Study ranks the crisis response efficiency of international organisations

On 10 April we attended a book talk organised by the NATO Library in Brussels. Heidi Hardt, a professor at the University of Texas, presented her new book ‘Time to react’ which addresses crisis response efficiency of international organisations.

How quickly are international organisations able to respond to calls for intervention in armed conflicts? When a war breaks out, why do peace operations often take so long to be launched? Hardt has evaluated and compared the speed of crisis response of the African Union (AU), the Organization of American States (OAS), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Union (EU).

This is our reading of the book:

The comparative study shows the following mean response rates in the establishment of peace operations:

  1. AU 3.84 months
  2. OAS 4.28 months
  3. OSCE 4.49 months
  4. EU 6.17 months

The data is based on peace operations between 1991 and 2009. The response rate is calculated as the time from the moment an intervention is demanded until the moment it is supplied.

The author measures efficiency in crisis response through the speed of security decision-making, due to the fact that in armed conflicts delays cost lives. In other research, efficiency has often been calculated based on the decrease in conflict-related deaths. However Hardt maintains that it is generally difficult to estimate how many deaths would have occurred had there been no intervention.

The study finds that budget availability is not a decisive factor for crisis response efficiency, since the AU, an organisation with relatively low financial means, is able to respond faster than the three other organisations.
Political will, of course, always is a determining factor, however all organisations have to face similar problems concerning political alignment.

Hardt finds that internal structural factors have a direct influence on how organisations perform. An informal organisational culture, characterised by a high degree of socialisation among Permanent Representatives or ambassadors, is more advantageous than a formal organisational culture. Formal meetings with microphones and interpreters, that last too long and are held too frequently, don’t leave room for social networking and privacy. It is however exactly these private conversations in a trusted environment which strengthen interpersonal relations and lead to a better performance of the organisation as a whole. Good interpersonal relations lead to trust which in turn leads to faster agreements.

In Hardt’s view, the OSCE has been good at creating this work environment, with a rhythm of one meeting per week.

The EU’s Political and Security Committee (PSC) meetings are scheduled up to five times a week, they last for most of the day and happen in a comparatively formal setting. This is found to be a major obstacle to the speed of the committee’s security decision-making, despite the strategic advantages the EU possesses, for example the ATHENA mechanism that enables pooled funding of operations, or the fact that 18 out of 28 member states have the same currency.

In the course of the book talk at NATO, it was pointed out that one of the perceived organisational advantages of NATO Headquarters Brussels is that all national delegations are physically located in the same place, it is thus easy to have coffee and engage in interpersonal communication.

These are the policy implications of Hardt’s research:

  1. Minimise formal meetings
  2. Prioritise existing rapid response units
  3. Bolster civilian-military communication
  4. Vet information from early warning systems (reduce messages to a minimum, given that ambassadors otherwise don’t read all their e-mails and sms messages)

The limitations of this study are that it only examines the EU’s PSC, it does not examine other decisive bodies in the field of security, such as the Foreign Affairs Council, where ministers meet, or the European Union Military Committee (EUMC), which is the highest military body set up within the Council. It also doesn’t cover European Council meetings. Since the research ended in 2009, it does not reflect recent organisational developments, such as the creation of the Crisis Management and Planning Directorate (CMPD) at the European External Action Service (EEAS), which is responsible for the strategic planning of EU Common Security and Defence Policy missions and operations since 2009, or the EU Operations Centre, activated in 2012, which is entrusted with the planning and commanding of multinational crisis management operations.

In addition, it could be argued that the EU is comparatively often called for complex operations which – due to their nature – require longer preparation. While speed is a critical factor for the effectiveness of crisis response, speed alone cannot guarantee success.

Nonetheless, Hardt’s conclusions are extremely valuable. They shed a light on the organisational circumstances that enable or obstruct efficient negotiations on peace operations. And they foster mutual understanding which is key to hybrid peace operations, where several organisations team up to form partnerships and complement each other.

Find more security related literature in our Library catalogue. We especially recommend to consult the website of the EU Institute for Security Studies where our colleagues regularly publish analytical papers, alerts and briefs on foreign, security and defence policy issues.



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