What Is An International Incident?

International incidences usually make the cover of international newspapers and magazines. Editorial credit: Hadrian / Shutterstock.com.
International incidences usually make the cover of international newspapers and magazines. Editorial credit: Hadrian / Shutterstock.com.

International incidents have been part of international relations from as early as the eighteenth century. Through these incidences, nations have engaged in armed conflict. In other cases, international incidents lead to long-term animosity, embargoes, and other forms of restrictions between nations which in turn hurt national economies and people’s freedoms. From the few early occurrences, the rate of international incidents seems to be increasing as the years go by and as nations become more protective of their citizens and boundaries.


International incidents are small incidents, on the face of it, with small pockets of actions that result in unintended disagreements between two or more sovereign countries. Normally, these incidents come about from unexpected actions by security forces, government officials, citizens, or even animals. In rare cases, the incidences occur as a result of calculative provocation by terrorists, spy agents, and other official and non-official actors. It is important to note that conflicts which are as a result of a series of escalating battles between nations are not international incidents. However, some international incidents normally reveal some deep-rooted volatile relations between nations as such nations may interpret the incidents as an act of provocation, however unintended. Some international incidences lead to full-blown wars when diplomatic solutions fail.

Resolution Of International Incidences

The first major attempt to resolve international incidences and prevent them from accelerating into wars was the founding of the League of Nations (LoG) following the lessons learnt from incidences that accelerated World War I. Since the LoG failed to prevent World War II, nations disbanded it and formed the UN which continues to provide alternative diplomatic resolution mechanisms that prevent such incidences from turning into wars. The UN, however, has not been entirely successful as some incidences have led to armed conflicts. Institutions like the International Court of Justice also offer legal platforms for states to resolve their differences instead of engaging in war. As nations continue to embrace regional bodies, such bodies have organs that mediate between states to prevent conflicts. These organs may intervene in the case that the conflicting actors are its members, or even when only one conflicting actor is a member and the other is not one. States party to the incident may also pursue bilateral diplomacy in a bid to solve their own issues.

Examples Of International Incidences Caused By Minor Actions

In 1925, Greece and Bulgaria engaged in a war that left 50 people dead simply because a Greek soldier lost control of his dog and the dog crossed the border into Bulgaria. The soldier, panicked, ran after the dog and Bulgarian soldiers shot him dead. What followed was "The War of the Stray Dog." In West Wales, the Hindu community kept some “holy cows” in their temple. One of the cows, Shambo, contracted Tuberculosis in 2007 and became very ill. Authorities in Wales ordered the cow to be killed to prevent the spread of the disease, a decision that angered the Hindu community who formed a protective human shield around the cow. Hindu leaders from all over the world pleaded with Wales to allow them to ship the cow to India for treatment but the UK went ahead and killed the cow escalating the bad colonial relationship between the UK and India.

In 2017, China arrested three UCLA basketball players and held them for even days causing an international incident. The three, one from a well-known basketball family, were on a trip to China and got arrested for shoplifting. According to Chinese laws, they faced a sentence of up to ten years in jail. China released the players after President Trump intervened through the Chinese president. Lastly, Ronald Reagan once caused an incident when he joked, while testing a hot mic, that “we begin bombing the Soviet Union in five minutes.”

Effects Of International Incidences

Apart from the risk of war, international incidences may negatively affect relationships between countries. These relationships include movement, communication, trade, and diplomatic among others. International incidences may lead to displacement, ejection, or harm of citizens living in other countries that are party to the dispute. Countries that have experienced such incidences take time before normal operations resume and when they resume there is usually a deep-rooted and unspoken animosity and suspicion that lasts way longer.


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