Early Warning

The OSCE’s working definition of the term ‘early warning’ as it applies to the OSCE is: Early warning is the collection, collation, analysis, assessment, and communication of information to appropriate policy makers, all with the purpose of facilitating a response to developments which, if not appropriately addressed in a timely and effective manner, are likely to lead to an inter-State and/or intra-State conflict or the escalation thereof. The internal OSCE Early Warning Guidelines were produced and circulated to delegations in 2012, and CPC has since produced a number of other internal reference documents that build on the guidelines.

Role of the OSCE

MC.DEC/03/11 tasks the OSCE Secretary General (SG) to provide early warning to pS by bringing to the PC’s attention any situation of emerging tensions or conflicts in the OSCE area, complementing the early warning functions already contained in the existing mandates of all relevant OSCE executive structures. In the event of an emerging high-level conflict situation, the SG sets up and chairs a Task Force consisting of representative of the CiO, all relevant Secretariat Units, relevant OSCE institutions and, if existing, the field operation in the affected country (or countries).

The OSCE Network of Early Warning Focal Points was created among OSCE’s executive structures, including the FOs, to ensure that a comprehensive, cross-dimensional and coordinated approach is taken towards the provision of early warning analysis and reporting. The CPC serves as the OSCE-wide early warning focal point, and the other structures contribute to early warning through their respective expertise: HCNM–Cross-dimensional expertise on national minority issues;
ODIHR–on the human dimension; RFoM–on freedom of the media and protection of journalists; OCEEA–on the economic and environmental dimension; F0s –Country and cross-dimensional expertise (if present); TNT Expertise on transnational threats and challenges; Gender–Expertise on gender-sensitive early warning, etc.

Early warning requires the OSCE to collect and collate early warning information, to effectively analyze and assess this information, in order to separate the real dangers from false alarms before communicating the information according to standardized procedures. This work is crucial, as there is often a narrow window of opportunity to recognize the signals of a developing confrontation and to prevent escalation of a crisis. Thus, the timing of preventive diplomacy is critical, but often hard to gauge accurately.

When events on the ground appear to be heating up, the OSCE field operation 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. The OSCE is forward looking, conducting field security training, crisis response simulations and trend analysis of changes over time, to prepare for and be able to respond to early warning of the outbreak of a crisis. 

The OSCE response impending violence can take the form of quiet diplomacy, 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. OSCE is ready to take early action through its operational framework for crisis response, including phased deployment of staff from the rapid deployment roster which it maintains. 

While the OSCE can identify the signs of potential conflict, recommend action, respond quickly, and perform well due to its sustained presence on the ground, a key challenge is that early action to respond to early warning relies on the political will of participating States to attain the required consensus at the Permanent Council. 

OSCE Mission to Skopje

Local imam from Lojane village of Kumanovo shakes hand with police officer as part of active citizenry project supported by the Mission, Lojane, 8 October 2014. (OSCE/Sedat Ajdari)

Local imam from Lojane village of Kumanovo shakes hand with police officer as part of active citizenry project supported by the Mission, Lojane, 8 October 2014. (OSCE/Sedat Ajdari)

The OSCE Mission to Skopje’s early warning work is one of the Mission’s distinctive and comparative advantages continues to be in monitoring security-related developments throughout the host country, with a main focus on political polarization at the municipal level. The Mission monitors all major protests and facilitates early action to address identified problems. In 2020, together with the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the Mission organized dialogue facilitation and mediation workshops for municipal councilors, municipal administrations, and mayors of municipalities. In addition, it monitored the sanctioning of violations of restrictions, movement, and assembly during the COVID-19 crisis, its impact on the economy and standards of living; effects of the pandemic and related measures on the postponement of the parliamentary elections; discrepancies between central and local levels in the management of the crisis; allegations of corruption and nepotism; and addressed the needs of smaller communities and women, completing a survey on local responses to the crisis from a gender perspective.

Ukraine: The SMM mandate was initially tailored around early warning (regarding the conflict in the Donbas). Then the monitoring in the East was (and is) largely organized around the implementation of the Minsk Agreement, which also gives OSCE an early warning mandate, including daily monitoring and reporting work.