The power and limits of data for peace
Improving the EU conflict early warning system for more effective prevention
Preventing violent conflict and fostering peace are the European Union’s main foreign policy goals – particularly regarding its immediate neighbourhood (1). The recent escalation of violence in places like Ukraine, Mali and Sudan begs the question of whether the EU’s conflict prevention mechanisms are effective and how they can be strengthened.
To help avoid deadly violence and its consequences in the future, the EU needs to assess where risks for violence loom and how they can be reduced before violence escalates. Since 2012 it has done so with the help of its conflict early warning system (EWS), which has recently been updated as the toolset on EU conflict analysis and early warning. The toolset is one of the rare examples of a system that integrates data-driven conflict forecasting with traditional qualitative and intelligence assessments. The process combines in-depth analysis, political prioritisation, and planning of preventive engagement in countries at risk. In combination with other tools, the system is designed to improve the EU’s efforts towards conflict prevention and peacebuilding outside the Union (2).
This Brief analyses the EU warning system’s contribution to conflict prevention and discusses ways to strengthen it. The first section examines the factors that contribute to the success of the system. The second section suggests how the system and the EU’s overall prevention approach can be further improved. Both sections hold lessons for developers of risk assessment and warning systems within and outside EU institutions. The Brief concludes by arguing that the European External Action Service (EEAS) should focus on expanding the methodological toolbox to include innovative foresight approaches. Together with the EU Commission, Member States and other partners, it should strengthen the link between warning and action to make sure analyses translate into meaningful, coordinated prevention. [...]