Many of you may have heard the term “Proxy War” being widespread to describe what is happening in Syria in the latest months, with the United States of America and the Russian Federation using other regional actors to fight their differences of opinion.
First of all, it is widely advisable to define a “proxy war” before going any further, especially for the younger readers that cannot remember the Cold War and its contemporary consequences.
A “proxy war” is a conflict instigated or supported by countries or entities which are not directly involved in the fighting. In other terms, it is a way for a country to pursue its geopolitical aims on the battlefield without going to war itself.
What are the “wars” from the American past? I found an interesting collection on Wikipedia.
The first proxy war in the Cold War was the Greek Civil War, which started almost as soon as World War II ended. The Western-allied Greek government was nearly overthrown by Communist rebels with limited direct aid from Soviet ally or client states in Yugoslavia, Albania, and Bulgaria. The Greek Communists managed to seize most of Greece, but a strong government counterattack forced them back. The Western Allies eventually won, due largely to an ideological split between Stalin and Tito. Though previously allied to the rebels, Tito closed Yugoslavia’s borders to ELAS partisans when Greek Communists sided with Stalin, despite the lack of direct material support from the USSR. Albania followed Tito’s lead shortly thereafter. With no way to get aid, the rebellion collapsed.
In the Korean War, the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China aided the Communists in North Korea against the US-led United Nations forces. The Soviet Union did not enter the war directly, though it was alleged that the Soviets had sent pilots to fly MiG 15s for the Communists. China, however, did enter the war directly and sent thousands of ‘volunteers’ in 1950 preventing the U.N. coalition from defeating the Communist government of the north.
Another example of a proxy war was East Germany’s covert support of the Red Army Faction (RAF) which was active from 1968 and carried out a succession of terrorist attacks in West Germany during the 1970s and to a lesser extent; in the 1980s. After German reunification in 1990, it was discovered that the RAF had received financial and logistic support from the Stasi, the security and intelligence organization of East Germany. It had also given several RAF terrorists shelter and new identities. It had not been in the interests of either the RAF or the East Germans to be seen as co-operating. The apologists for the RAF argued that they were striving for a true socialist society not the sort that existed in Eastern Europe. The East German government was involved in Ostpolitik, and it was not in its interest to be caught overtly aiding a terrorist organization operating in West Germany. For more details see the History of Germany since 1945.
In the Vietnam War the Soviet Union supplied North Vietnam and the Viet Minh with training, logistics and material but unlike the United States Armed Forces they fought the war through their proxies and did not enter the conflict directly.
In the war between the Mujahadeen and the Soviet Army during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the aid given by the U.S. to the Mujahadeen during the war included weapons, supplies and training.
In the Lebanese Civil War, Syria supported the Maronite Christian dominated Lebanese Front with arms and troops, while interestingly enough Syria’s enemy Israel also supported the Lebanese Front by providing them with arms, tanks and money. While the Soviets tended to support Syria, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the leftist Lebanese National Movement (NLM).
I bring all this to my readers’ attention because it appears as if the White House and the Kremlin are at it again, though President Barack Obama said that there would be no proxy war with Russia at all.
“We’re not going to make Syria into a proxy war between the United States and Russia,” the Washington Post cites President Obama saying earlier this month. He might be the only person left who doesn’t think it already is. “With the enhanced insurgent firepower and with Russia steadily raising the number of airstrikes against the government’s opponents, the Syrian conflict is edging closer to an all-out proxy war,” the New York Times reports. “American antitank missiles supplied to Syrian rebels are playing an unexpectedly prominent role in shaping the Syrian battlefield, giving the conflict the semblance of a proxy war,” the Post states. “Of course it is,” John McCain told CNN when asked if Syria was a proxy war.
The CIA began supplying anti-tank missiles to Syrian insurgents in 2013, the Times reports. Since Russia started launching airstrikes on behalf of the Assad regime, insurgent leaders claim deliveries of TOW missiles have increased. “We can get as much as we need and whenever we need them,” one leader says. “Just fill in the numbers.” According to the Post, dozens of videos have been popping on YouTube in the past week showing TOW missiles being used against Russian-made tanks and armored vehicles. The Times reports the increased firepower being supplied by both sides has made an eventual peaceful resolution to the conflict less likely than ever and is starting to show shades of Afghanistan in the 1980s. “As during the Cold War, US and Russian arms supplies will simply fan the flames of conflict and beget more death and destruction,” one expert writes for CNN.
But while Washington D.C. is denying that they intend to fight a proxy war with Moscow, the events on the Syrian ground may be showing a different story.
The shipments seem aimed at turning the Syrian Civil War into a proxy war, and the fact that the US is overtly backing Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions that are fighting alongside al-Qaeda in Idlib and Hama, because that’s the focus of one of the first Russian-backed offensive. So the US strategy in Syria is shifting once again, initially focused on regime change, then focused on destroying ISIS, and now, having given up more or less on both of those, they just want to see Russia fail, and the administration seems comfortable with the possibility that US-made weapons will be destroying Russian tanks and helicopters. This proxy war is also bringing the US closer to a de facto alliance with al-Qaeda, as the efforts to undermine Russia run squarely through al-Qaeda-held Idlib, and “stopping” Russia at this point means further consolidating al-Qaeda control over northwest Syria.
What is that old saying? “If it walks like a duck, flies like a duck and quacks like a duck…it must be a proxy war”.
Once again we, the United States and Russia, return to the days of yesteryear to get others to do our fighting for us. The problem, however, is that such a proxy war smells like a disaster waiting to happen. This situation has the chances to trigger a terrible accident that could result in a lethal confrontation between major powers. It goes without saying, this is likely to have unimaginably disastrous results.