Thursday, February 28, 2013

Scale and Scope of Proxy Wars by Greg Bissell


Scale and Scope of Proxy wars

Proxy wars were commonplace during late 1700’s and even in the times of the Vikings, and once again became popularized during the cold war to combat communism and to prevent the domino theory from becoming a reality. Through the use of third party combatants, both the United States and the Soviet Union were able to engage each other without actual combat and the use of nuclear weapons. Generally, the third party combatants that were fighting were rebel groups that sided with one or the other super powers, mercenaries, and religious groups, etc.  Examples of proxy wars are the Vietnam War, French/ Indian wars, the Afghan–Soviet war and the Syrian civil war. Even though the cold war has been over for more than 20 years, proxy wars still seem to spring forth.

Proxy wars are still fought today, though they are not between super powers or communists and democratic governments. Today’s proxy wars are fought between the West and its allies against Islamic militants and its supporters. Motives such as political, religious, and ideological states will fund these third party surrogates through whatever means they can afford. Even after the cold war, the United States, the emerged hegemonic power, has proxies chambered in its arsenal. Unlike proxy wars of the past, which prevented all out wars, the overall goals have changed.

Today Proxy wars throughout the world are used to keep whichever ideology, religious, or political groups in power. According to Al Jazeera, the United States is sponsoring countries from all over the world through means of military training, joint operations exercises with special forces and providing arms and information. Through these methods it helps support the U.S., and the West’s ideals of democracy and interests. This, of course is without having U.S. troops on the ground or at the very least limited numbers which keep U.S. soldier deaths to a minimum.

The Obama presidency has created the largest influx of proxy wars in Africa. U.S. funds have been stepped up from Libya, all the way to fight rebels like the Lords Resistance Army moving in various parts of Africa. The U.S has supplied regional drone campaigns, provided arms, supplies, logistics, and money.  This does not extend to Somalia, where the, “CIA campaign against Islamist al-Shabab militants that include intelligence operations, training for Somali agents, a secret prison, helicopter attacks and commando raids. Now, it is also backing a classic proxy war using African surrogates.”

Syria is a country that has the potential of facing a proxy war. Since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War rebel factions have been calling on the United States to supply them with “aid” in their fight against Bashar Al Assad. So far the United States has only provided communications equipment.  On the other side of the fence, the Russians are reluctant to give up their last military base in the Middle East, thus they help to maintain Assad’s military. Syria is a prime example of one of the last cold war proxies. Both the U.S. and its old foe Russia are battling it out, except this time diplomatically and over different ideological differences than the old domino theory. To prevent another Middle Eastern country from falling into the hands of Islamic radicalism the U.S. is trying to sponsor a group that will best suit the U.S. and Western ideals. The Russian’s on the other hand don’t want to give up their last foothold to the West in order to remain a global player. China is also helping Russia to maintain power via diplomatic engagements against the U.S.

Although Proxy wars have changed in terms of the cold war, as in the old standard of preventing a nuclear holocaust, proxies still seem relevant in the world today just under a different guise. Proxies have new enemies and old foes still vying for support. The main difference is that is that the enemy is not a super power; they are often non-state actors or small unstable states. The duration of proxies and how they are used is also different; they can start before a major player decides to enter a war or at the end of a war when a major power leaves and funds the war from its own country.




10 comments:

  1. As we discussed in class today, it seems like the scope of contemporary proxy wars is largely concentrated in areas that house most contemporary conflicts. Did you find anything to differentiate between the trend of proxy war location and the location of most other conflicts in your research on the scope of proxy wars? Or are you of the opinion that was voiced by Dr. Craig in class–that proxy wars are the future of conflict?

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  2. War is an ever changing mechanism, what might be fashionable today may not be tomorrow. Although with current trends I would probably side with Craig. An event like China trying to make a run at japan or break the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty would be the only for seeable reason why a state on state war could occur. As far as Proxies and locations go refer to the link.

    http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/08/20128128345053728.html

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  3. My question is regarding the US policies on proxy wars in relation to its aftermath; what happens to the proxy and its supplies after the war has ended? You mention that proxy wars are different today; instead of being between superpowers, they are now between the West and Islamic militants. I know a similar question came up in class during the Q/A session of the presentation but if the US recognizes that funding the Afghan Mujahideen during the Soviet Invasion caused long-term adversities such as the strengthening of the Taliban and the CIA calls this a ‘blowback’ the US couldn't have predicted earlier, has the US now looked into any more specific policies or strategies to prevent something similar from happening again? What measures does the US take to ensure that the proxies it may support today won’t become anti-American ‘terrorists’ tomorrow? Has this issue been addressed at all when it comes to policy recommendations relating to proxies and the aftereffects of a proxy war?

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    1. Good points. As far as supplies and weapons go, they generally circulate through out conflicts in the regions near the original proxy war area or in the country itself. In response to the issue of blow back and the prevention of this phenomenon I would refer you to the current issue of Syria where there are no direct groups in which the U.S. is willing to arm because of ties to radical Islamist, which according to the U.S. in the midst of the conflict. In sort the U.S. isn't going to give weapons to anyone who isn't overtly supportive of western ideals and against radical Islamist.

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  4. Are there any examples of countries engaged in a proxy war choosing to "punish" a principle, either through overt or covert action?

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    1. In terms of modern proxy wars none that i can think of off the bat. In the past there was Mujahideen in Afghanistan and its later metamorphoses into the Taliban that bombs the U.S. The only other one that could be argued is during the cold war when Ethiopia switched to the Soviet side.

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  5. How does the nature of the threat (a superpower such as Russia or Islamic militancy) effect the involvement of the principal in a proxy war?

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    1. In the past it depend on the type of threat of the adversary the diplomatic power of the proxy in question i.e. Vietnam and Korea v.s. places like Kenya. In todays terminology Principal only ramps up military support or a full on intervention is if the proxy is attacked or is anticipating an attack i.e. Afghanistan and Iraq.

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