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22-10-2012

During United Nations Disarmament Week (22-28 October 2012), the danger of the arms race and the need for its cessation will be discussed. The project led by Professor Christoph Meyer, an ERC grantee based at King's College in London (UK) is particularly relevant. He recently presented the final results on his ERC-funded project on forecasts for the prevention of armed conflicts.

In the course of his project, Prof Meyer investigated the effects of warnings on policy decision-making with regards to violent intra-national conflicts. Leading a multidisciplinary team composed of Dr Chiara de Franco, Dr John Brante and Dr Florian Otto, he examined the conditions under which warnings mediated by high-profile politicians and media influenced prevention of violent conflict in certain country cases, namely Rwanda (1993-94), Sudan/Darfur (2002-2004), Georgia (2008), Macedonia (1999-2001), Kosovo (1997-1999), Turkey/North Iraq (2002-2004) and Estonia (early 1991-1993s). His research team also examined the impact of warnings on key international organisations such as the OSCE, the UN and the EU, and specific countries (e.g. the UK, the US, Germany).

Prof Meyer is amongst one of the first ERC grantees with a completed project. His research outcomes underline the impact of early warnings for the prevention of armed conflict. It was interestingly revealed that in addition to their content, other factors such as source-credibility and interpersonal relations between forecasts and decision-makers are crucial. Although officials from leading international organisations tend to be skeptical of warnings in preventing armed conflicts, Prof Meyer points out that that the potential science to forecast conflict is underestimated. This is partly because of the rift between qualitative and quantitative approaches to forecasting conflicts. Even more problematically, there are currently not enough incentives to act early before a crisis has developed. In the context of the upcoming UN Disarmament Week, he says, "International organisations, politicians and media ought to focus on ‘the heroes of prevention’. This requires a change in mind-set and rewarding people who take risks associated with warning and are prepared to act on it". For Prof Meyer, this would result in the implementation of new ways in which international, regional and national institutions should cultivate and use knowledge within their organisation. This would allow not only ‘top down’, but also ‘bottom-up’ propagation of important insights on conflict prevention.

Discussing the importance of ERC funding, Prof Meyer said, "My ERC grant was a tremendous opportunity, almost a scientific nirvana, which allowed me to devote more time to research and to build an interdisciplinary team that enabled me to realise the project. ERC grants are prestigious – so it definitely helped me in making a case for my promotion to professor in March this year."

The FORESIGHT project has a direct implication for the intelligence community as well and for how governments can ensure that their work is being noticed and seen as relevant. It can also help to improve the organisation of decision-making in foreign affairs and alleviate the bottle-necks.

In February 2012, Prof Meyer was awarded an ERC ‘Proof of Concept’ grant to further develop a forecast-based web application called ‘Impact Tracer’. This new tool could be implemented in a host of disciplines, allowing one to trace a large number of texts over time according to specific needs. Done at a considerably reduced cost when compared to human analysis and coding, it is hoped that ‘Impact Tracer’ will perform quantitative and qualitative analyses of messages on all digital formats, without any pre-set criteria.