ⓘ International incident


ⓘ International incident

An international incident is a seemingly relatively small or limited action, incident or clash that results in a wider dispute between two or more nation-states. International incidents can arise from unanticipated actions involving citizens, government officials, or armed units of one or more nation-states, or out of a deliberate but small provocative action by espionage agents of one nation-state, or by terrorists, against another nation-state.

An international incident usually arises during a time of relative peace between nation-states, and in general is, on the surface, an unexpected event. Conflicts that grow out of a series of escalating skirmishes between nation-states generally are not considered international incidents; however, terrorist actions can and often do become international incidents. However, historical views of past international incidents often reveal the incident was the flashpoint of a simmering conflict between nation-states, or organizations opposing nation-states.

Wars have often been provoked by international incidents, and diplomatic efforts to prevent international incidents from growing into full-scale armed conflicts often have been unsuccessful. In the aftermath of the First World War, the League of Nations was established to help nations who were parties to an international incident achieve a solution to the incident through diplomatic means. Initially, the League of Nations had some success in working to find diplomatic solutions, however the failure of the League of Nations to prevent World War II resulted in the disbandment of the League of Nations in favor of the United Nations. As with its predecessor, the United Nations provides a means by which nations involved in an international incident can work to resolve the matter diplomatically rather than through the use of force.

The term is also applied to various incidents that can disrupt international commerce, and to celebrities or other well-known people who commit gaffes or otherwise act inappropriately, causing the press and sometimes governments to criticize their actions.

The International Court of Justice keeps a list of legal disputes between nation-states, many of which result from international incidents. The Royal Mail of the United Kingdom keeps a list on its website of current international incidents that might disrupt mail service. The incidents listed may or may not conform to the definitions given above.


1.1. Examples of international incidents 19th century

  • Maria Luz Incident 1872
  • Trent affair 1861
  • Fashoda Incident, encounter of British and French forces whilst the countries vied for imperial influence in Africa 1898
  • Caroline Affair, which had a great effect on the development of international law 1837-1842

1.2. Examples of international incidents 20th century

  • Zimmermann Telegram - Proposed alliance between Germany and Mexico in WW1 1917
  • Korean Air Flight 007 1983
  • Lavon Affair 1954
  • Shooting-down of Iran Air Flight 655 in 1988
  • Erection of Berlin Wall 1961
  • Pan Am Flight 103 1988
  • USS Panay incident 1937
  • Gleiwitz incident - False-flag attack by Germany on itself, justifying World War 2 invasion 1939
  • Cavalese cable car disaster 1998
  • Dogger Bank incident - Russian ships mistook a British trawler fleet with the Japanese Fleet 1904
  • The sinking of the Rainbow Warrior 1985
  • Amethyst Incident 1949
  • Hungarian Revolution of 1956
  • Gulf of Tonkin Incident 1964
  • Dagmar Hagelin 1977
  • USS Stark incident 1987
  • USS Pueblo incident 1968
  • Tampico Affair 1914
  • U-2 Crisis of 1960
  • Sinking of the RMS Lusitania - Moved the USA closer to WW1 involvement 1917
  • Assassination in Sarajevo - Set off the First World War 1914
  • USS Liberty incident 1967
  • 1986 West Berlin discotheque bombing
  • Tientsin incident 1939
  • Elian Gonzalez 1999

1.3. Examples of international incidents 21st century

  • The shootdown of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 2014
  • 2012 Italian shooting of unarmed Indian fishermen in the Arabian sea
  • Poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal 2018
  • 2013 Lahad Datu standoff
  • ¿Por que no te callas?, response given by King Juan Carlos I of Spain to Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, at the 2007 Ibero-American Summit Santiago, Chile
  • The poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London 2006
  • Killing of Jamal Khashoggi 2018
  • Carlos Ghosn securities scandal 2018
  • 2019 Bolivian political crisis
  • Scarborough Shoal standoff 2012
  • El Paso shooting 2019
  • Kerch Strait incident 2018
  • Shelling of Yeonpyeong 2010
  • 2010 Israel–Lebanon border clash
  • Devyani Khobragade incident 2013
  • ROKS Cheonan sinking 2010
  • The May 2006 execution in Texas of Mexican national Jesus Ledesma Aguilar
  • Gaza flotilla raid 2010
  • Ehime Maru and USS Greeneville collision 2001
  • Celebrity Big Brother racism controversy 2007
  • 2020 Baghdad International Airport airstrike
  • Hainan Island incident 2001
  • 2007 Iranian seizure of Royal Navy personnel