ICOW Quarterly Review Methodology

This page describes the basic methodology used in creating the Issue Correlates of War (ICOW) Project's quarterly and annual reviews, including how relevant news stories are identified as well as how we classify the variouds types of escalatory and cooperative events.

Identifying Claims

All ICOW contentious issue data sets share similar definitions, with the goal of ensuring that the states in question are clearly disagreeing over the issue. Broadly speaking, it must be the official policy of the challenger state to demand a change over the issue, and the target state must disagree with this demand (at least initially). There are three key elements in this definition:

More detail on the project is available on the ICOW Project home page as well as in Hensel and Mitchell's 2017 Conflict Management and Peace Science paper "From Territorial Claims to Identity Claims: The Issue Correlates of War (ICOW) Project." [you may prefer the journal's official page for this article if your library has access]

Types of Claims

The ICOW project currently collects data on four types of issues: territorial, river, maritime, and identity claims:

Claim Participants

ICOW only collects data on interstate claims of each type, meaning that there must be at least one nation-state on both the challenger and target side of the claim. Like many international relations scholars, we rely on the standard Correlates of War (COW) interstate system membership list to identify states.

Endorsement of Specific Claims

The ICOW project and its participants do not take or endorse any official positions with respect to any of the claims in our data set. We are attempting to identify cases where nation-states have disagreed over specific types of contentious issues, as well as measuring what made those issues salient and studying how they chose to manage or settle those issues, and we have no interest in endorsing or supporting either side's position in any of these issues. For the purpose of these quarterly and annual reviews, we list all claim participants alphabetically, and where relevant we attempt to list multiple names for disputed territories that are commonly referenced in English language sources; if one country's preferred name for the territory is listed, but another's is not, this should not be taken to imply that we believe the former has a stronger claim or that we oppose the latter's claim.

News Searches

These quarterly reviews are compiled from daily news searches while the quarter is underway. This includes more than 30 RSS news feeds representing a variety of different perspectives and geographic emphases such as Al Jazeera, All Africa (which includes Africa-related stories from hundreds of sources), the Arab Weekly, Baltic News Network, BBC, Deutsche Welle, the East African, Journal du Cameroun (which includes stories from the Agence France-Presse and Agence de Presse Africaine news agencies), Mainichi (which includes stories from the Associated Press and Kyodo news agencies), New York Times, TASS, and Times of Central Asia. The list of RSS feeds changes periodically, as previously useful news sources end their RSS service (as happened with Xinhua) or as new sources are discovered that appear to be useful; the goal is to identify sources that cover global or regional news rather than focusing on individual states. Beyond these specific news feeds, we also run saved Google News searches each day for nearly 300 permutations of search terms such as "border clash," "boundary accord," "territorial claim," "undemarcated border," "maritime delimitation," "fishing talks," "river treaty," "dam dispute," and many others; these searches should identify any story with any of these search terms that is published in any of the more than 4500 English language sources that are searched by Google News.

Each news story that comes up from these searches is read for indications of a potential or ongoing territorial, river, maritime, or identity claim. If a claim is already known to be ongoing based on ICOW research, any events over that claim that meet the descriptions on this page are recorded in the "Claim Escalation and Provocations" or "Peaceful Claim Management" section of the quarterly review. If no claim is known to be ongoing, the events in the story are investigated more closely to determine whether they represent a new claim; if not, the situation is noted in the "Potential Claims" section of the quarterly review.

Claim Escalation and Provocations

An important part of contentious issues is militarized action or other provocative behavior. Such events carry the risk of escalation to war, and are thus important to early warning of especially dangerous situations. We record both events involving the threat or use of military forces and events that involve non-military provocations by political leaders or civilians.

Militarized Action:

These events involve the threat or use of military force by nation-states. These actions could be directed at other nation-state forces and/or civilians, as long as they are directly related to the claim in question.

Non-Militarized Action:

These events do not involve military threats or actions, but still represent provocations related to the claim in question.

Other Provocations:

These events are not currently counted in our quarterly reviews of provocative and cooperation events over claims, because they do not involve actions by the governments of the claimant states, but we still track them for possible use later.

Peaceful Claim Management

Although armed conflict and militarization make the most headlines, published research has shown that even territorial claims -- the most conflict-prone of these four issues -- see far more episodes of peaceful conflict management than armed conflicts over the claim.

Peaceful Claim Settlement Techniques

We recognize three broad types of attempts to manage or settle contentious issues:

Scope of Attempts/Agreements

Each peaceful settlement attempt, and each agreement that is produced, is coded for the scope of the attempt/agreement with respect to the claim in question:

Other Peaceful Claim Management Activities

These are other activities that represent cooperation or improved relations over the issue, without directly attempting to settle it:

Potential Claims

Each quarter sees dozens of situations that resemble claims in some respects, but do not meet the full definition listed above. Even though these do not currently qualify as codable claims, they are worth monitoring in case conditions change and they eventually qualify, and they help to illustrate the definitions and coding rules that the ICOW project uses to identify claims.

Last updated: 31 December 2020
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