Forecasting is difficult, especially about the future: Using contentious issues to forecast interstate disputes
Prediction is an important goal in the study of international conflict, but a large body of research has found that existing statistical models generally have disappointing predictive abilities. We show that most efforts build on models unlikely to be helpful for prediction. Many models essentially ignore the origins of conflict; studies look either at invariant structural features believed to affect the opportunities of conflict, or at factors that are believed to reduce the baseline risk of conflict, without attempting to identify the potential motivations and contentious issues over which conflicts typically arise. Researchers that have considered how contentious issues may motivate conflict and how these can be managed, using the Issues Correlates of War (ICOW) data, have not considered how these features may inform prediction. We assess the risk of dyadic interstate conflict based on the presence of specific contentious issues and conflict management events that may change the conflict potential of these contentious issues. We evaluate to what extent incorporating contentious issues and conflict management can help improve out-of-sample forecasting, as well as advance our understanding of conflict dynamics. Our results provide strong support for the idea that taking into account contentious issues can inform and improve out-of-sample forecasting.