For those who aren’t aware of the term, a proxy war is when two nations don’t really want to directly fight each other or declare war due to the financial cost and diplomatic hassle, so they duke it out in some other country, usually allowing the side they support with advisors and weapons to do the majority of the actual fighting. The proxy war allows for a chance to gain territory and hegemony around the world, while looking like a supporter of “sides” and not just a conqueror — it also conveniently tends to keep war directly away from the door of the nations using the proxies. In today’s article, we will go over 10 of the most important proxy wars of all time.
10. The American Revolution Was Very Much About Great Britain and France
Many people think that the proxy war as we know it didn’t really start until around the mid-1800s, and that even then we hardly saw much of this phenomenon until after World War I and even more so after World War II. However, many historians believe that the American Revolution is one of the earliest examples of the type of proxy war we have now started to see so much of.
Now, while many Americans do like to think of it as a great victory against the British, the truth is that the British always had their hands in a lot of military pies, so if they truly had been bringing their full weight to bear from the beginning, things might have been different. However, even more importantly, the French saw the American Revolution as a chance to destabilize Britain, and help get new trade connections, power, and influence in North America. The French provided military advisers, guns, ammunition, boots, naval support and so much other help that it cannot be underestimated. While the colonists certainly fought very hard for their freedom, without the French helping out in this early proxy war, it may have been a very different story entirely.
9. The Korean War Was A Proxy Conflict With The Soviets And Chinese Against The USA
The Korean War was really the first major proxy conflict of the Cold War, and not only set the grim stage for the rest of the Cold War but left huge lingering issues that have not even been close to solved to this day. While many documentaries and shows or movies dramatize World War II and other more “popular” wars, people today don’t seem to be particularly interested in Korean War history (outside of those who still watch reruns of M*A*S*H). This is probably because the conflict didn’t leave anyone with a particularly happy outcome or make anyone look particularly good.
The USA was already fresh off World War II, and most people didn’t really have much stomach or interest in more war; however, they were caught up in one anyway. After World War II, Korea was split between the United States and the Soviets, with the USA supporting the Southern side and the Soviets supporting the Northern Side. On June 25, 1950, the Northern forces of Korea attacked the Southern side of Korea and initiated war. Two days later, President Truman officially declared US involvement against the Northern side and the Chinese soon got involved with their own troops on the ground. The war caused about 600,000 deaths, with about 36,000 of those being American lives, and is still in the status of a temporary ceasefire; it has never officially ended.
8. The Vietnam War Was Also A Proxy War Between China And The USA
The Vietnam War is one of the most well known wars in the world, and hardly needs much introduction. This is because it was one of the longest lasting conflicts in recent history. American involvement first started when military advisors were sent starting as early as 1950 (although financial support may have started as early as 1946), back when Vietnam was still part of French Indochina, and Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam were fighting for their independence. After the first war of Indochina ended with the Geneva Accords of 1954, the French left Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, which were now independent nations. This created an unstable situation where the United States saw a chance to make another major allied proxy nation by supporting South Vietnam, and the Chinese, as well as the Soviet Union, saw the same opportunity by supporting the North.
After 1954, the United States stepped in to take the place of the French and support the South Vietnamese and didn’t officially leave the war until the Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1973, which ended the conflict with the communist North Vietnamese winning the war. In the end, this proxy war was a win for communist nations like the Soviet Union, but more than anything else for China. The Chinese not only provided financial and equipment aid like the Soviets, but after the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the Chinese started stepping up their involvement and People’s Liberation Army troops poured across the border to counter the United States Army.
7. The Iran Crisis Of 1946 Was An Early Proxy War Between The Soviets And The USA
Today, a lot of people see Iran as an enemy of the United States, but this wasn’t always so. Back in the days of World War II, a lot of countries were being invaded and temporarily occupied either by the allied or axis powers and Iran was no exception. When World War II ended, the British and American forces occupied the south and the center of the country, and the Soviet Union occupied the North. Both sides had agreed to leave within six months of hostilities ending, and the American and British forces kept their word on the agreement. Unfortunately, when the deadline came in early 1946, the Soviet Union forces were not only still there, but had been training a separatist force of Kurdish people, as well as a group called the People’s Azerbajaini forces.
While the United States provided financial support where needed, they didn’t actually have boots on the ground fighting, and the Soviet Union relied on their proxy warriors to do most of the fighting, as they were already relatively depleted after all of their sacrifices in World War II. The United States’s biggest involvement was actually diplomatic as they lobbied the United Nations and used their influence to put extreme pressure on the Soviet Union to honor their agreement and leave Iran. It is ironic that the United States is acting so aggressive against Iran now, when back in the day they went to great diplomatic effort to make sure they would be allowed to control their own destiny.
6. The Arab-Israeli Conflict Involves Multiple Parties (And It Is Still Ongoing)
The Arab-Israeli conflict has been going on for a very long time — and maybe even longer, depending on who you ask. Some consider it to have started after World War II, but a lot of the tension goes back even further. For some time the British Empire controlled a lot of the world, and in the early 1900s after World War II, they still had control over a lot of territory, including some in the Middle East. In 1917 they supported the creation of a Jewish state in the area then known as Palestine, but there was great resistance including riots and attempts at fighting off British control by the Arabs living in the area. The British eventually backtracked a bit and agreed to slow down the amount of Jewish refugees to Palestine.
However, after World War II, the desire to find a permanent resettlement spot for Jewish refugees became more of a concern. The United Nations approved a plan to partition the country between the Arabs and the Jewish people, but the Palestinians, the Egyptians, Syrians, Iraqis, Jordanians, and Lebanese were none too pleased. War soon started between them, and the early Israeli powers, who were supported financially and politically by the Western powers. While Israel has certainly come out in a much stronger position, the conflict is far from over. Multiple treaties and accords have been attempted over the years, but fighting keeps breaking out again and again, and the Palestinian Arabs seem to be losing more and more territory over the years, despite past agreements. While this long conflict has allowed a lot of world powers to proxy war with each other, more recently it seems to have been a battleground between the United States and Iran.
5. The Korean DMZ Conflict Was Really The USA Against Both China And The Soviets
Most people are well aware of the Korean War even if they don’t know a lot of the details, but many people haven’t heard of the Korean DMZ Conflict of the 1960s, which is sometimes referred to as the Second Korean War. The United States had escalated tensions in the late 1950s by bringing nuclear weapons into South Korea that could strike North Korea and China. The Chinese and the Soviets were not interested in helping the North Koreans develop nuclear weapons, but they were still very nervous about the potential US aggression of placing nuclear weapons in such a convenient staging position. For this reason, they were happy to help by proxy when Kim Il Sung decided to use the chaos of the Vietnam War to attack the South.
In 1966, Kim Il Sung started mobilizing and moved about 386,000 troops to the border with South Korea, although the South Koreans were well fortified and with the combined US forces still in the South, were at about 585,000 troops themselves. The North Koreans under Kim Il Sung were hoping that with the current political environment, as well as the United States being spread thin with Vietnam (and them sending some forces from South Korea to Vietnam), they might be able to somehow ignite an insurgency within South Korea, and then take advantage of the chaos. Unfortunately for Kim Il Sung, his plan didn’t work. After three years, the uneasy armistice basically went back into effect. A few hundred people had been killed on both sides, but the borders had not been changed. As of now, the United States, along with the South Koreans, are still in an uneasy ceasefire against the North Koreans and their Chinese allies.
4. The Soviet Afghan War Was The Soviet Union Against… A Who’s Who Of World Powers
Many people are exhausted and depressed by the still ongoing war in Afghanistan, but it was not the only long quagmire of a war in recent history in the country. Back in 1978, a pro-communist government took power in Afghanistan and started initiating reforms that were deeply unpopular, especially with a lot of the more rural or traditional citizens. In 1979, fearing instability in the communist government of Afghanistan, the Soviet Union under Leonard Brezhnev invaded and staged a coup, replacing the current leader with someone entirely loyal to their leadership. The United Nations, at the urging of 34 nations of the Islamic Conference, passed a resolution urging the Soviets to leave Afghanistan, but they had no interest in doing so.
So the United States and Saudi Arabia started providing huge support in the way of finances and supplies, while China and Pakistan allowed for Mujahideen fighters to train in their countries near the border of Afghanistan, and provided advisors and other support where they could. With several world powers against them, and a country where resistance was pretty much everywhere, they simply couldn’t sustain the occupation permanently or manage a true takeover. In 1989, under Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union withdrew the last of their major forces from the region, but this wasn’t quite the end of the war.
The pro-Soviet government was given proxy support in the way of money and supplies, despite no more Soviet boots on the ground, and didn’t collapse until 1992, after the Soviet Union (which had fallen for good on Christmas 1991) could no longer send them aid. However, the damage done by this proxy conflict left the region in an unstable state still. The ongoing Civil War after the Soviet troops left didn’t end after 1992, because a new Civil War started between the various Mujahideen groups who couldn’t agree on how the country would be run, or by who. The Civil Wars would finally end in 1996 with the Taliban taking control of most of the country.
3. The Ukrainian Crisis Is An Ongoing Proxy Conflict With The USA And NATO Against Russia
The Ukranian Crisis started back in 2013, when the then-Prime Minister of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, decided to go against a plan to join the European Union, and soon protests started. However, while the protests did lead to the resignation of Yanukovych with accusations that he was a Russian agent, the Russians fired back that the Western powers had been trying to force Ukraine to join behind the scenes, and that they didn’t want the West to have that much influence over Ukraine, so they did what they needed to do. Soon, pro-Russian protests started in Kiev, helped along by Putin’s early cyber warfare, and then — as many know — the Russians annexed the territory of Crimea from Ukraine, and put together a mock vote to make it all look legal.
The United States and the rest of the world powers were not fooled by Putin’s blatant power grab, or his sham election, and levied incredibly hefty economic sanctions on him. In further escalation, Putin encouraged a revolution in the Donbass region of the Ukraine, and many Ukrainian citizens with Russian roots started staging their own revolution and trying to take over Eastern Ukraine for Mother Russia, often aided by Russian troops, advisors, money, and military supplies (and intelligence). In the meantime, the United States and the West have not put boots on the ground, but they have continued their economic sanctions against Russia, and continue to support Ukraine with their pocketbooks whenever possible.
2. The Ongoing Conflict In Yemen Is Saudi Arabia And The USA Against (Allegedly) Iran
After the Arab Spring in 2011, the country of Yemen saw power handed over from Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had been Prime Minister, to his deputy Prime Minister Addrabbuh Mansour Hadi, in an attempt to bring some peace and stability to the nation. From the beginning, the transition didn’t seem to work so well; partly because the country was rather poor and suffering from a myriad of issues already. But on top of that, many of the armed forces of the country were still loyal to the previous leader and of course there were parties looking for a chance to seize power in any kind of chaos.
The Houthi Movement, which is a group of Shia Muslims from the area, took control of the Northern Saada Province, and soon made some unlikely Sunni allies as well, simply because the country was unstable and people were looking for leadership. In 2015, the rebellion managed to take over Yemen’s capital city of Saana and drove Prime Minister Hadi into exile. Since then, several Arab States, led by Saudi Arabia (with help from the United States), have been working against the rebels because they believe Yemen under a Shia government would be far too friendly with Iran. Saudi Arabia initially expected the war to only last a few weeks, but it has continued to drag on, with the rebels still holding onto Saana and much of the North of the country. Saudi Arabia is open about providing financial and military support to the government of Yemen, but accuses Iran of supporting the Shia rebels. For their part, the Iranians steadfastly deny any involvement with the Yemeni rebels.
1. The Syrian War Is A Mess Of Multiple Parties Proxy Warring With Each Other
The Syrian Civil War started back in 2011 and is still ongoing. It was a consequence of the Arab Spring protests, and got its real start when Assad used force to shut down protests against his government. After that, the Free Syrian Army (a mostly Shia group) and a few other rebel groups made a loose coalition and a civil war broke out. At first the United States was supporting the rebels to an extent, arguing that Assad’s regime was too extreme, and even accused Assad of using chemical weapons against the rebels. However, soon ISIS got involved, and the United States found themselves spending most of their time against them instead.
However, even though much of the international community did work to destroy ISIS as a common enemy, the battlegrounds of Syria have still been used for a lot of groups to try to hash out old grudges. The Russians supported Assad from the start, as did Lebanon and Iran. However, the United States initially supported the rebels, and are still a great backer of the Kurds. But now, the US has their main support behind the Democratic Federation Of Northern Syria, a different rebel group from the Free Syrian Army and their allies (the rebel group originally backed by the USA). Israel claims neutrality, but has engaged in airstrikes against Iranian and Lebanese positions in Syria, feeling that their presence in the region is unwanted and encroaching toward their territory. Turkey, meanwhile, is an ally of the United States, and has been fighting against Assad’s forces and helping various rebel groups, but they are also fighting their own war against the Kurdish forces due to long disagreements with the Kurdish people, despite the common alliance with the USA between them — and they have been becoming increasingly friendly with Russia.