Proxy Warfare in Strategic Competition
Mar 9, 2023
This report synthesizes the findings and recommendations from two companion reports on intrastate proxy wars: civil wars in which at least one local warring party receives material support from an external state. One of these companion reports examines motives and trends for great powers' use of proxy warfare in intrastate conflict, while the other examines the military implications of these wars.
Overarching Findings and Recommendations
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This report synthesizes the findings and recommendations from two companion reports on intrastate proxy wars: civil wars in which at least one local warring party receives material support from an external state. One of these companion reports examines motives and trends for great powers' use of proxy warfare in intrastate conflict, while the other examines the military implications of these wars. The authors conducted the research for these reports using a quantitative analysis of proxy wars since 1946, case studies on major powers that have sponsored surrogates in such conflicts, and case studies on the military implications of such conflicts.
Looking forward, there are worrying indications that geopolitical factors may be driving countries, including Russia and Iran, to more frequent use of proxy warfare, and China might return to such forms of competition under certain circumstances. Ideology seems less likely to fuel proxy wars than it did during the Cold War, however, and China has a number of economic incentives to avoid such practices.
The prospect of the increasing use of proxy warfare has a number of implications for U.S. defense policy. Violent nonstate actors supported by states tend to be much more lethal than those without state support. These enhanced capabilities appear to make them much more threatening to U.S. allies and partners, potentially forcing the United States to intervene on their behalf to protect them.
The research described in this report was sponsored by the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3/5/7, U.S. Army and conducted by the Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program with the RAND Arroyo Center.
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