Five Myths about Sponsor-Proxy Relationships

By Michael Wyss and CNS Fellow Assaf Moghadam

The use of proxies, or surrogates, is a longstanding historical feature of international conflict. Proxies were widely used during the Cold War, when the superpowers sought to influence geopolitical affairs to their advantage while reducing the potential risk of a major confrontation that could spiral into nuclear war. In recent decades, the reliance on proxy forces has become a fixture in international conflicts. According to data collected by Cunningham, Gleditsch, and Salehyan, for example, between 1945 and 2011, external actors provided explicit or alleged support to 48 percent of 443 rebel groups engaged in armed conflict. The employment of surrogates in warfare is so widespread that some analysts have deemed proxy conflicts to be the prevalent mode of war in the 21st century.

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Karen Greenberg