January - March 2019: Overview of Events during Quarter1

This is the first of a series of quarterly reviews of major events related to international conflict and cooperation, summarizing major events in the news from the past three months. We focus on conflict and cooperation between countries that disagree over specific types of contentious issues, in order to track how countries choose to manage, escalate, or settle their disagreements. This draws from research by the Issue Correlates of War (ICOW) research project, which currently studies four types of contentious issues2:

When countries disagree over issues such as these, they can try to manage or settle the issue through military or peaceful means. Militarily, one of the countries might threaten or use military force to support its position over the claim, such as building up its forces along the border, sending its forces into the disputed territory, seizing fishing boats in disputed waters, or (more rarely) attempting to conquer the territory. They may also undertake provocations over the claim, such as building walls or other structures in a disputed area, drilling for oil or gas in disputed waters, or making new verbal demands or claims over the issue. Peacefully, the claimant states might try to negotiate over the claim bilaterally, invite a mediator to help them negotiate, or submit the issue to a legally binding decision by an arbitral tribunal. This page summarizes these types of events during this three month period.

Please note that the ICOW project does not endorse or support any country's positions with respect to any of the claims in our data set. Our purpose is to provide an impartial compilation of data on territorial, river, maritime, and identity claims (as well as any other future data sets that we might collect) by using rigorous coding rules to identify cases where nation-states explicitly disagreed over specific issues. Where possible, we use the most common English-language names for disputed features or groups, supplemented with widely used names in other languages; the choice of which names to list or in which order does not imply any support for either state's position.

New Claims and Potential Claims

No new claims began during this quarter, although there were 33 cases that had some elements of claims during the quarter and could potentially qualify as codable claims in the future. These potential claims generally failed to meet at least one of the requirements of the ICOW definition listed above, which requires explicit contention over a specific territory, river, maritime zone, or shared ethnic group by official government representatives who are authorized to make foreign policy:

16 potential territorial claims made news this quarter but did not meet the full ICOW definition:

Four potential maritime claims made news this quarter but did not meet the ICOW definition:

13 potential identity claims made news this quarter but failed to meet the ICOW definition:

Case Summaries:

Claim Escalation and Provocations

Claim escalation bar graph

This quarter saw militarized threats or actions by at least one side in 15 claims, including nine territorial claims, five maritime claims, and one identity claim.3 Most of these remained at relatively low levels of escalation, with only three claims leading to fatalities.

Another 26 claims saw provocations below the level of militarized action, including fourteen territorial claims, two river claims, eight maritime claims, and two identity claims.

Because this is the first quarterly review of events, it is not yet possible to discuss how this quarter compares to previous quarters. Future quarterly reviews will add comparisons of claim provocations and escalation over time.

Case Summaries:

Peaceful Claim Management and Settlement

Claim management bar graph

34 claims saw peaceful conflict management or settlement attempts during the quarter, some of them using more than one type of management technique. This includes about one-third of the claims that saw militarized or other provocations during the quarter (12 of 37), which is consistent with the expectation that escalation attracts conflict management (by the parties themselves or by third parties).

None of these settlement attempts successfully ended the claim in question during this quarter, but several made progress toward settlement.

Conflict management or settlement activities were somewhat more successful when there had been escalation during the quarter, as four agreements (three functional and one procedural) were reached in the twelve claims that experienced both escalation and management -- including two of the three that saw fatalities (a functional agreement over the disputed territory between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and a procedural agreement to continue talks with OSCE mediation over Nagorno-Karabakh). By comparison, only four agreements (two functional and two procedural) were reached in the 22 claims that saw peaceful management efforts in the absence of escalation or provocations during the quarter. Bilateral negotiations produced seven agreements (five functional and two procedural) in 21 claims during this quarter, as compared with two agreements (the OSCE-mediated procedural agreement reached over Nagorno-Karabakh and the ICJ's non-binding advisory opinion over the Chagos Archipelago) in the seven claims experiencing non-binding settlement activity and no agreements during this quarter in the eight claims experiencing binding activities. It should be noted, though, that many of these peaceful settlement attempts remained ongoing at the end of the quarter, so they may yet produce successful agreements. In particular, all eight claims that had binding arbitration or adjudication proceedings underway during the quarter remained under consideration at the end of the quarter.

Because this is the first quarterly review of events, it is not yet possible to discuss how this quarter compares to previous quarters. Future quarterly reviews will add comparisons of claim management and settlement over time.

Case Summaries:

To view the detailed summaries of each individual territorial, river, maritime, or identity claim that has been active during this quarter, follow any of the "Case Summaries" links in the overview above, or go directly to the quarter's Case Summaries page.


1 Jackie DeMeritt, Roman Krastev, Jim Meernik, and Idean Salehyan offered helpful advice about this page. Credit or blame for all page content remains the responsibility of the page author, though. [Return to Top]

2 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][Return to Top]

3 Claims that fall into multiple categories (such as claims over islands that include both a territorial component because of sovereignty over the island and a maritime component because of the exclusive economic zone that can be claimed around the island) are listed in the category that best distinguishes them from other cases (so territorial/maritime claims are listed here under territorial claims to distinguish them from maritime claims over fishing rights that do not have a territorial component). [Return to Overview]

Last updated: 22 May 2019
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