Monday, February 25, 2013

Proxy Wars: ‘Proxy Groups’ Literature Review

Proxy Wars were once used to describe the ability of a Global Superpower to utilize a smaller state into completing their bidding. This was usually associated with a goal of a regime shift, and would seek out a transfer of power. However, with the post Cold War era came the birth of non-state actors that required scholars to reexamine the standard definition of Proxy Wars. In the past these wars were usually associated with the use of a third party actor, and it normally took into consideration the intent of ruling. Due to the large disparity in the standard of intent among non-state actors we must question whether agendas should belong in the modern definition of Proxy Wars.

Although there have been numerous occasions in which states have worked with non-state actors during conflicts, there are a few instances that I would like to focus in on and the four are: Syria and Hezbollah, Iran and the Mahdi Army, the United States and the United Islamic Front, and lastly NATO and the right to intervene. When looking at all of these situations there exists a common thread, and that thread wraps itself around ideological incompatibility among reasons of long and short term goals set by the States who choose to use non-state groups.

1. Hezbollah: This case unlike the other three will be used to demonstrate a case of ideological incompatibility. At the same time this is an example of a state trying to use a non-state proxy (NSP) to achieve long-term goals. The risk lies in the influence this new strong actor brings to the subsequent neighboring government theaters, both in relation to unpredictability but also in relation to the possible power shifts. Iran’s relationship with the Hezbollah is both strategic and ideological. Similar to the Hezbollah, Iran is also Shiite. As part of the pan-Muslim movement, Iran was pressing to spread its ideological influence to the Shiite Muslims in southern Lebanon, and while building up Hezbollah, it motivated the desire to put force on northern Israel. Therefore, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard helped teach the Hezbollah how to organize itself into an army, providing intelligence, explosives, engineering knowledge, and communications. Although the Hezbollah in the past have been rather coy with their response toward an attack on their sponsors, they now however declare that they will find it difficult to stand aside if Israel or the United States bombs Iran’s nuclear facilities. It has become an apparent that the Hezbollah now act in accordance to Iran’s ideology and continues to fight for a regime shift.
Some more readings:
2. Iran and The Mahdi Army: To supporters of the Mahdi Army, it was believed that they acted as the military muscle of Iraq’s Urban Shia Muslims, fighting to protect Shia parts of the country. It was created in the summer of 2003, and was prompted by radical Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr, who spoke in his sermons the need of a new prevention force. Quickly after young men were being recruited near mosques to ‘defend’ the Shia Muslim faith and their country. The force of the Mehdi Army was first felt in the later year when rocket propelled grenades, heavy machine guns, and other weapons, which had been uncommon to the normal Iraqi encounter. It later surfaced that the United States accused Iran, a Shia spiritual ally, of training, financing, and supplying the Mahdi Army forces. Here is another example of ideological compatibility.  Here the state uses the NSP to achieve short-term goals of eliminating a foreign presence in support of ideology, and like the Syrian case the NSPs are employed to deal with external actors
Cases in which States are in search of world order:
3. US and The United Islamic Front (a.k.a. The Northern Alliance): This is a case where the non-state proxy is used to obtain a short-term goal, the ousting of the Taliban. The United Islamic Front was a military front that came into existence shortly after the Taliban took over Kabul. Although the front began as a very small entity, it quickly grew as Iran, Russia, India, and other nations began to poor resources into its cause. The United Islamic Front however saw most of its prowess after the bombings of September eleventh. With air support from the United States led forces, the front succeeded in retaking Kabul back from the Taliban. When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked for a comment on ‘forces against the Taliban he stated that the United States would be helping the Northern Alliance and other Taliban opposition groups. The US forces have focused in assisting with targeting, logistics, medical assistance and communications. The following period shows inadequacies in using the non-state proxies and a need to put 'boots on the ground' which could be related to a shift in political goals. Here again the issue of empowerment is raised. This is also a case in which supplies and support from a foreign power are fed into a non-state group in relation to quelling an internal threat that highly mirrors ideological interests.
4. US/NATO: Unlike the other cases, this one is rather broad and is not in reflection of a specific event, but rather it surrounds the idea of global intervention. While this case is rather different it does share similarities to the other cases involving world order supporter states.  Like the other non-state proxies, NATO and intervening forces are usually brought into failed states or rather into conflicts in which they are meant to impose law. Although it can be assumed that these foreign actors can be considered a third party, but we must realize that when dealing with intervention there is still always a goal or ideal that is to be achieved. This goal will subsequently usually overlap with a current actor, and a quasi alliance forms. For explanation purposes, assume that State A falls into civil war and becomes Side A and Side B. Due to the extent of this civil war NATO decides to send peacekeepers, and these actors begin to work to bring Side A back into unison, you see that these peacekeepers have essentially become a proxy non-state actor.  It is here that we see that there exists first an ideological compatibility, before support and action become an influence. This is again an example of using NSP in regards to internal enemies.
As seen in the four cases above, the purpose and agendas of non-state actors are highly erratic, and usually become players for larger states. This poses an interesting argument because although states, such as Iran, may pour money or resources into an organization, seeing as they are self-ruled a state can have their ideals imposed elsewhere without being strongly rebuked in the wake of conflicts. Non-state actors have become a growing force and global attention should be brought towards the role that they currently play and will continue to play. In the past, during the Cold War era, the United States and the Soviet Union would implement smaller states, which one would believe they needed to believe they were acting alongside the ‘winner’. However, as we see today, in the presented examples and in current affairs that it has become much easier and much more readily available to interact with a non-state group when imposing ideals.


  1. You cite NATO's involvement in conflicts as an example of a proxy war. Do you think this fits with the last part of Loveman's definition–conflict escalation/elongation?

    1. I in fact have to claim that I believe foreign intervention does reflect the sixth point in Loveman's definition of proxy conflicts. The definition explains that with proxy interventions it is normal to see that the conflict escalates, increasing its intensity, duration and viciousness.It is reasonable to conclude that with foreign intervention comes a pressure that suggests regime shift. It is claimed by some scholars that interventions from NATO could act as a catalyst or rather a tinder box under the sparks of ideals. When institutions intervene it causes the rebels to rally and become locked even more in their goals and consequently escalates the conflict. By escalating the conflict, it becomes even harder to quell that opposition subsequently causing the conflict to take longer. It help explain the idea that I am trying to convey you can take a look at this article:

      If this didn't explain the answer to your question that well, just let me know and I will try and explain it differently.


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