral organizations as well as international NGOs. These meetings are mean to serve as an “advocacy forum somewhat similar to the approach taken by the Crisis Group.”
Senevirathna writes that the FCE’s “GIS tool has been very effective in generating conflict early warnings within the FCE system” but the author produces absolutely no evidence to back up this claim. My main question is whether the FCE actually leverages geospatial analysis for pattern recognition of conflict.
In closing, I completely agree with Senevirathna when he writes that “the success of every conflict early warning [and] early response system depends on how well it is customized to fit into the environment within which it will operate.”