Sunday, February 24, 2013

Proxy Wars: Definition

For the sake of this discussion, proxy wars will be defined as wars in which the main actors face conflict through the use of other means—proxies. These proxies range from aid and arms supplies to full use of troops, not simply the act of war itself; there are many ways for outside forces to contribute to war and conflict between entities other than itself. Proxy war is covert and illegal, yet still frequently used as a strategy today.

Proxy wars were first defined by the way they manifested during the era of the Cold War: indirect confrontation between superpowers via substitute actors. These substitute actors could be smaller states or non-state actors. The intended purpose of proxy wars was to avoid an all-out nuclear war between the Cold War era superpowers.  One of the well known examples of this type of proxy war is the Vietnam War. Vietnam was split by fighting between the communist state of North Vietnam and the Republic of South Vietnam. North Vietnam was backed by allies such as China, North Korea, and the Soviet Union, while the U.S. was heavily involved in the defense of South Vietnam, to the extent that it was considered a puppet state (nominally sovereign but effectively controlled by a foreign power).
It was expected that proxy wars would stop being the modus operandi once US hegemony was established post-Cold War; however, it continues to be a strategy both for lesser states and for the U.S.

A second usage of the term refers to war between regional states in which external states directly intervene in the case that one of the regional states falls. It is considered proxy warfare because the main conflict involves “State A” and “State B”, but when  “State C” takes over fighting for “State B” after its fall, it becomes a war by proxy. It does not take place on the territory of the intervening state and they were concerned with the advancement of the intervening state rather than that of the smaller states; this intervention does not have to be contiguous with conflict between “State C” and “State A” whereas the prior war between States A and B most likely was rooted in prior tension between the states. Both sides need not be proxies in this definition. The current Syrian conflict has the potential to become this type of proxy war should the U.S. attempt to intervene on the side of the Syrian Opposition Coalition.

The development of non-state actors in the post-Cold War era challenges this primordial definition of proxy wars, as the original definition was based on state interaction. Modern non-state actors do not necessarily want to take over territory or a government; most use the expanding global communication network to levy resources (human or otherwise) and generate wealth and political/ideological power.
What this does to the traditional definition of proxy wars is that it removes the assumption that regime change (as seen in the Cold War) is the ultimate goal behind initiating proxy wars; non-state actors have unconventional agendas when compared to the agendas of states.

The definition used here begs a few questions: Are all situations where one state intervenes on behalf of another proxy wars?
Because of this, it is important to differentiate between proxy wars and wartime alliances, otherwise one risks broadly defining all wars as proxy if one state calls on the forces of another state to assist in conflict with a third state. The issue here is with power differentials: can a weak state make a proxy of a stronger state? Does the state interfering become the proxy for the state that called for reinforcements?
 

http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2007/10/02/irans_role_in_iraq_too_complex_for_academic_shorthand/


http://dpsa.dk/papers/On%20Proxy%20War.pdf http://edocs.nps.edu/npspubs/institutional/newsletters/strategic%20insight/2010/Craig10.pdf

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=11&cad=rja&sqi=2&ved=0CIcBEBYwCg&url=http%3A%2F%2Fcac.sagepub.com%2Fcontent%2F19%2F4%2F263.full.pdf&ei=huAiUdffHKLi0gG0ooHYCA&usg=AFQjCNH9V5h59Q0O64k35ZOquRIPMt_gLQ&bvm=bv.42553238,d.cWE


12 comments:

  1. When looking at the "On Proxy War" paper you provided a link to, I had a question: Would the United States' covert support of the Contras in Nicaragua under Ronald Reagan be considered a proxy war under the first or second (or neither) definition you provided? The US was supplying arms and aid to the Nicaraguan "Freedom Fighters" to overthrow the Sandinista government, but was there enough Soviet involvement for the situation to fall under the first definition? And since the US didn't take over after another state fell, could it be considered the second definition? Thank you for considering this.

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    1. Based on the definitions here, I would argue it's closest to the first argument, if we base the U.S.'s goals on containing Communism as an attack on the USSR.

      Having read Loveman since writing this blog post, I would categorize the Contra affair as proxy with non-state actors.

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  2. I hadn't considered the legality of proxy wars before reading your paper, so was a bit surprised to read that proxy wars are actually illegal. Under what terms are they banned? Is it an international law from the UN? Also, are there any mechanisms that you know of in place for enforcement or repercussions for offenders? Do you know of any examples in which a state was legally punished for acting in a proxy war? Thanks!

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    1. Part of the problem is that no state wants to acknowledge its use of proxy war. The appeal of proxy war is the ability of the principal to enter and exit the conflict with little repercussion.

      I found an interesting blog that tracks international law cases and found one where a Liberian politician was convicted of crimes against humanity for assisting in African proxy war (http://www.lawsofrule.net/2012/04/26/charles-taylors-responsibility/)

      Although there is no official doctrine or mechanisms of enforcement, because one of the tenets of proxy war is the multiplier effect (viciousness, scope, etc), I would be interested in seeing if the R2P comes into play when convicting military leaders in the ICC. Proxy wars would probably fall under the category of crimes against humanity/war crimes.

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  3. Your definition is mostly bilateral. What about multilateral proxy wars e.g. AU mission Somolia and ECOWACS+Chad mission Mali. Should our definition of Proxy war evolve to fit the era of globalization.

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    1. I would argue that yes the examples I used are bilateral but the definition itself is not. The original Cold War era definition was inherently bilateral as it was based in the U.S.
      's containment strategy vis a vis the USSR.

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  4. One aspect of national security that I don't know where to place are intelligence communities and the fighting/jockeying between opposing ones. For example, the CIA routinely deploys agents out of embassies and coordinates with locals on the ground to recruit people to become informants/spies/agents for the US government. Where do these men and women fit into the idea of war by proxies? Could informants high up in militias or rebel groups mislead their leaders with false information and turn the organization into a proxy? Would these men and women be considered proxies themselves?
    Where does a war of intelligence (for example, India during the earlier years of independence when there was both a heavy CIA and KGB presence) fit into all of this?

    Just some musings, they might fit in somewhere perfectly, or not at all.

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    1. This is an interesting thought and definitely one that hindered me in my research as well.

      Covert action is a curious thing legally. Our Founding Fathers were pro-covert action and even argued that it had a constitutional basis and the CIA was founded by Congressional action. However, the activities the CIA performs are often questionable with regard to their legal and moral standing. I considered including them in my definition, but ultimately decided that, since they're often subsets of state organizations, they can be lumped in with state action.

      With regard to proxy war, I think intelligence communities could cause states to be mired in conflict but not necessarily proxy war, perhaps just conventional war.
      Intelligence communities can also play a large role in the coordination aspect of aid provision (as per Loveman's definition). As to being proxies themselves, I would argue that unless they had enough resources to enable war on their own, provide this aid on their own, and affect the outcome of the war drastically enough, they could not be considered proxies (their operating states could, though)

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  6. In the comments about the post on post-Cold War proxy wars, the author says that sending troops rather than just material aid or the promise of material aid turns a proxy war into an intervention. Would you agree with that part of the definition?

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    1. (must have missed this!)

      I would agree with this part of the definition. Sending one's troops signals a willingness to accept responsibility to a greater degree than aid/promise of aid. Because proxy war is, by definition, covert, attaching the symbolism of your uniformed troops negates the covert aspect.

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