Chapter 5: Theoretical Justifications for FCE’s Early Warning and Early Response System

This chapter by Dinidu Endaragalle is definitely my favorite chapter of the entire book. I highly recommend a close read to anyone interested in the field of conflict early warning.

Endaragalle draws on two contemporary theories identified by Professor Joseph Bock Bock to justify early response interventions by the FCE’s Early Response system. The first relates to timing and nature of interventions while the second addresses the capacity to intervene.

Timing and Nature

Donald Horowitz (2001) has provided insights about the timing and nature of intervening to prevent ethnic violence. Through an extensive comparative study, he identified how collective ethnic violence displays a marked pattern. Where there has been a hostile relationship between ethnic groups and usually, but not always, after there has been a ‘precipitating event,’ there is a period of time (a ‘lull’) when consensus building for violence occurs.

The attacking group develops intense emotions. Its members build a consensus around a moral argument justifying violence (which is commonly linked to religious beliefs). They assess the threat posed by another group (often exaggerating that threat). And they downplay the anticipated risks of participating in violence.

This focus on the tactical level is one that definitely resonates with me. Understanding patterns of conflict in large part requires an understanding of what military strategies and tactics are employed. See, for example, Jen Ziemke’s excellent research on spatial patterns of civilian targeting during the Angolan civil war.

Capacity to Intervene

The second theory that can be applied to the science of early response originates from Ashutosh Varshney’s work. Varshney has “provided empirical evidence that formal inter-ethnic associations, especially in urban areas, constitute an effective capacity to intervene to prevent violence. […] he wound that violence was much less likely when associations were formalized […] and inter-ethnic in their membership.”

Taken together, Endaragalle argues that “the essence of Horowitz’s theory of intensity and timing of a ‘lull’ and Varshney’s theory of capacity to intervene provide important insights to the science of early warning and early response.” Endaragalle then applies this framework to two real case studies from Sri Lanka.

Developing a theoretical framework and then being able to apply it and draw preliminary conclusions is the mark of serious applied academic research. For example, Endaragalle relates Varshney’s formal association theory to the FCE’s Co-Existent Communities (CECs) as these are formal interethnic associations with different religions represented. By applying the theoretical framework to actual case studies, Endaragalle finds that “after a precipitating event […], the early response interveners should concentrate on diminishing the degree of consensus building for violence by conflicting parties.”

I found this insight interesting as it relates to the idea of patterns and anti-patterns that I have described here in the context of conflict and crisis mapping.

Insider Partial Mediators

Endaragalle also adds a third component to the two-pronged theoretical framework originally proposed by Bock. This one focuses on the concept of “insider partial mediation” developed by Paul Wehr and John Paul Lederach (1996). These authors suggest that the “insider partial mediators often prove beneficial in reaching a successful settlement.” Wehr and Lederach define this type of mediator as “an entity (an individual or institution) that is already involved in the conflict and, at least to some extent, is aligned with one side or other.”

In general, this means that these mediators “are people of high stature and as a result, they have credibility with stakeholders on all sides of the conflict.” Endaragalle combines this concept with the theories developed by Horowitz and Varshney. Insider partial mediators already have network ties with local communities and may thus have the contacts necessary to identify upcoming lulls in inter-ethnic conflict. “The mobilization of ‘insider partials’ can also increase the capacity to intervene in conflicts rapidly in most instances.”

There are a few points in this chapter that deserve to be written in more detail. Endaragalle refers to the FCE’s GIS maps: “they zoom into the databases and the GIS maps and single out the events data relating to the precipitating events,” but does not expand further. How are the events singled out? Do the maps facilitate this singling out in terms of spatial patterns?

Like other chapter authors, I would press Endaragalle to be more specific when writing that FCE’s early warning system “intervened in a recorded number of 174 cases of conflict.” Namely, 174 out of a total of how many incidents? And out of this 174, how many can clearly be shown to have been successful? I don’t doubt the probable success of the system, but having specifics would make the 174 figure a stronger case.

In the same paragraph Endaragalle writes that the next task for the FCE’s early response system is to “estimate the time period of the actual time period [i.e., the lull] for the actual onset of the violence.” I agree that timing is important, of course, and would be curious to know why Endaragalle does not draw on William Zartman’s concept of ripeness. I would also liked to have seen a discussion on William Ury’s Third Side approach vis-a-vis capacity to intervene.

In any case, the plan to analyze lulls is a very good one. But I’m biased given that I’m doing similar research with colleagues at the Santa Fe Institute and the Technical University in Zurich. There is evidence from other scientific research that the “wait times” between certain events often follow a specific statistical distribution, often a poisson distribution.


One response to “Chapter 5: Theoretical Justifications for FCE’s Early Warning and Early Response System

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Third Generation Early Warning « Conflict Early Warning and Early Response

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