Project Info

The onset of an interstate military-security crisis represents one of the most frequent forms of hostile interaction between adversarial states.*  Yet by the mid-1970s, there was still little systematic knowledge about crisis perceptions and the decision making style of such key actors as the USSR, about crises occurring in regions other than Europe, about crises experienced by weak states, about the role of alliance partners in crisis management, about triggers, outcomes, and the consequences of crises for the power, status, and behavior of participant states. Nor was there work on protracted conflicts and the crises embedded within them.

It was an awareness of these limitations that led to the initiation of the International Crisis Behavior (ICB) Project in 1975. Underlying the project are three assumptions: first, that the destabilizing effects of crises, as of conflicts and wars, are dangerous to global security; second, that understanding the causes, evolution, actor behavior, outcomes, and consequences of crises is possible by systematic investigation; and third, that knowledge can facilitate the effective management of crises so as to minimize their adverse effects on world order.

The aim of the ICB Project is to shed light on a pervasive phenomenon of world politics. There are four specific objectives: the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge about interstate crises and protracted conflicts; the generation and testing of hypotheses about the effects of crisis-induced stress on coping and choice by decision makers; the discovery of patterns in key crisis dimensions – onset, actor behavior and crisis management, superpower activity, involvement by international organizations, and outcome; and application of the lessons of history to the advancement of international peace and world order.

To attain these ends, we undertook an inquiry into the sources, processes, and outcomes of all military-security crises since the end of World War I, within and outside protracted conflicts, and across all continents, cultures, and political and economic systems in the contemporary era. Our methods are both qualitative and quantitative: in-depth studies of perceptions and decisions by a single state; and studies in breadth of the crises that have plagued the international system since the end of World War I.**

Initial planning for large-scale data collection began in 1975. Assembly of the ICB datasets for international and foreign policy crises proceeded in the following stages:

  • Stage 1: 1978-1985 – data collected for the 1929-1979 period, which served as the basis for Brecher, Wilkenfeld, and Moser (1988) and Wilkenfeld, Brecher, and Moser (1988)
  • Stage 2: 1986-1988 – data collected for the 1980-1985 period which, together with that from the first stage, served as the basis for Brecher and Wilkenfeld (1989)
  • Stage 3: 1989-1992 – data collected for the 1918-1928 and 1986-1988 periods, which, together with those from the first two stages, served as the basis for Brecher (1993)
  • Stage 4: 1993-1995 – data collected for the 1989-1994 period, which, together with the preceding Stages’ data, served as the basis for Brecher and Wilkenfeld (1997, 2000)
  • Stage 5: 1996-2010 – data collected for the 1995-2007 period, including the addition of a suite of mediation variables.
  • Stage 6: 2011-ongoing – data collected for the 2008-2013 period, along with efforts to add information about the non-state actors involved.


  • Brecher, Michael. 1993. Crises in World Politics: Theory and Reality. Oxford: Pergamon.
  • Brecher, Michael. 1999. “International Studies in the Twentieth Century and Beyond: Flawed Dichotomies, Synthesis, Cumulation.” International Studies Quarterly 43: 213-264.
  • Brecher, Michael, and Jonathan Wilkenfeld. 1989. Crisis, Conflict, and War. Oxford, England: Pergamon Press.
  • Brecher, Michael, and Jonathan Wilkenfeld. 1997, 2000. A Study of Crisis. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  • Brecher, Michael, Jonathan Wilkenfeld, and Sheila Moser. 1988. Crises in the Twentieth Century: Handbook of International Crises. Oxford, England: Pergamon Press.
  • Wilkenfeld, Jonathan, Michael Brecher, and Sheila Moser. 1988. Crises in the Twentieth Century: Handbook of Foreign Policy Crises. Oxford, England: Pergamon Press.


* This overview is an excerpt from “The International Crisis Behavior Project: Origins, Current Status, and Future Directions” (Wilkenfeld, 2001), which was prepared for Presentation at the Conference on Data Collection on Armed Conflict, Upssala, Sweden, June 8-9, 2001

** For a complete listing of the case studies of crises growing out of the ICB Project, the so-called horizontal studies, see Brecher (1999).

For general inquiries about the ICB Project:

Patrick James
School of International Relations
Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences
University of Southern California

Kyle Beardsley
Department of Political Science
Duke University

Jonathan Wilkenfeld
Director, ICONS Simulation Project
National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START)
University of Maryland

Michael Brecher
Angus Professor
Department of Political Science
McGill University

For inquiries about the ICB Data Viewer:

Alex Jonas
Web Designer
ICONS Simulation Project
National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START)
University of Maryland