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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2908

Third Generation Early Warning

Colombo, 02 July, ( Sri Lanka government opted to use military power to resolve the age-long war. About 80% of the ethnic conflicts which ended with one-side military victory were not followed by violence. Therefore, it could be expected that lasting peace is coming to Sri Lanka pointed out Kumar Rupesinghe.

Kumar Rupesinghe in his address said, However, obviously it is not a win-win solution. Besides, during the course of the wars, they claim so many civilian casualties like what happened in Sri Lanka.

He added “Now, the 30-year war was over. In general, war termination comes at a top level first like ceasefire agreement, peace agreement and military solution. On the other hand, the tension between different communities at a grass-root level, particularly in ethnic conflict, continues even after the end of wars. It implies that we have to carefully check small-scale conflicts in post conflict situations. “

Kumar Rupesinghe addressed at the launch of the “Third Generation Early Warning” book, at the BMICH on the 30th of June.

The full text of his speech is given below:


I am delighted to announce the launch of our new book “Third Generation Early Warning” which is really the combined effort of some our staff and colleagues in the field. This is a subject which is dear to my heart and for which I have devoted many years of my life, internationally with my work with the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO), International Alert, Human Rights Information and Documentation System, International (HURIDOCS) and the Forum for Early Warning and Early Action (FEWER). My experience at these organizations made me realize that early warning systems at micro-level are needed in Sri Lanka and started a citizen-based early warning system which is now referred to as a ‘third generation early warning system’.

Today I need hardly say that the world requires an Early Warning and Early Response system to respond to the imminent dangers that present itself for human security in the 21st Century. South Asia in particular is a major conflict zone and here in Sri Lanka and in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan we have witness a new form of terrorism, which has had catastrophic impacts on these countries.

The other regions such as the seemingly peaceful Europe have also gone through similar tribulations such as the Napoleonic War in the 19th century, the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939, the most devastating First and Second World Wars and the genocide against the Jewish people which claimed 8-9 million lives. However, today, Europe is basically a continent without wars. After the Second World War, some visionary individuals like Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman and Konrad Adenauer conceived the idea of a “United Europe”, which was successfully achieved through reconciliation and cooperation among the European countries. Perhaps, what is important is to learn lessons from the past European experience and from all over the world in order to not repeat the tragedies and to build stable and peaceful states where people can live without any fear of violence. Early warning systems can help to establish such stable states in Sri Lanka and other countries.

This book is a result of the efforts made by years of research on efforts to create a vision in a world where violent conflicts are prevented before their outbreak or escalation. The overall purpose of the book is (a) to introduce conflict Early Warning system as a third generation Early Warning initiative which has a demonstrated track record in the prevention of inter–communal violence and (b) to promote third generation systems as the way forward for the prevention of conflicts.

FCE was established in 2002 and I conducted research on the human security situation in the eastern province with the support of the Berghof Foundation. Through the research I realized that human security needs to be secured in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. There are many reasons for this since the East has witnessed more than 12 armies which have come to liberate its people. The litmus test for the Ceasefire Agreement and its implementation was to be in the East where there were Muslim, Tamils and Sinhalese who live in close proximity to each other. Thus, FCE started its Human Security Programme in 2003 by establishing athird generation Early Warning and Early Response mechanism by adopting Swiss Peace Foundation's FAST system into micro-level conflict. Its objective was to address not the violence between the Government forces and the LTTE, but the inter- and intra- communal violence in the said province. Since then FCE has been recognized as having made a contribution to the field of conflict resolution and early warning. The "Third Generation Early Warning" book project started in October 2007 in order to record and share its six year experience in the East.

Sri Lanka and Early Warning

As all of you know, the main peace process has failed in this country. The government opted to use military power to resolve the age-long war. Licklider statistically showed that about 80% of the ethnic conflicts which ended with one-side military victory were not followed by violence. Therefore, we can expect that lasting peace is coming to Sri Lanka.

However, obviously it is not a win-win solution. Besides, during the course of the wars, they claim so many civilian casualties like what happened in Sri Lanka. Now, the 30-year war was over. In general, war termination comes at a top level first like ceasefire agreement, peace agreement and military solution. On the other hand, the tension between different communities at a grass-root level, particularly in ethnic conflict, continues even after the end of wars. It implies that we have to carefully check small-scale conflicts in post conflict situations.

However, if we look at Micro-Level conflict in the East, we can see that early warning had not failed. In fact, the FCE's EW system operated there successfully for the last six years. FCE has a recorded number of 174 intervention cases. Most of them were intervened before any violence took place. What should be noted here is that even after violence escalated, FCE has successfully mitigated the tension between communities through our extensive and dense network. Early Warning systems are not only used at a pre-conflict phase as conflict prevention but also at an in-conflict phase as escalation prevention and at a post-conflict phase as recurrence prevention. This book is a good example which shows the difference between early warning systems which are used in macro-level and micro-level. The FCE's EW system can be effectively applied to MICRO-LEVEL conflict and the system has saved a great number of lives in the East.

A History of Early Warning

The significance of early warning in collective human disasters was recognized and conceptually plotted out by Israel Charney, who published How Can We Commit the Unthinkable?: Genocide, the Human Cancer in 1982, in which he proposed need for a genocide early warning system. The underlying idea of his proposal was nothing different from that of the current sophisticated early warning systems; ‘while death is inevitable, genocide is not. In the belief that there are things we can do to reduce the likelihood of future genocides and slow or even halt ongoing slaughters, we propose the development of a genocide early warning system.’ However, it was not until the early 90’s that conflict prevention came to the fore when the UN General Secretary Boutros-Ghali started to emphasize its importance, reflecting the increasing number of the intra-state conflict. Moreover, civil society such as International Alert took the initiative to popularize the concept of conflict prevention and early warning.

In spite of the fact that conflict prevention became one of the most important items in the agenda of the international community, they could not prevent the most tragic incident in our recent history - the genocide in Rwanda of 1994, which claimed about 1 million Tutsis’ and moderate Hutus’ lives within a couple of months and following year, the massacre of Srebrenica in Bosnia, where approximately 7,000 civilians were killed within the UN declared security zone. Although after these tragic incidents, there was a growing tendency to establish effective and practical early warning systems and in fact a number of EW systems were established, they have revealed the weakness and ineffectiveness of operational conflict prevention. In the most recent case, the conflict in Kenya in 2007 and that of Georgia in 2008 were not prevented, in spite of the fact that there were enough warnings before the eruption of violence. The most serious problem lying in the field of early warning is the gap between warnings and responses – responses do not follow warnings. Early warnings without effective interventions are meaningless in terms of saving people. Now, we must also look at our country Sri Lanka. There were actually so many early warnings from inside and outside of the country before the recurrence of the armed conflict between the GoSL and LTTE during the CFA. However, as you see, these warnings were not followed by effective response. Here we saw the failure of early warning and conflict resolution at MACRO-LEVEL conflict (Political conflict).

FCE’s Early Warning System

FCE’s Early Warning system aims at preventing violence at Micro-Level conflict such as inter-communal conflict which is a conflict between different ethnic groups and its main actors are civilians. In Early Warning, the most significant point is to collect accurate information of the symptoms of violence. Since data collection is the first step of any early warning system, if we fail in data collection, early warning becomes meaningless. The FCE’s Early Warning mechanism is based on the FAST system, which was developed by the Swiss Peace Foundation. The uniqueness of the FAST system is its combination of a quantitative approach (event data coding) and a qualitative approach (close monitoring of the situation) to conflict analysis, which enables one to conduct more accurate analysis by offsetting each approach’s weakness. However, after it was brought out that the FAST system has a limitation in grasping micro-level context; the FCE developed its own event data coding system called ‘InfoSys”.

As part of Early Warning, the FCE compiles Daily Human Security Situation Reports, Monthly Human Security Risk Assessment Reports, Annual Reports, SMS alerts and Geographic Information System (GIS) Maps and distributes among the stakeholders. In addition, Monthly Human Security Roundtable Meetings are held at the Colombo Head Office with the participation of various stakeholders.

The FCE’s Early Warning and Early Response system is highly geared towards interventions. Considering the fact that NGOs have been regarded as powerless in preventing impending violence and ongoing violence from occurring and escalating, the Early Warning and Early Response system developed by the FCE is unique and gives a new tool to civil society, which has displayed more motivation to intervene in conflicts than any other institution. The key to overcoming its limitations lies in the two principles which the FCE employs: (1) the greater the degree of concern and effort there is to prevent or resolve a conflict, the greater the chance of success; (2) the limitations of each actor or sector can be overcome through cooperation and coordination with others.

The FCE’s intervention strategy is described as ‘Multi-stakeholder approach’. The mechanism takes the form of a network of stakeholders that include the field monitors, co-existence committees (CECs), peace committees, zonal committees, humanitarian agencies, government agencies, the security establishment, NGOs, local authorities, religious organizations and victims of violence. Through this response mechanism, these stakeholders have been brought together into networks that work collaboratively to formulate and implement early responses when tensions increase and there is a heightened potential for violence; many of these stakeholders are involved in gathering and disseminating information. These networks have enhanced the capacity for conflict prevention in the districts.

It is the Co-Existence Committees (CECs) that sustain the FCE’s Early Warning and Early Response system on the ground. The CECs consist of volunteers from each major community and there are various CECs consisting of women, youth, religious groups, media, fishermen, farmers and Internally Displace Persons (IDPs). They are not only established to strengthen inter-communal networks, but also to work as the first informers of the indications of inter-communal conflicts and being stakeholders in interventions. These networks are often described as dense networks. Patricia Lawrence, Timmo Gaasbeek and Joe Bock state that ‘FCE’s inter-ethnic staff and formalized Sinhala-Muslim-Tamil networks of “connectors” in the districts are one of its most effective peace-building assets.’ Moreover, since the staff members are from their own communities and are organic members of their communities, they enjoy the legitimacy of their communities.

Through empirical and theoretical analyses, it has been learnt that the FCE’s Early Warning and Early Response system can be used in addressing inter-communal conflicts. Moreover, it has also been proven beyond doubt that where there is a strong will for peace among the people in conflict areas and cooperation by politicians and law-enforcement agencies (police), the system can exercise its maximum power.

The Uniqueness of Third Generation Early Warning

The first generations monitor and analyze conflict outside the conflict regions - in western countries. Such systems depend on media reports as a primary source of information. They mainly use ‘quantitative’ approach in their data collection and analysis. In addition, these systems do not possess an effective early response system.

Second generation systems monitor events in the conflict regions. However, again the analysis of the conflicts takes place outside the conflict zone, in the West. Again, it does not have any effective early response mechanism. Another common characteristic of the first and second generations is that their unit of analysis is based on country. Therefore they are referred to as ‘macro’ EW and ER. Since their systems are based in western countries, they can also be called “headquarter-based early warning systems.”

The first and second generations, or Macro-Early Warning systems, share some common shortcomings. Firstly, they are too far from conflict context to enable effective early response. Secondly, they do not include micro level conflict scenarios and the contributing factors.

These ideas led to the emergence of a new type of EW/ER systems whose monitoring and analysis are both conducted within a conflict region by local civil society or regional governments.

They are what we call “Third generation” Early Warning systems. The logic behind it is that closeness to conflict area enables one to understand the situation better and intervene rapidly and appropriately. By so doing, it intends to reduce the number of victims by preventing direct violence in community-bases conflicts (micro-conflict). Moreover, it integrates EW system and ER system together as a simultaneous process. Since it deals with a range of conflicts from inter-personal incidents to inter-communal disputes, it can be called “micro” EW and ER.

Global and Regional Trend of Violent Conflicts

I would also like to talk about the global trend of violent conflict. The number of intrastate conflicts has been decreasing significantly from the mid 90’s. In spite of the fact that around 1988 there were 32 civil wars (wars with a casualty rate of 1,000), today, the number of civil wars has dropped significantly and there are only 16 remaining. Whilst the number of major armed conflicts has been decreasing globally, that of smaller conflicts has been on the increase. There are a number of small-scale inter-communal conflicts, particularly in South Asia. In the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka, where the Foundation for Co-Existence (FCE) operates its human security programme, the deep mistrust between the Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese communities can easily rise up to violence through a small dispute. Pakistan is saddled with various kinds of inter-communal conflicts such as the ones between the Sunni and Shi’ite, between the Muslims and Christians and between the Urdu-speakers and Pashtun-speakers. In India, people have experienced violent conflicts between the Hindus and Muslims or between the Hindus and Sikhs and there are so many other conflicts. Even after the end of the ideological conflict between the Maoists and the Government, small-scale violence is ongoing in the Terai region between the Madheshi and Pahadis.

Demand for the FCE’s EW system

In this context, there is a glowing tendency to try to learn from the FCE’s early warning system in order to address the existing violence in South Asian countries. In February, 2009, FCE was invited to Nepal by International Rescue Committee since they wanted to adopt our early warning system to the conflict there. Moreover, FCE was invited to an international early warning conference “Early Warning Systems: Potential for Crisis Management and Regional Cooperation” in Karachi, Pakistan in March, 2009. Furthermore, our early warning system was taken up in an early warning blog run by Patrick Meier, which is now read by a number of scholars and practitioners all over the world. Now, FCE is planning to establish a regional early warning consortium in South Asia where we can share information as well as early warning and early response methodologies.


There are some challenges for the future. The FCE’s early warning system must extend the focus also not only to inter ethnic conflict but also intra ethnic conflicts within the community. In order to implement this idea, we must develop new indicators for intra-community violence. Furthermore, how to prevent terrorism, whose number has been significantly increasing in South Asia, is also a big challenge. However, there is no right answer to this question. We still do not know whether it is possible to prevent terrorism using publicly available information because terrorism is carefully and secretly planned. In Chapter 2 of this new book, David Nyheim identified some challenges for the future. For example, he argues that we must think about climate-related threats. According to him, climate change will affect security through: (a) conflicts over resources; (b) economic damage and risk to coastal cities and critical infrastructure; (c) loss of territory and border disputes; (d) environmentally-induced migration; (e) situations of fragility and radicalization; (f) tension over energy supply; and (g) pressure on international governance.

Now, some scholars started to talk about Fourth generation early warning. I think it is natural that after the discussion of the three generations, people start to think about ‘what is coming next?’ Most notably, an American Early Warning scholar Patrick Meier has started to speculate about fourth generation early warning systems, which are similar to the third generation systems as they too are located in conflict zones. The argument has just begun and it is a good sign since early warning is always a learning process and needs to be developed further for more effective conflict prevention. The world is always changing and so is the forms of wars, the early warning system must be developed along with these changes. For the further development in this field, it is significant to understand how the field developed and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each generation so that it enables us to clearly find out which aspects of early warning systems should be developed. In this respect, I think that this book can contribute to the field enormously.

Finally, I would like to thank all the staff members of the Foundation for Co-Existence, particularly to those working in the district offices, for had it not been for their enormous efforts in collecting crucial information and intervening in volatile situations, this book could not have been published and the FCE’s Early Warning and Early Response System itself could not have achieved anything. I would also thank the FCE’s information centre for their daily efforts collecting information and distributing precious human security information to those who are concerned.

I truly appreciate the enormous support given by the Royal Norwegian Embassy and the British High Commission for their continued support for the Human Security Program and for their support in the publication of this volume. Further, I would like to thank the Berghof Foundation for Conflict Studies for their encouragement to commence the Human Security Programme at its initial stage. Finally to Tadako Kano and and Gayathri Wickremesinghe, Sulochana Ragunathan for their assistance without which this book would not have been possible.

- Asian Tribune -

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