Early warning

When long-term preventive measures are not sufficient, and events on the ground appear to be heating up, the OSCE field mission may serve as a source of early warning and even as a “first responder” when violent events appear to be imminent. The first requisite for effective preventive diplomacy is “early warning” to detect situations that might lead to violent conflict. Violent incidents involving governments or their opponents, or conflict between different domestic factions, could provide indications of future, more widespread violence.

There is often a very narrow window of opportunity during which a third party may intervene to prevent violence. The signals of a developing confrontation may be so unclear that the seriousness of the situation may not be recognized. Premature intervention may create a “self-fulfilling prophecy” by spurring some parties on the ground to escalate violence to bring about outside involvement. Waiting too long may allow the threshold of violence to be crossed. The timing of preventive diplomacy is critical, but often hard to gauge accurately.

Identifying potential trouble spots is a first step, but effective analysis of early warning indicators is necessary to separate the real dangers from false alarms. States and multilateral organizations that “cry wolf” about violence that might, but does not actually occur, can lose their credibility and ability to focus attention in a timely way. They also alienate parties if they try to intervene in situations that do not require a drastic response; and they can exhaust both international willpower and limited resources by trying to intervene in too many conflicts.

OSCE responses to impending violence can take the form of quiet diplomacy, verbal protests, sanctions, creation or revision of the mandate for a mission of long duration, mediation to assist in finding a peaceful solution, deployment of a monitoring team, or activation of any other means at the disposal of the organization. But the primary function that the OSCE can perform better than most other organizations, due to its sustained presence on the ground in many societies living in conditions of unstable peace, is to see the early signs of potential violence and to recommend action before it is too late.

Example

In 2011, the OSCE Centre in Bishkek's Field Office in Osh organized early warning meetings in border areas of Osh and Jalal-Abad Provinces.  These meetings brought together representatives of the Governor's Office,  Border Guard Service, area residents and selected non-governmental organizations to focus on security trends and ways to establish and improve coordination between border management agencies, law enforcement bodies, government authorities and border area residents.