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The word I am searching for is used in the field of International Relations. It is used to describe a specific event that causes an ongoing passive conflict to escalate into active conflict. It is similar to, but is not the word 'catalyst'.

The term indicated an event triggering a direct change from non-violent to violent action.

For example: The use of beef grease (tallow) in cartridges as the spark to the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

Example sentences:

The use of tallow in rifle cartridges [term] the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

In the case of Sri Lanka the two peoples had lived together under British rule but following their departure the desire by some Sinhalese to assert their culture as dominate over another was brought into the public sphere of politics by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and became a [term] for violence to begin.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Mar 26 '17 at 22:40
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    Spark is already nice. – Trilarion Mar 27 '17 at 13:08
  • Wouldn't a verb make more sense here? "The use of beef fat (tallow) in cartridges sparked the Indian Rebellion of 1857" – shadowtalker Mar 27 '17 at 16:35
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    I wouldn't use it here, so am not proposing it as an answer, but thought I'd mention the phrase "Shot heard round the world" which I was taught referred to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand triggeirng WWI, and have since heard in reference to other wars. – Elby Cloud Mar 31 '17 at 22:10
  • The "Shot heard round the world" is what sparked The Great War. – Mazura Feb 28 at 0:10

11 Answers 11

16

precipitant

Oxford English Dictionary

A cause of a particular action or event.

‘the immediate precipitants of the conflict’

  • 7
    This is more often used in terms of chemistry than international relations. Perhaps you meant a precipitating event? That is what first came to mind when I read this question, but it strikes me as too similar to your answer to post separately. – Cameron Mar 24 '17 at 17:58
  • The word in question is used in a very technical manner, and so far this seems to be it. I will give it a day to see if anything more accurate shows up. – LabGecko Mar 24 '17 at 18:00
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    The noun precipitant is quite rare outside the laboratory, but I think the verb precipitate fits your requirements: "The use of tallow in rifle cartridges precipitated the Indian Rebellion of 1857." – TonyK Mar 24 '17 at 23:24
  • This root is the most accurate term I've seen. Note that as mentioned, this particular usage (2nd example above) is the international affairs version of a lab. The comparison is far from equal, but I make it to make clear that such terminology can be quite field-specific. – LabGecko Mar 25 '17 at 16:10
74

Perhaps you meant casus belli:

An act or event that provokes or is used to justify war.

American Heritage® Dictionary

Casus belli is a Latin expression meaning "an act or event that provokes or is used to justify war" (literally, "a case of war"). A casus belli involves direct offenses or threats against the nation declaring the war, whereas a casus foederis involves offenses or threats against its ally—usually one bound by a mutual defense pact. Either may be considered an act of war.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casus_belli

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Mar 26 '17 at 22:40
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    Casus belli was the answer that came to my mind when I saw the title. However both the example sentences the OP contained were of internal conflicts, whereas I would restrict casus belli to war between two states. (So, for example, Hitler's refusal to withdraw from Poland was the casus belli for the United Kingdom's entry into the Second World War.) – Martin Bonner supports Monica Mar 28 '17 at 7:44
33

I suggest Flashpoint.

While the term doesn't seem to have the event-focus that you're looking for (or the starting letter), the connotations fit. It's a brewing passive conflict with the possibility of escalating to active war.

In the case of Sri Lanka the two peoples had lived together under British rule but following their departure the desire by some Sinhalese to assert their culture as dominate over another was brought into the public sphere of politics by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and became a flashpoint for violence to begin.

16

For your first example sentence, you'd want the word incited, as Kollan already referred to when he suggested "inciting incident."

The use of tallow in rifle cartridges incited the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

As a more general term for your second example sentence, flashpoint works because it was a more general set of circumstances rather than a single defining event (rwfeather pointed this out).

The desire by some Sinhalese to assert their culture [...] became a flashpoint for violence to begin.

For the exact definition you want (which appears to be a noun, rather than incited, which is a verb):

An event triggering a direct change from non-violent to violent action

The following list is as close as you can get in my opinion (not including inciting incident, which was already an answer):

Tipping Point

Crisis Point

Turning Point

Critical Point

Critical Moment

Pivotal Moment

Or even:

Inception of violence

  • This required a single word. Forms of 'incite' is close to the meaning, but implies that the event itself is the cause, rather than the event being an indicator of the cause. Thanks for your efforts! – LabGecko Mar 25 '17 at 16:06
7

I think you are searching for pretext

a pretended reason for doing something that is used to hide the real reason: The border dispute was used as a pretext for military intervention.

Cambridge Dictionary "pretext" http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/pretext

Proximate cause is another term. It has strong legalistic overtones. It is basically a type of legal test that is used to both establish and restrict the extent of liability.

In the law, a proximate cause is an event sufficiently related to a legally recognizable injury to be held to be the cause of that injury. There are two types of causation in the law: cause-in-fact, and proximate (or legal) cause.

[...]

The doctrine of proximate cause is notoriously confusing. The doctrine is phrased in the language of causation, but in most of the cases in which proximate cause is actively litigated, there is not much real dispute that the defendant but-for caused the plaintiff's injury. The doctrine is actually used by judges in a somewhat arbitrary fashion to limit the scope of the defendant's liability to a subset of the total class of potential plaintiffs who may have suffered some harm from the defendant's actions.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proximate_cause

  • 3
    Thanks for the on point recommendation, but the term in question had no indication of hidden intent involved. The term indicated an event triggering a direct change from nonviolent to violent action. – LabGecko Mar 24 '17 at 18:49
7

Catalyst

Per M-W:

2: an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action

That waterway became the catalyst of the area's industrialization.

He was the catalyst in the native uprising.

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    The original question specifically states that 'catalyst' was not the word in question. – LabGecko Mar 25 '17 at 16:01
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    @LabGecko The only reason this is wrong is that you specifically excluded it. Otherwise it would fit well for your usage. – barbecue Mar 26 '17 at 15:32
5

Escalation

Is actually used in the very specific sense you have asked about, alongside 'full-blown' however to indicate the tensions have reached maximal escalation.

as in ...

Escalate into a full-blown conflict

e.g.

...likely to escalate into a full-blown war

Nuclear Weapons, Justice and the Law ; Elli Louka

For an alternative, you might try the verb: -

Ignite

Turkey trying to ignite civil war in The Netherlands?

Veterans Today, March 15, 2017

  • Good find, but this word is focused more on the event which caused escalation than the process of escalation itself. – LabGecko Mar 24 '17 at 17:58
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There's an apt word, (which I'm noting with some irony had been yesterday's word-of-the-day on meriam-webster.com,) and it's, "watershed."

In the context, a watershed is the ultimate event that precipitates a drastic change, in course of action. It may be a point-of-no-return, or the, "straw that breaks the camel's back."

Vocabulary.com defines: "an event marking a unique or important historical change of course or one on which important developments depend." E.g., "The agreement was a watershed in the history of both nations."

Or, the example from miriam-webster.com is: "a watershed moment in her life came when she inherited a reasonable sum of money and was able to start her own coffee shop."

5

I think "trigger" fits your use case well. From dictionary.com:

to initiate or precipitate (a chain of events, scientific reaction, psychological process, etc.)

1

Since you mentioned (before the latest edit) that it is likely to start with 'C', you should check cataclysmic (adjective) or cataclysm (noun).

Macmillan:

cataclysmic
ADJECTIVE

1 changing a situation in a sudden, violent, and unpleasant way

cataclysm NOUN [COUNTABLE]

1 a sudden violent change, especially a social or political one

0

Causation or causality, may be what you're looking for.
Per Merriam Webster:

1 a: the act or process of causing •the role of heredity in the causation of cancer b: the act or agency which produces an effect •in a complex situation causation is likely to be multiple — W. O. Aydelotte 2: causality

protected by tchrist Mar 26 '17 at 22:40

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