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This chapter focuses on media organisations and journalists as sources of outside-in warnings of conflict. Conflict prevention scholars have touched on media’s role in preventive action, but not studied it in any depth. International political communication scholarship offers few relevant insights about the media as warners, as it concentrates on their role during crises or in the build-up to military interventions and wars. This chapter fills this gap by presenting original empirical research on how and when journalists communicate warnings and under what conditions these warnings may gain traction with officials and decision-makers. Our investigation is theoretically grounded in the persuasion framework of Chapter 2, but we also draw on insights from studies about the media as communicators that are in many ways distinct from other outside-in warners such as NGOs. There are three parallel research lines: (1) textual analysis of media coverage showing how news outlets have warned about eight different crises, (2) analyst surveys, and (3) interviews with foreign correspondents and capital-based foreign news editors, officials and NGO staff. Newspapers were selected according to variation across reach, political orientation and nationality; are from countries committed to conflict prevention (US, UK, France, Germany); and cover the whole political spectrum.
The chapter examines warnings relating to violent conflict and massive humanitarian crisis in Darfur, a region of Sudan. As a case of successful ‘crisis warning’ the 2004 Darfur crisis offers important lessons about persuasiveness, especially with regard to the role of senior officials as the chapter focuses on Andrew Natsios, then the administrator of the US Agency for International Development, and Mukesh Kapila, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan. Drawing on extensive original research the chapter shows why these two officials had a variable persuasive impact over time and with different target organisations. The findings suggest that warner capacity and credibility are necessary if not always sufficient for achieving notice and acceptance. Receptivity factors played a facilitating role as they created an environment which was conducive for the warnings being accepted and which reinforced well-tailored warning messages. At the same time, the case shows that warning impact may depend on repeated attempts to get the message across, creativity in exploring alternative channels and routes, and a readiness among sources to take some career risks in order to achieve their intended goal eventually.
The chapter identifies warnings within the EU foreign policy system related to the Russian annexation of Crimea and the destabilisation of Eastern Ukraine in 2014 and examines the reasons for the differentiated impact among EU decision-makers. The Ukraine case was a strategic surprise to the overwhelming majority of EU policy-makers and posed significant diagnostic problems, but senior ministers within the system were warning their peers on the basis of previous cases, historical analogies, expert knowledge and recent indications of changed Russian intent. However, the persuasiveness of the few and late warnings suffered, first of all, from distraction by external crises coupled with limited bandwidth in the EU, shortages in relevant and reliable intelligence, high resistance against divergent policy predispositions of the warning and, finally, significant suspicions of national biases against key warning sources. The supranational part of the system was almost completely blindsided to geopolitical risk, while the newly established EEAS was partly unable and partly unwilling to persuade the Commission. It is fair to say that the system as a whole acted as an impediment to having a holistic discussion of warning as part of foreign policy discourse.
Rwanda has become the paradigmatic case for a missed opportunity to prevent genocide and human suffering on the largest scale, and subsequent analyses of this case have shaped a significant part of the practical and academic thinking. The chapter contests the dominant argument that Rwanda was a straightforward case for heeding plenty, early and high-quality warnings. It argues that indications need to be distinguished from actual warnings and persuasiveness of warnings needs to be empirically studied rather than assumed. The analysis shows that most sources cited in the literature did not contain an actual warning and gave a more ambiguous picture than is claimed by proponents who argue that lack of political will, not warnings, was the problem. It is suggested that hindsight bias partly explains why the availability of warnings has been overestimated, whereas the diagnostic difficulties in this case were underestimated. Contrary to expectations, persuasive warning communication appears to be no less of a problem for preventive policy as the will and ability to respond. The findings suggest that renewed attention is needed to the challenge of making knowledge, relevance and action claims about impending mass atrocities that are clear and persuasive enough.
This chapter looks at the persuasion strategies and successes of INGOs. Building on the theoretical framework of Chapter 2, we examine to what extent the most capable INGOs engage in conflict warning (warner capacity), when and how they communicate warnings (communication and message factors) and how they are perceived by key recipients in media and policy-making (credibility and persuasiveness). Our investigation centres on Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group. These INGOs are atypical insofar as they belong to a small group of international ‘advocacy superpowers’. We draw on three sources of data: first, interviews with 154 practitioners from international and local NGOs and think-tanks plus a further 127 interviews with foreign affairs journalists and government/IO officials in the field of conflict prevention; second, a text analysis of the public warning output of these NGOs across six different conflict cases; and third, a recipient survey among analysts and officials active in different organisational contexts, most notably the EU, the United Kingdom and the UN.
The chapter introduces the research puzzle of the study: under what conditions do warnings about impending violent conflict in other states succeed in persuading foreign policy-makers to pay more attention, shift their attitudes and mobilise for preventive or mitigating action? Why are some warnings by some sources noticed and largely accepted, while others are ignored, disbelieved or simply not acted upon? The introduction reviews briefly the literature on the warning–response gap in intelligence and peace studies and makes the case for recasting the problem as one of persuasion. It defines and conceptualises what warnings are, their different claims and varied impact. It argues that only by explaining differences in persuasiveness can prospective warners learn the right lessons. To tackle the questions, the chapter introduces the comparative and longitudinal research design, the methods used and data gathered. The chapter concludes by outlining briefly the structure of the book.
This chapter develops the conceptual basis and theoretical framework for the study, relating to relevant literatures in intelligence studies, peace studies and constructivist theories in IR. It discusses normative versus analytical approaches to warnings in foreign affairs and explicates problematic assumptions in the literature. It argues that warnings come in various forms and may contain a variable mix of knowledge, relevance and action claims. They can differ greatly in their senders’ intentions and relationships to recipients. Therefore, warning impact needs to be measured in a more nuanced way than whether warnings led to effective preventive action. The chapter develops a theoretical framework that draws on the most relevant insights from literatures in social psychology, advocacy and political communication to explain when warnings are persuasive. It distinguishes between outside-in warnings from NGOs and news media and inside-up warnings through intelligence analysts and diplomats. The framework elaborates which variables can best account for differences in persuasive success and how they may interact.
The concluding chapter draws on findings from preceding chapters to return to the original question: What makes warnings about conflicts in foreign countries persuasive? It argues that existing research in conflict prevention has tended to over-count warnings and exaggerate their persuasiveness. Most analytical products dealing with the political situation in foreign countries did not clearly announce themselves as warnings, or their warning content was highly hedged, opaque or hidden within conventional reporting or current intelligence. At the same time, inside-up warnings are influenced by outside-in warnings and the broader information environment created by media and NGOs. Six ‘first order’ factors are most significant to explain the findings as they shape persuasion paths: diagnostic difficulties specific to each case, the level of political equity at stake in a given country, individual capacities and the credibility of inside-up warners, the degree of engagement of a small group of highly capable and credible outside-in warners, the degree of agenda competition and, finally, the role of pre-existing policy biases. The chapter examines what these findings mean for prospective warners, which questions they should ask themselves, and how they can increase the chances of their warnings being listened to and, perhaps, even heeded.
This chapter focuses on the case of the Georgian-Russian War of 2008. It concentrates on the question of which warnings were communicated by whom within the European Union system and how were they perceived in terms of notice, acceptance and mobilisation to act by the EU’s member states as the key decision-makers. It considers not only warnings in relation to South Ossetia, but also those from a few months earlier related to Georgia’s other separatist region of Abkhazia that were in fact to some extent successful. Rather than a classic case of warning failure, the analysis shows considerable variation in impact among member states and between the cases of Abkhazia as compared with South Ossetia. It is argued that these differences are due to the relatively low level of diagnostic difficulty in making knowledge claims, differences in receptivity among member states due to threat perceptions and policy preferences, and source credibility given warners’ respective track records as well as suspicions of national biases. The case confirms that many factors work interdependently in producing different outcomes for warnings over time and highlights that warnings should be considered an integral part of evolving and historically contingent discourses on foreign policy.
Building on the framework developed in Chapter 2, this chapter looks specifically at the factors shaping the persuasive impact of conflict warnings articulated from within selected Western states and IOs, as opposed to warnings from outside sources such as NGOs or news media discussed in Chapters 4 and 5. The chapter is based on a ‘best-case design’ by focusing on six actors – three states and three IOs – all of which have made a clear and strong commitment to conflict prevention and preventive action by policy or mandate. These are the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany and the UN, the EU and the OSCE. We identify the most important factors or combination of factors, but also investigate differences between the six foreign policy systems as well as between types of actors, especially, states and international organisations. We found that their relationships and roles are often more fluid than that and both are affected by broader factors such as pre-existent policies, shared diagnostic beliefs or organisational cultures.
What does it take for warnings about violent conflict and war to be listened to, believed and acted upon? Why are warnings from some sources noticed and largely accepted, while others are ignored or disbelieved? These questions are central to considering the feasibility of preventing harm to the economic and security interests of states. Challenging conventional accounts that tend to blame decision-makers' lack of receptivity and political will, the authors offer a new theoretical framework explaining how distinct 'paths of persuasion' are shaped by a select number of factors, including conflict characteristics, political contexts, and source-recipient relations. This is the first study to systematically integrate persuasion attempts by analysts, diplomats and senior officials with those by journalists and NGO staff. Its ambitious comparative design encompasses three states (the US, UK, and Germany) and international organisations (the UN, EU, and OSCE) and looks in depth at four conflict cases: Rwanda (1994), Darfur (2003), Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2014).
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