What constitutes war these days? The US, NATO, and others have been waging a proxy war against Russia over Ukraine for the previous four months. In assistance of Ukrainian forces, the United States and other countries have provided military equipment and (in some circumstances) operational intelligence.

In the last two decades, a term (hybrid warfare, grey zone operations) has been established to characterize military activities without direct high-intensity conflict between conventionally structured military forces. In most circumstances, “proxy warfare” is enough to represent battlefield splendors.

The American Bar Association Center for Human Rights Expert Working Group defines proxy warfare as when states encourage armed third parties to participate in conflicts to fulfill the state’s goals.

Proxy warfare involves at least three partners: proxy fighters, the target state, and the supportive state. In the Russia-Ukraine war, Ukraine, Russia, and the West would play these roles.

The history of wars fought via proxy.

Proxy warfare has undoubtedly been around for a long time. Suppose we limit ourselves to the 20th century. In that case, it might be possible that be first shots fired in World War II were fired as part of proxy conflicts, and the Sino-Japanese War ended up becoming the War of the Pacific.

During the Cold War, the United s and the USSR launched proxy battles against each other in Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

In Korea, the USSR supplied practically all of the DPRK’s and later the PRC’s relevant military equipment. During the Vietnam War, China and the Soviet Union provided the Hanoi government with more than $9 billion in military equipment.

The decision by Moscow to launch a proxy war against the United States is responsible for the roughly 4,000 aircraft lost in Vietnam and the almost 9,000 US personnel killed in both Vietnam and Korea.

During the Soviet-Afghan war, Washington returned the favor, finally pushing the USSR to retreat.

Since neither Russia nor China was interested in helping the Iraqi or Taliban insurgencies during the Wars on Terror, most of the recent battles have not turned into proxy wars between great powers.

In the Chechens’ conflicts against Russia, the United States did not make any significant attempt to lend help to the Chechens.

However, Pakistan and Iran launched proxy wars against the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq. Pakistan supported anti-American rebels while at the same time getting financial and military help from the United States. Iran also supported anti-American insurgents in Iraq.

legal mandates and restrictions

At the international or national level, there is minimal control over the practice of proxy warfare. 

It is not uncommon for governments to engage in proxy wars since they do not have the domestic or international legal authority necessary to engage in direct battle. 

In addition, they tend to limit their commitments and acts to avoid crossing any legal borders, domestically and internationally.

Proxy wars are real for the countries involved. Koreans, Vietnamese, and Afghans became pawns in a superpower battle during the Cold War while also battling one superpower’s dominance.

Ukrainians are struggling for their independence and integrity and have asked for outside aid. The motives of the sponsor shouldn’t overshadow frontline sacrifices.