Pros and Cons: Conflict Early Warning Systems

On the subject of ICT4Peace, an article by two Payson graduates, Phuong N. Pham and Patrick Vinck was written in August of 2013, and explains how early warning systems can be used as they are for disasters, but for peace. I am going to synthesize the key points made in this article because “conflict” early warning systems should be in place, and it is relevant to Joseph Kony or even Ukraine, for example, to trigger early intervention when Russian troops are on the attack. The authors compare public health early warning systems and conflict early warning systems, and one of the main problems is that public heath warnings trickle down to involve local stakeholders, while conflict warnings are generally only given to policy makers at the top. How can we use ICTs to increase the effectiveness of conflict early warning systems?

Actors and response order:

  • People-centered and community-based approaches (changing roles): changes in who generates information, how it is generated, and who accesses it changes how we respond to conflict situations and breaks up hierarchies, potentially even human rights offenders
  • Emerging principle of Responsibility to Protect (R2P): the duty to respond to early warning s of conflict by concerned governments and policy makers, including the UN

Key Challenges: Quality, ethics and response:

  • Responsibility to provide unbiased information: acccuracy and reliability of information in question, unequal access to ICTs
  • Ensure action is taken: requireeffort to respond to/address issues
  • Security of information: repressive regimes create new opportunities for human rights offenders when they monitor their citizens—this sensitive information must be kept secure and managed well…or else!
  • Ethical principles in research: protect human research subjects—is conflict early warning research? Can early warning systems create their own human rights violations?

Conclusion: Changes in early warning systems in response to ICTs will fundamentally change what is done and how. However, new ICTs also bring new concerns and ethical challenges. We must continue to monitor the effectiveness of programs and create practical guidelines for ICT4Peace practitioners.

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2 responses to “Pros and Cons: Conflict Early Warning Systems

  • claredtuck

    I think the concept of applying disaster early warning systems to “conflict” zones is a great idea, but will be difficult to apply in the real world. What I am still unclear on is how an “early warning system” for conflict will work in countries who’s governments are already corrupted?

  • briannasteinmetz

    I agree with Clare’s comment as I also think conflict early warning systems can better utilize ICTs to improve situations in conflicted areas on paper; however, in reality, more often than not these areas are corrupt and lack the strong governments, infrastructure, finances, and capacity to use ICTs in conflict early warning systems. These warning systems will fail if they cannot reach the target population; therefore, I think these ICT conflict warning systems must follow a people-centered approach and be tailored to the specific region if there is any chance at success.

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