Muslim State Armed Conflict & Compliance (MSACC) Dataset: 1947-2014

Most of the world’s humanitarian aid goes to Muslim-majority communities, whether in the form of security support, development aid, or NGO assistance. But policymakers and the public at large do not fully understand conflict dynamics in the Muslim world.

Experts, likewise, have little knowledge about how Muslim governments use international legal norms to navigate conflict and postconflict challenges. To better inform and help shape US security and foreign policy, this project uses social science methods to analyze modern Muslim-majority state conflict behavior, to examine these states’ compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL), and to quantify the frequency of IHL language versus Shari’a versus in their constitutions.

List of OIC Countries

MSACC Datasets

Conflict Behavior

This extensive dataset details all conflicts in which a Muslim state—defined by its membership in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)—was a party, from 1947-2014. It includes parties to the conflict, years of the conflict. The dataset is broken down by region and time period to allow for more detailed analysis.

View Conflict Behavior

Compliance with International Humanitarian Law

This dataset is a variation of the above MSACC Dataset: Conflict Behavior. It details all conflicts OIC Muslim states have been involved in between 1947 and 2014 and includes all violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) committed by each state party, if applicable. The purpose of this dataset is so that analysis based on compliance with IHL can accurately reflect each states’ participation in conflicts.

This analysis is based on the number of times a state was involved in a conflict, whereas the MSACC Dataset: Conflict Behavior is based on the number of conflicts that actually occurred. For example, while the conflict between Algeria and Morocco between 1963 and 1964 only occurred once—and is counted once for MSACC Dataset: Conflict Behavior—for the Compliance with IHL dataset, the conflict is counted once under Algeria (to account for Algeria’s compliance with IHL in the conflict) and once under Morocco (to account for Morocco’s compliance with IHL in the conflict).

View Compliance with IHL

Muslim Constitutions & Sharia Density

In order to test possible explanations for OIC Muslim states’ conflict behaviors and compliance with IHL, this dataset gathers the constitutions-in-force of all the states and identified language consistent with Sharia law and International Human Rights Law, as exemplified by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).  The Sharia language in the constitutions was divided into six overarching categories, while the IHRL language followed the 30 articles of the UDHR.

View Muslim Constitutions & Sharia Density

Conflict Chart

This chart serves as the source of data for MSACC Dataset: Conflict Behavior and MSACC Dataset: Compliance with IHL. Included in the chart are the conflicts in which OIC states were belligerents, the party or non-state group OIC states fought against, a brief description of the conflict, and the violations of IHL that each state committed in the conflict, if applicable.

View the Conflict Chart


The Codebook accompanies the MSACC Dataset in its entirety, including MSACC Dataset: Conflict Behavior; MSACC Dataset: Compliance with IHL; MSACC Dataset: Muslim Constitutions and Sharia Density; and the MSACC Conflict Chart.  It seeks to explain the methodological and analytical choices made by the research team in compiling the datasets.

Read the Codebook

Findings & Research Questions

The MSACC Overview provides a brief summary of the main findings of all three datasets. The Research Questions describe the main orienting questions with which our dataset research has proceeded.


Security in the Middle East & Islam

Syracuse University Institute for Security Policy and Law’s projects on Security in the Middle East and Islam address topics fundamental to the rule of law, conflict resolution, and postconflict reconstruction in this region, including the application of international humanitarian law, human rights law, and postconflict justice.

New Battlefields, Old Laws

One of SPL’s signature projects, New Battlefields/Old Laws (NBOL) began with a 2007 symposium to commemorate the 100th anniversary of The Hague Convention of 1907. Held at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC, this conference brought together an international team of scholars, government officials, and human rights experts, moderated by NPR’s Robert Siegel and Tom Ricks of The Washington Post.

The project has since grown into a series of interdisciplinary workshops and publications that reexamine the application of centuries-old customs and laws of armed conflict in the age of asymmetric warfare. This project has produced two books that closely examine international humanitarian law in the 21st century: New Battlefields/Old Laws: Critical Debates from the Hague Convention to Asymmetric Warfare (Columbia UP, 2011) and Counterinsurgency Law: New Directions in Asymmetric Warfare (Oxford UP, 2012).

Program on Security in the Middle East

SPL’s Program on Security in the Middle East is a unique graduate program that facilitates student engagement with scholars, renowned experts, and practitioners.

Becker Lecture Series

As part of SPL’s Program on Security in the Middle East, SPL hosts renowned scholars and experts to discuss the pressing challenges and complexities of security in the Middle East. Carol Becker speakers present to the SU community and meet with SPL students to discuss and debate security challenges facing the region.

Syrian Accountability Project

Started at Syracuse University College of Law in 2011, the Syrian Accountability Project (SAP) is a cooperative effort between activists, non-governmental organizations, students, and other interested parties to document war crimes and crimes against humanity in the context of the Syrian Crisis.

Iranian Nuclearization: Implications for US National Security & Middle East Stability

With Colin Kahl, Associate Professor, Security Studies Program, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

Colin Kahl teaches courses on international relations, international security, the geopolitics of the Middle East, American foreign policy, and civil and ethnic conflict. His current research projects include a study of the evolution of US counterinsurgency practices in Iraq and a separate study on the emerging US regional security architecture to counter Iran. He has published articles on US policy and military conduct in the Middle East in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, International Security, the Los Angeles Times, Middle East Policy, the National Interest, and The New York Times, and he has published several reports for the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think tank.

His previous research analyzed the causes and consequences of violent civil and ethnic conflict in developing countries, focusing particular attention on the demographic and natural resource dimensions of these conflicts. His book on the subject—States, Scarcity, and Civil Strife in the Developing World—was published by Princeton University Press in 2006.

From February 2009 to December 2011,  Kahl was the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East at the Pentagon. In this capacity, he served as the senior policy advisor to the US Secretary of Defense for Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, and six other countries in the Levant and Persian Gulf. He was responsible for strategy development and policy oversight of the responsible drawdown of US forces from Iraq, the department’s efforts to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities, security enhancements to support Israeli security and facilitate the Middle East Peace Process, and efforts to build an integrated regional security architecture in the Gulf. In June 2011, Kahl was awarded the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service by Robert Gates.

Options to Prevent a Nuclear Armed Iran

August 30, 2012 | By Louis Kriesberg

Determining U.S. policy toward Iran and its nuclear programs should begin with considering the way the Iranian leadership and people regard their effort to develop nuclear power and nuclear weapons.  The current leadership wants to remain in power, but they differ about how that is best accomplished.  Ahmadinejad does not determine policy.  To what extent it is ultimately shaped by Ayatollah Khamenei or by the high military leaders is widely debated.  There is also widespread Iranian disaffection with the ruling regime.  The U.S. should be wary of unifying the divergent groups within the country.

It is safe to believe that the major purpose of the Iranian leaders is to maintain themselves in power and to play an important regional role.  Having nuclear weapons can reasonably be considered as necessary to avoid efforts to overthrow them.  They may see what happened in Libya compared to the survival of the regime in North Korea.

Coercive sanctions alone will not suffice for the U.S. government to halt Iran’s progress toward producing nuclear weapons and the means to employ them.  Even a military strike would only delay such programs and unleash terrible reactions.  Current sanctions need to be accompanied by reassurances to Iranian leaders that NOT having nuclear weapons would NOT open them up to attacks and to efforts to overthrow them.  They are already close to having the capacity to build nuclear weapons, but not close to being able to employ them.  In any case, they will forever be extremely unlikely to use them to initiate a war, attack Israel or even risk passing on any capability to external organizations they cannot control.   Such actions, they know would be utterly self-destructive.

There are realistic reasons the region and the world would be much better off if Iran did not possess nuclear weapons.  Its possession of such weapons may result in other countries in the region developing nuclear weapons, further increasing the risks of nuclear accidents, military attacks, and even wars.  The economic burdens of financing nuclear arms races would further damage the well-being of the peoples in the Middle East.

The U.S. can take steps that will induce the Iranian leaders to stop short of actually constructing nuclear arms, yet having demonstrated that they ultimately have the capability to do so.  Inducements include reassurances that can be made with little risk to the U.S., Israel, or other countries in the region.  They incorporate working to establish a nuclear free zone in the Middle East.  Israel would not be taking any risk by acknowledging its nuclear weapons capacity and collectively working to diminish the need for them.  The U.S. should move toward restoring diplomatic relations with Iran, with the promises that entails.  Opening Iran to more contact and exchanges with Americans can strengthen the position and influence of Iranians who seek domestic reforms.

This path holds out the promise of widespread benefits for the peoples in all countries in the Middle East, including Iran.   There would be enhanced security for everyone.  There would be greater economic benefits for everyone.  In the context of the Arab Spring, improving stability and reducing mutual fears is highly desirable.  With American leadership many other countries would choose this path making it the right way for all.

A Nuclear Iran: The Legal Implications of a Preemptive National Security Strategy

October 26-27, 2006 | Syracuse University

Co-sponsored with the Syracuse Law Review

Participants include legal scholars who specialize in preemption, use of the military (including the legality of covert operations), the role of international organizations, and use of diplomatic options (such as sanctions) and experts in Iranian, Israeli, and Middle Eastern politics and history. They will discuss such issues as why Iran wants to be a nuclear power, the regional and international security ramifications of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, the domestic and international legal and political framework governing nuclear proliferation, and the legality and impact of various US and international actions to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

Articles written by the panelists will be published by the Syracuse Law Review.


Opening Keynote Address
James Timbie, Senior Advisor to Dr. Robert Joseph, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security

Panel 1: “Nuclear Proliferation and International Security Policy in the United States and Abroad”
Moderated by Professor Renee de Nevers

For decades, the U.S. and the other members of the nuclear club have agreed to provide incentives in the form of civilian nuclear energy technology to countries in exchange for those countries abandoning their nuclear weapon development programs. Now, the US and the international community must deal with a country – Iran – that is intent on developing its own nuclear program despite international pressure to abandon its efforts. Should Iran be allowed to develop nuclear technology for civilian purposes? And if so, what impact would a nuclear Iran have on the Middle East and the rest of the world?

Our panelists will discuss why Iran wants to be a nuclear power, whether Iran has a legal right to become a nuclear power, and the regional ramifications of such newly acquired technology. They will also discuss Israel’s perspective on preemption and Iran’s acquisition of nuclear technology, and U.S. nuclear proliferation and international security policy.

Panel 2: “Preemption, International Law, and the Global Response to a Nuclear Iran”
Moderated by Professor William C. Banks

A nuclear Iran would impact not only the US, but all countries around the globe. Already, we have seen cooperation in the United Nations between the French, British, and Germans, and we have even seen some agreement with China and Russia. Concern over the ramifications of a nuclear Iran is widespread, and the international community could respond in unison or discord. Our panelists will discuss the US policy of preemption; the capability of the US military to take action against Iran; the extent to which the UN Charter would allow a US preemptive strike, or military action by any country, in the absence of Security Council authorization; and the various actions that countries other than the U.S. might take in confronting a nuclear Iran.

Second Day Keynote Address
Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist

Panel 3: “US Response Options: From Preemptive Military Action to Diplomacy and the Use of Sanctions”
Moderated by Seymour Hersh

In our featured panel discussion, all of the participants from our two morning sessions will combine their vast knowledge and discuss U.S. response options in dealing with a nuclear Iran. We will propose a hypothetical in which the U.S. and the global community learn that Iran has developed weapons-grade nuclear material, and we will ask our panelists to debate the range of legal and policy options that the U.S. has in confronting Iran. Does the U.S. have the military capability to strike Iran? What kind of a regional or global conflict would such a strike spark? Does the U.S. have the legal right, under international or domestic law, to strike Iran for the purpose of eliminating its nuclear capabilities? What other options does the U.S. have on the table? How would these options impact U.S. nuclear proliferation policy? These are the questions that our panelists, with their varying backgrounds and perspectives, will examine.

Discussants & Speakers

  • Col. Samuel Gardiner (Ret.) is an expert on military strategy and designing and facilitating war games.
  • Seymour Hersh is an American Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist and author who regularly contributes to The New Yorker on military and security matters.
  • Mehrzad Boroujerdi is Associate Professor of Political Science at the Maxwell School and Director of the Middle Eastern Studies Program at Syracuse University.
  • David Tal is a historian and visiting Associate Professor of History and International Relations at SU’s Maxwell School.
  • Orde Kittrie is an Associate Professor of Law at Arizona State University.
  • Steven Miller  is Director of the International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.
  • Robert F. Turner is a Professor at the University of Virginia and Associate Director of the Center for National Security Law at the University of Virginia School of Law.
  • Mary Ellen O’Connell is the Robert and Marion Short Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School.
  • Gregory E. Maggs is a Professor of Law at George Washington University Law School.
  • Mitchel Wallerstein is an expert on US national security and defense policy, focusing particularly on the proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons and their means of delivery.
  • A. John Radsan is an Associate Professor of Law at William Mitchell College of Law.
  • David S. Jonas is the Acting General Counsel of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a separately organized agency within the US Department of Energy.