Universiteit Leiden

nl en

Research project

Warnings: The Complicated Journey from Alert to Action in (Inter)national Politics (WARN)

The WARN project seeks to understand why certain warnings fail to reach and impact decision makers in time to avert crisis.

2024 - 2027
Nikki Ikani

Before some of the most significant surprises of the past century – think of Pearl Harbor, the Arab Spring, COVID-19, or the fall of Kabul – early warnings on the looming threats had been issued. Yet history tells us these warnings were often ignored, shelved, or otherwise not heeded. Why?

The WARN project, conducted by Dr. Nikki Ikani and funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO), seeks to understand why certain warnings fail to reach and impact decision makers in time to avert crisis. It investigates how warning processes operate at the national and international level and how these contribute to the detection and response to strategic surprises. It thus advances academic debates on (strategic) warning at the crossroads of International Relations, public administration, and intelligence studies, but also involves policymakers to better understand, and potentially improve, their institutional warning process. Specifically, WARN sets out to answer three critical questions:

  1. What makes warnings effective?

Through historical and contemporary case study research, WARN aims to identify what successful warning processes look like, and to engage professionals in a reflection on how to improve warning processes to better prevent or mitigate strategic surprise. The project is not just interested in global cases of strategic surprise, but also in smaller-scale warning processes for the valuable lessons these can render.

  1. What are they key stumbling blocks for effective warning?

Second, the WARN project investigates what factors, including political, organizational, cultural, and institutional dynamics, influence the effectiveness of warning systems in identifying and communicating emerging security threats.

      3. What lessons can we learn from warning failure and success?

hrough an exploration of historical and recent instances of warning success and failure, this project aims to identify actionable lessons for policy makers, which could improve future warning processes and inform strategies for mitigating the risk of future strategic surprises.

This project will draw on and expand earlier research by Nikki Ikani. It combines analytical and theoretical frameworks on warning from intelligence studies, international relations, and public administration, aiming to further the dialogue between these disciplines. It employs a mixed-method data collection strategy. This approach involves documentary research, semi-structured interviews, and practitioner workshops with officials from primarily the Netherlands, the EU and NATO.

The WARN project encourages collaboration, inquiries, and dialogue from fellow researchers, professionals in crisis management, and the media interested in warning processes and their impact on security: n.ikani@fgga.leidenuniv.nl


This website uses cookies.  More information.