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An international incident is a seemingly relatively small or limited action 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.
Examples of international incidents
- Caroline Affair, which had a great effect on the development of international law
- Fashoda Incident, encounter of British and French forces whilst the countries vied for imperial influence in Africa
- Trent affair
Early 20th century
- Dogger Bank incident - Russian ships mistook a British trawler fleet with the Japanese Fleet.
- Assassination in Sarajevo - Set off the First World War
- Gleiwitz incident - False-flag attack by Germany on itself, justifying WW2 invasion
- Sinking of the RMS Lusitania - Moved the USA closer to WW1 involvement
- Tampico Affair
- USS Panay incident
- Zimmermann Telegram - Proposed alliance between Germany and Mexico in WW1
Cold War era
- Pan Am Flight 103
- Ehime Maru and USS Greeneville collision
- Hainan Island incident
- The 2006 execution in Texas of Mexican national Jesus Ledesma Aguilar
- the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London, December 2006
- Celebrity Big Brother racism controversy
- 2007 Iranian seizure of Royal Navy personnel
- ¿Por qué no te callas?, response given by King Juan Carlos I of Spain to Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela, at the 2007 Ibero-American Summit (Santiago, Chile)
- ROKS Cheonan sinking
- Gaza flotilla raid
- 2010 Israel–Lebanon border clash
- Shelling of Yeonpyeong
- 2012 Italian shooting of unarmed Indian fishermen in the Arabian sea
- Devyani Khobragade incident
- Scarborough Shoal standoff
- 2013 Lahad Datu standoff
- The shootdown of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
- Poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal
- Royal Mail – International Incident Bulletin. Retrieved March 12, 2018.