Failure to respond to emerging threats


Policymakers are often not inclined to take early warning seriously or to act upon it in situations that pose the possibility of severe ethnic and religious conflicts, humanitarian disasters, or gross human rights violations. A number of reasons exist for this passivity. The first is the relatively low stakes perceived to be at risk. At an early stage in their development, such contingencies simply are not perceived to pose grave threats to a given state's national interests. Moreover, whether a low-level conflict or incipient crisis will escalate in ways that would eventually engage major interests of individual states or the international community often remains problematical and difficult to forecast.

Even when events that could precipitate a major humanitarian or violent crisis are perceived in a timely manner and accurately evaluated, decision makers will often still defer taking preventive action. This inaction is either because the warning is not taken seriously or because the warning is taken very seriously but decision makers are loath to confront the unpalatable choice of responses facing them. Particularly for the complex and seemingly intractable disputes that have characterized much of the violence of the post-Cold War period, it may be less the unfolding crisis that conditions how a decision maker processes warning than the implications of that crisis for action.


In many ethnic and religious conflicts, humanitarian crises, or severe human rights abuses, timely or accurate warning may not be the problem at all. Rather, for one reason or another, no serious response is likely to be taken solely on the basis of early warning simply because a simmering situation that threatens to boil over may not be deemed important enough to warrant the type and scale of effort deemed necessary to prevent the hypothetical catastrophe. Moreover, this reaction can occur not only when what is at stake is only dimly perceived or not foreseen at all, but also if the coming crisis is fully and accurately anticipated.


Problem Type:
F: Fuzzy exceptional problems
Date of last update
07.12.2017 – 15:15 CET