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Hostile Territory: Lessons Learned from Satellite Imagery of Recent Cross-Border Conflicts

Once thought to be increasingly rare, cross-border conflict has exhibited a remarkable resurgence in recent years. From the Middle East to Donbass, this ancient phenomenon has taken on a new and distinctly 21st-century character, one in which traditional forms of propaganda and disinformation have evolved into well-orchestrated modern media campaigns, whose conflicting narratives compete for the attentions and loyalties of a worldwide audience through a plethora of broadcast, online, and social media channels. Faced with such information overload, an increasing number of consumers have even abandoned the notion that objective facts can be extracted from the noise – a result which some actors may actively encourage.

In an attempt to clarify these frequently tenebrous and unpredictable circumstances surrounding cross-border hostilities, a team of researchers at the American Association for the Advancement of Science has spent the past two years studying a variety of interstate conflicts throughout the world using satellite imagery. With support from a USIP grant, they have prepared a series of seven case studies, in which they have documented regional and intra-regional trends in the way border conflicts begin, escalate, and are ultimately resolved, in the hope that this information will be applicable to prevention and mitigation efforts associated with future hostilities. This document summarizes the results of these seven case studies. Read more at

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