Tag Archives: conflict prevention

US Assistant Secretary of State on Conflict Early Warning

Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice delivered a speech today on the “Responsibility to Protect.” In her speech, Ms Rice emphasized the need to “sharpen and strengthen our instruments for conflict management, and hone them to cope specifically with mass atrocities.” She identified 5 key instruments:

  1. Conflict Early Warning, Analysis and Decision-Making
  2. Preventive Diplomacy
  3. Peacekeeping
  4. Sanctions
  5. Peacebuilding

Here are her remarks in her own words:

“First are the linked questions of early warning, analysis, and decision-making. We must do more to ensure that a lack of information will never be a reason again for inaction. Working with governments, regional organizations, and NGO partners, we should strive to collect more, different, and better information about the risks and signs of mass violence – and then to share it. That data should also be analyzed with extra sensitivity to the potential for atrocity. And it should be channeled in real time to decision-makers who can do something about it.

But one significant caveat: history shows that slow policy responses to mass slaughter often stems from factors other than a genuine absence of information about what is unfolding. More often, policymakers knew a significant amount but were held back by competing policy priorities, limited knowledge of the country at risk, disincentives for speaking out, political concerns, and other factors.

Second, preventive diplomacy. The last twenty years and more have taught us that international mediation and diplomacy, backed by a readiness to use other tools, are among the most effective ways to prevent and halt violence. At the UN, innovations like mediation standby teams are an important start, but these teams remain underutilized and they need more resources. We still have too few mediators with the right skills ready to deploy in real time – and, I might add, far too few women. We need also greater surge capacity, closer cooperation among mediators, and better coordination between mediation and other tools of conflict management.  And we need to redouble our efforts to forge the international unity it will take for mediation to succeed.

Third, peacekeeping. We greatly appreciate the courage and dedication shown by UN blue helmets around the world, but these brave men and women are often stretched up to – or beyond- their limits. We must make sure that peacekeepers have the help they need to prevent a fragile peace from breaking down, and we must invest in more effective and efficient peacekeeping that can protect civilians menaced by rebel bands and marauding gangs, whether in Haiti or the eastern DRC.

But UN peacekeepers – even better trained and equipped ones – are not always the right solution when innocents are in peril. Sometimes, an unfolding atrocity is so large or so fast that it can be quelled only by the swift arrival of combat-ready brigades or their equivalent-operating outside the UN chain of command, and not built from scratch as a UN peacekeeping force must be. Only a handful of countries have this capacity at the ready, and even fewer can or will guarantee a response when called upon. Such governments, and regional organizations including NATO and the European Union, must take a hard look at their will and capacity to quickly deploy – either to fill the gap before peacekeepers arrive, reinforce them during a crisis, or to respond in cases where peacekeepers are not the right answer to begin with.

Through our Global Peace Operations Initiative, the United States has helped train and equip tens of thousands of peacekeepers, and we are working to improve peacekeepers’ abilities to protect civilians from the imminent threat of violence.

Fourth, we must put the bite back in sanctions. We have increasingly sophisticated tools to compel states and leaders to abide by international laws and norms. Through the UN, we can freeze individuals’ assets, ban international travel, restrict the flow of luxury goods and arms, and do much more to limit abusers’ abilities to threaten others. But, the Security Council often finds it difficult to overcome member states’ reluctance to wield and fully implement sanctions on behalf of the victims of mass atrocities. I hope to be able to work with my Security Council colleagues to make better, smarter use of sanctions -not only to maintain global order or to halt proliferation but also to save innocent lives at immediate risk. Sanctions can be an effective, if not always a flexible, targeted instrument, and we must seek to strengthen them.

And, finally, peacebuilding. We still have much more to do to foster firm foundations for peace in societies that are trying to leave years of conflict behind them. Just because the killing stops does not mean it won’t start again. The past decade has witnessed major innovations in peacebuilding, including the creation of the UN’s Peacebuilding Commission, but we have much farther to go.  We need more flexible development funds that arrive sooner; early investments in the core capacities of a struggling state; international support for national efforts to reinforce the rule of law, demobilize ex-combatants and reform state security services.  We need lasting support for victims of sexual violence and other human rights abuses; and an insistence that we not assume the job is done until the peace is secure.

Fourth-Generation Early Warning Systems (Updated)

This blog post follows the discussion on first-, second- and third-generation early warning systems from the previous post below. The purpose of this entry is to make more clear the distinctions between third-generation (3G) and fourth-generation (4G) early warning systems.

Note that the distinction between 3G and 4G systems does not imply that one is necessarily better or more effective than the other. Each generation of early warning systems has its own comparative advantage and a role to play in an ecosystem approach to conflict early warning and rapid response.

4G initiatives are a relatively new evolution in the field of conflict early warning and rapid response. Like 3G systems, they are also based in conflict areas. However, unlike 3G systems, there are no pre-designated “field monitors” in 4G initiatives. In 3G initiatives like the FCE approach to conflict early warning, designated field monitors need to have “substantial influences on the masses and/or stakeholders in the conflict zone” and need to “assume the role of a ‘near’ mediator.”

Furthermore, 3G systems have a highly structured reporting and coding protocol (often based on the FAST protocol) and usually employ a sophisticated, proprietary software program. In contrast 4G initiatives draw on crowdsourcing both early warning and early response, and draw on open source, freely available software. Ushahidi is an excellent example. To this end, one important distinction between 4G initiatives and 3G systems has to do with organizational frameworks. 4G initiatives like Ushahidi are more horizontal and decentralized than FAST ever was, for example.

For a comprehensive and in-depth study on organizational frameworks of conflict early warning and response systems, please see Meier 2007 (PDF).

4G initiatives take a Third Side approach to conflict early response and focus explicitly on conflict preparedness and contingency planning. While 1G, 2G and 3G systems formally define early warning as “the systematic collection and analysis of information,” 4G initiatives draw on the UN-ISDR‘s people-centered definition of early warning and response crafted at the Third International Conference on Early Warning (EWC3). According to this definition, the purpose of people-centered early warning is to:

“Empower individuals and communities threatened by hazards to act in sufficient time and in an appropriate manner so as to reduce the possibility of personal injury, loss of life, damage to property and the environment, and loss of livelihoods.”

In other words, 4G initiatives are about strategic and tactical (self) empowerment and protection. 4G initiatives could also be called “tactical conflict early warning and response” because they are less about advocacy and more about direct, first-responder intervention.

In this respect, 4G initiatives are comparable to strategic nonviolent action and nonviolent civil resistance. As Rubin (2002) has noted, “prevent[ing] violent conflict requires not merely identifying causes and testing policy instruments but building a political movement” (cited in Meier 2007, PDF).

Sri Lanka: Citizen-based Early Warning and Response

Colleagues at the Foundation for Coexistence (FCE) in Sri Lanka just shared their report on “Citizen-based Early Warning and Response” with me (PDF). I’ve been following the Foundation’s work for the past five years so I was keen to get an update on their work in the field of conflict early warning and rapid response.

What follows is a brief review of the report and the FCE’s conflict early warning and rapid response initiative. I conclude with some of my own thoughts based on my early warning experience with FAST, CEWARN, ECOWARN, WANEP, MARRAC, EC, OSCE, OECD, UNDP, UNEP, OCHA, UNICEF,  WFP, USAID, IFES, BELUN, ICG, JRC, International Alert  and Ushahidi.

Introduction

The Foundation takes a human security approach to early warning, which focuses both on protection and empowerment. They note that in most standard definitions of early warning, e.g., “the systematic collection and analysis of information,” do not actually include giving a warning—a point which certainly resonates with my experience.

Evolving Generations

One of the conceptual innovations that FCE contributed to the field of conflict early warning is the notion of first, second and third generations early warning systems. A first generation system monitors and analyzes conflict from outside the conflict regions; they are typically based in the West. “The problems of the first generation are consistent with those of quantitative approaches; they use limited secondary sources which do not provide any certainty about their accuracy and they have difficulty in predicting eruption of armed conflict accurately.” In other words, they focus exclusively on prediction and “do not have effective procedures to communicate with [Track 1] decision-makers for early response.”

Second generation early warning systems conduct monitoring within conflict countries and regions. “However, analysis is still conducted outside conflict countries (in the West).” Second generations systems entail field-based monitoring, risk assessments and active lobbying. “The advantage of qualitative approaches is that [they offer] vastly more content-rich and contextual information than quantitative statistical analysis.” However, the actors engaged in “second generation” early response are no different from those of the first, they are strictly Track 1 actors.

Third generation early warning systems are created by people in conflict areas for themselves. “It can be referred to as ‘Early Warning and Early Response system of citizens, by citizens and for citizens.'” Unlike first and second generation initiatives, monitoring and analysis is conducted on-site. “The logic behind them is that closeness to the conflict area enables one to understand the situation better and intervene rapidly and appropriately.” According to FCE, third generation systems thus have a stronger link between early warning and rapid response.

Early Warning

The FCE uses an events-data software program called FCEWARN for early warning; the unique feature of which is “that it can be utilized to monitor conflicts at the ‘micro’ level, especially at the village level.” The software basically quantifies conflict and peace indicators to display them as descriptive statistics such as tables and graphs. The FCE combines this software with “Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software that visualizes spatial dimensions of conflict and peace indicators.”

The information fed into the software program is collected by the Foundation’s 37 field monitors operating in teh conflict zone.

“They are organic members of the communities they represent. They collect information on peace and conflict indicators and send it to the information center in Colombo in a specific format on a daily basis. […] The field monitors collect information through co-existence committees, state and non-state actors, local media and interpersonal relationships

As a result, the information centre in Colombo […] receives 30 event data forms in the least a day. In total this amounts to 600 event data on average per month.  This density of first hand information allows for adept trend analysis at the early warning stage.”

The FCE draws on the software and data to generate early warning products that “support the early response functions in the conflict zone by teh field monitors […].” In addition, the Foundations makes use of SMS alerts. The FCEWARN software program has the flexibility to integrate a functionality for SMS alerts.

Rapid Response

The FCE claims that “the development of computer software (FCEWARN) for early warning” is their “key achievement” vis-a-vis their “venture into conflict early warning during the past five years.”

However, I would point to their success in responding to 156 cases of conflict as their key achievement. According to the Foundation, their early warning initiative has “intervened in a recorded number of 156 cases of conflict.” The Foundation nodes that “four independnent evaluations by international experts in the science of conflict resolution have attested that this system has prevented or mitigated or contributed to resove conflicts.”

Of note is that the FCE’s early response system is “based on the application of multi-track diplomacy,” unlike first and second generation systems. The Foundation “emphasizes making citizens a major stakeholder in the process of transforming the conflict.” They also recognize the need to build “sufficient capacity and power of mobilization to solicit substantial amount of stakeholder effort from different vantage points.”

To this end, the field monitors are “the primary coordinating hubs of information and early response interventions in the conflict zones. They collect and analyze information and initiate early response processes to prevent conflicts.” Field monitors should therefore have “substantial influences on the masses and/or stakeholders in the conflict zone.” In sum, the rapid response component has to “assume the role of a ‘near’ mediator.”

Unlike the vast majority of conflict early warning initiatives, the FCE actually “reviews the outcomes of one instance of intervention and builds analysis and prognosis for another phase of intervention. This cycle continues until the conditions to the precipitating event are transformed or diluted to a satisfactory level.”

Conclusion

The FCE continues to make important contributions to the field of conflict early warning by demonstrating what an alternative, third generation approach can accomplish compared to top-down first-generation systems. Perhaps what is missing from the report is a stronger emphasis on preparedness and contingency planning. In other words, it would be beneficial to many of us if we could read more on the pro-active and preventive operational measures taken by FCE field monitors beyond conflict resolution excercises.

I would also suggest the notion of “fourth generation” early warning systems. While third generation systems are supposed to be “of the people, for the people by the people,” I think a direct focus on empowering local communities to manage and prevent conflict themselves (as opposed to “external” field monitors) would constitute a fourth generation system. A partial example is Ushahidi, which allows villagers to report alerts by SMS and to also subscribe directly to SMS alerts of incidents taking place in their vicinity.

A Conversation on Early Warning with Howard Adelman

Professor Howard Adelman kindly shared some interesting insights (via email) in response to (1) Michael Lund’s new chapter on conflict prevention, and (2), my reaction to it (see previous blog entry). In his response, Professor Adelman also drew on a number of my other blog entries, which I greatly appreciate—starting a conversation on early warning was exactly what I was hoping to do with this blog.

What follows are some reactions to Professor Adelman’s email. I’ve chosen to “reply by blog” as opposed to email in order open the conversation to others who might wish to contribute. I want to keep this blog entry at readable length (i.e., under five minutes) and will therefore be biased in selecting the issues I respond to. Professor Adelman is certainly invited to share additional thoughts via the comments section.

Reading the entries on the blog and Michael’s chapter suggested to me that there is  confusion over the relationship between conflict prevention and early warning. […] Early warning not only includes the gathering of data but the analysis of that data to develop strategic options for response but does not include the responses themselves which come under conflict prevention.

Whether early response should be filed under conflict prevention or some other term is perhaps more a question for academics. I do realize the importance of having clear definitions and sharp conceptual frameworks. However, I’m more preoccupied with early response actually happening at all, regardless of which toolbox it belongs to.

Patrick observes that CEWARN’s methodology, like the majority of intergovernmental systems gets rather technical, institutional and bureaucratic very quickly, it is unclear whether he is pointing out to a structural flaw or a propensity because the system has strong governmental links. Though he is correct that, “It is easy to forget the human element of early warning when faced with fancy language such as baselines, trends analysis, structural indicators,” it should be noted that the few early successes of the system did not come from the highly developed technical side but from the very personal reporting side of those individuals gathering information before it was subjected to systematic extrapolations. Nevertheless, the systematic framework allowed the observer to ask the right questions and look for the data that revealed an impending crisis.

In my view, the structural flaw of CEWARN is the system’s strong governmental links. This is why the few early successes of the system did not come from the highly developed technical (or data-driven) side but from the personal reporting side of those individuals gathering information before it was subject to systematic extrapolations and institutional inertia.

I find it particularly telling that CEWARN’s first success story occurred in July 2003, barely a month after the system went operational, which is when I first joined the CEWARN team. None of the institutional or highly technical procedures were in place at the time so when a CEWARN field in monitor called a country coordinator to alert him that an armed group was mobilizing to raid another group’s cattle, the communication of this information to CEWARN was all done ad hoc, right through to the early response. I am skeptical that institutionalizing effective early response is possible. In fact, I see it as an oxymoron. To find out why, please see my ISA paper on new strategies for early response (PDF).

CEWARN and other such systems are intended to involve communities at the grass roots level to sideline the source of violence and initiate processes that will keep them sidelined. Further, the Ushahidi approach involving peer-to-peer, networked communication tools was not that different than the networking design and open information system at the base of the CEWARN system.

I disagree. CEWARN and Ushahidi are hardly similar or comparable, either in design or in operation. CEWARN is not an open information system by any measure—the project’s incident and situation reports are not open to the public. The online CEWARN Reporter is password protected, only the CEWARN team and select government officials have access. In fact, CEWARN’s design is an excellent example of anti-crowdsourcing. CEWARN’s network design remains far more centralized than Ushahidi’s can ever be; not least because the source code of Ushahidi will be made available freely to anyone who wants it. If there is one similarity between the two systems, it has to do with the fact that both projects need to focus far more on operational and tactical early response.

Patrick’s argument is akin to saying that when we see certain kinds of spots on the skin we know the child has measles, so why do we need greater in-depth analysis for detecting patterns of spread or for detecting the disease even before the spots appear on the skin.

Close. Why do we need greater in-depth analysis when this analysis will be sent to a hospital a thousand miles away for further analysis and not result in any response by public health professionals who have no incentive to respond? Why not train the parents directly to deal with the measles instead?

The CEWARN and WANEP systems were deliberately designed to be frugal operations rooted in community-based gather of information and data with the analysis located in the state and the region of the conflict.

Why are we not designing systems rooted in community-based early responses? Why ask communities to code data that is ultimately of limited use to them?

Alex de Waal’s depiction of the documentation provided in Sudan that allowed villagers to evacuate is but one example of one end of the early warning spectrum but does not obviate the need for more developed systems. However, Patrick’s message needs to be heeded: the latter should not be developed at the expense of community-based systems such as GI-NET in Burma using a civilian radio network to enable civilians to receive and send warning information and distress calls.

I would add that more sophisticated systems need to demonstrate cases of operational response (particularly since these systems tend to be expensive to fund). Note that I’m not even raising the bar to successful cases of operational prevention. Just responses, that’s all.

CEWARN reported more than 3,000 conflict events in the first three years of operation but has only responded to a dozen at most. That’s a “success” rate of 0.4%. On the other hand, the system can be assessed using other measures. For example, the project has successfully documented extensive evidence human rights abuses, which has forced governments to acknowledge that a problem exists and to start taking responsibility for that problem.

Recall when the CEWARN team reported its first year of data to government officials in Addis Ababa (you and I were both there, Professor Adelman). The government representatives were so taken aback by the extent of the violence taking place in cross-border regions that they refused to release the country reports (in direct violation of the CEWARN protocol which had been ratified). They eventually did release the reports six months later and by doing so have acknowledged there was a problem, which is a critical first step.

Conflict Prevention: Theory, Policy and Practice

My colleague Michael Lund has a new chapter coming out early next year entitled “Conflict Prevention: Theory in Pursuit of Policy and Practice,” in William Zartman et. al, Handbook of Conflict Resolution (Sage Publications, forthcoming in 2009). He kindly shared it with us yesterday on the basis that “despite the Internet, blogs, etc., information circulation in the field  of conflict analysis and peacebuilding is very segmented and experiences huge lags [so] this might speed things up.”

I couldn’t agree more with Michael on the thick viscosity or inertia of information flow in our field. Take this blog for example, it still remains the only blog in the world dedicated to discussing current challenges and opportunities in the field of conflict early warning and response. This shows how far behind we are in adopting new technologies and modes of communication. We don’t even have a proper Wikipedia entry on conflict early warning. So I very much appreciate Michael’s decision to share a copy of his chapter with us. I’ll respect copyright issues (albeit begrudgingly) and won’t actually upload the chapter on this blog; however, do email him if you want a copy.

In his email, Michael invited comments and feedback on his chapter This reminds me of how Ethan Zuckerman often posts drafts of his papers, conference presentations, etc., on his blog to solicit feedback prior to publication; call it a crowdsourcing approach to peer-review. I would encourage us to do the same in our field.

In any case, what follows are short excerpts of Michael’s chapter along with some comments and criticisms. Michael’s primary goal in the chapter is to explain why the gap between the promise of conflict prevention and it’s more deliberate pursuit still persists. The chapter is 37 pages long, so I will limit myself to just three brief observations.

However imperative later interventions are for minimizing loss of life, they are less humane and likely more difficult because the antagonists are organized, armed, and deeply invested in destroying each other.

  • I find this argument somewhat problematic. If I understand correctly, we should focus on early prevention because late prevention presents important obstacles. Yes, of course, but given the fact that the vast majority of our responses to conflict are late, should we not take more responsibility in identifying ways to address the more difficult issues that come up with later intervention? We rarely address the more vexing issues in our field, always gravitating towards problems that are distinctly easier to solve. But when early prevention fails (which is the rule, not the exception) shouldn’t we have a plan B to mimimize loss of life?

In sum, conflict prevention is now more common. In addition to these explicit efforts, much of it is hidden in plain sight under other rubrics such as nuclear arms control, democratization, non-violent regime change, people power, power-sharing, conditional aid, and counter-terrorism. Though such activities can contribute to preventing conflict, they are taken for granted and not registered in the conflict prevention column.

  • At last, many thanks for making this point, Michael. As you know, I have spent the past few years (and ISA papers) emphasizing the fact that strategic nonviolent action (NVA) and people power belong squarely within the practice of conflict prevention and conflict early warning/response. This point brings us back to the first issue related to late prevention and having a plan B. Just as I have argued that NVA is an important part of conflict prevention, you will recall that I have also emphasized that preparedness and contingency planning (for conflict early response) is also critical for conflict prevention. Preparedness needs to be registered in the conflict prevention column. The question is how many times do we have to fail, and how many lives need to be lost, before we finally come to the realization that preparedness is critical to conflict prevention? See this blog entry for more on conflict preparedness and this one on nonviolent action.

The main problem [vis-a-vis] conflict prevention is not epistemological but organizational. We need not wait until scientists have found the universally highest correlations among the limited set of variables already most plausibly known as relevant before we continue as in the previous section to gather, synthesize, and disseminate the existing findings among policymakers and
field practitioners. Enough is known to produce heuristic guidance, for even the most verified conclusions are cannot be implemented mechanically in any particular conflict setting, but used as action-hypotheses to be combined with astute political judgments. A structured framework could pull together the preventive instruments available with guidelines about which are likely to be most feasible and productive in what conditions.

  • Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. As my colleague, Bradley Perry, has shown, “Fast and Frugal Conflict Early Warning” is a perfectly viable strategy. See this blog entry for more information on Bradley’s approach. In addition, I recommend following my PhD colleague Susanna Campbell’s dissertation research on “Organizational Barriers to Peace.” Michael’s comments also reminds me of a similar issue that our colleagues in the climate change community face. There will always be sceptics who claim that there is insufficient data to prove that climate change is indeed happening. Hence the “Precautionary Principle” which implies that “there is a responsibility to intervene and protect the public from exposure to harm where scientific investigation discovers a plausible risk in the course of having screened for other suspected causes.” The risk need only be plausible, not definite. Applied to conflict prevention, the precautionary principle reverses the onus of proof; it is the responsibility of those who claim insufficient evidence on early signs of conflict to establish that the lack of an early/late response will not result in significant harm.

Conflict Early Warning: Any Successes?

Does any one know of any successful instances of conflict early warning and early response? Specifically, in which situations have formal conflict early warning systems provided an accurate forecast of conflict escalation which was communicated to policy/decision makers who subsequently took action?

The Dallaire cables clearly reveal that even in the most prominent case of accurate and timely conflict early warning (which was the result of human intelligence and not formal indicator-based warning systems), response was muted. Kofi Annan, at the time head of Peacekeeping, told Dallaire not to take any action but to inform the president of Rwanda about the stockpiling of weapons even though it was the president’s own inner circle that was planning the impending slaughter. Can graphing conflict trends over time elicit a more effective response?

In order for conventional early warning systems to operationalize response, they would first need to build a paper trail of analysis, which would then need to be used to lobby the UN Secretariat and other member states; these actors would then have to place political and economic pressure on offending governments and/or non-state armed groups, and the latter would have to acquiesce. Are there cases that show this has been effective in the past?

The case of Macedonia is often heralded as a successful demonstration of preventive deployment and conflict prevention. However, the operational response was not the result of indicator-based models. Furthermore, US geopolitical interests are said to have played an important role in galvanizing response.

Furthermore, as Susanna Campbell and I have argued here the decision-making process at the UN and other regional organizations is far more complex than we realize. By starting with an analysis of the existing decision-making structures and working “backwards” to formal conflict early warning systems, Campbell and I found could not find evidence that conflict early warning analysis serve as input in the decision-making process. Does this mean that the most we can expect from conflict early warning systems is analysis for the purposes of lobbying and advocacy? In other words, should conventional conflict early warning systems be thought of as tools for lobbying policy makers? Should this qualify as operational response?

That may just be part of the problem. The indicator of success for effective conflict early warning systems still seems to be timely high-quality analytical reports. Can we do better? Why not use operational response (even if the response is not successful in preventing violence) as a more appropriate indicator of success?

Any thoughts?

FAST was the pioneer

swisspeace‘s FAST early warning project truly pioneered the practice of field-based conflict early warning. Indeed, FAST was the only project of its kind throughout it’s 10 years of operation. The project was the first to apply analytical framework using event-data at the field level, and the first initiative to implement local information networks across more than 20 countries worldwide. The field data collected by FAST was the only of it’s kind. FAST was one of the very first projects that sought to combine quantitative analysis with qualitative assessments in a coherent manner. And finally, the FAST model provided valuable guidance to other early warning initiatives over the past decade. While we have had different ideas about how to improve FAST over the years, we ultimately all shared the same goals: early detection and early response.

On a personal note, I first met the FAST team in October 2001 while on a visit to Bern. It was a truly memorable experience. In those days, swisspeace was still housed in a small office block closer to the city center. I met with a couple members of the FAST team whose enthusiasm for the project was captivating. And when I walked back out into the snowy streets, I knew what it was I wanted to do: I wanted to pursue a career in this exciting field. Coincidentally, there was an opening that Fall for a new position with the FAST team focusing on Central Asia, and I was kindly encouraged to apply.

Susanne Schmeidl interviewed me for the position the following month and offered me the job! It was one of the most agonizing decisions I had to face when it became necessary for me to decide between joining swisspeace and going to graduate school. To make long story short, I went for a potential win-win scenario: go to grad school and do my graduate internship at swisspeace. And somehow it all worked out! Indeed, I should emphasize that if it were not for swisspeace and FAST, I doubt the past seven years of my life would have been anywhere near as exhilarating both intellectually and professionally. While I haven’t been in touch with the team in a while, I am genuinely saddened that such a bold project has come to an end. For sure I had my criticisms of FAST, but it’s easy to criticize a pioneering initiative.

Since the news that FAST would be ceasing operations has been made public, I know many of us have begun to reflect (and ask each other) about what lessons we should be learning thanks to FAST. And of course hindsight is 20/20, especially since FAST was pushing the envelope to begin with. Last week, Susanne Schmeidl, Michael Lund, Lawrence Woocher and I were on an ISA panel that addressed the topic of early warning. Questions about FAST and, interestingly, FEWER were posed. We didn’t have the time to go in much detail but the conversations did remind me of Milt’s suggestion some four years ago in Belfast that we think about the reasons for FEWER closing down and the gaps that the group’s absence left.

So I wonder whether we might use this forum to share some ideas about the rich lessons that FAST has left us with? I know we also share a concern about the state of our field vis-a-vis donor funding, impact and future early warning projects. What consequences do we now face in light of FAST closing down? Is there a way to revitalize the field? How do we ensure that future projects are sustainable over the long term? If you think these questions are appropriate to ask at this point in time, and/or have others that we should be asking ourselves, may I suggest that we use this blog and the comments section (see below) to begin a conversation?

With best wishes,
Patrick