What if I told you that behind most wars there was a much larger conflict hiding in the shadows? This is the idea of a proxy war, which by definition is “a war instigated by a major power that does not itself become involved”(Dictionary). These kind of “wars” can be found through history and can even affect our lives today. Knowing about why and how proxy wars were used during the Cold War will help you identify the same kind conflict presently.
The Cold War was caused by the clashing of two world superpowers, the United States and USSR. It started in 1947 after the second World War and ended on December 26, 1991. Towards the end of WWII, the Soviet Union was immersed in central europe hoping to spread their communist ideologies throughout the world. They attempted to spread communism in (1) Korea immediately after WWII and successfully did into what is now the democratic people’s republic North Korea starting a proxy war. The United Nations led by the United States backed the republic peoples of south korea. Both countries had troops stationed here and helped rebuild the country. To avoid escalating the cold war into a hot war the USSR denied participation in the Korean War which started in 1950 and ended in 1953. The two countries ceased fire, so technically the war is still going on due to the lack of a signed treaty; making it official In addition to the Korean War, another conflict arose in Vietnam between North Vietnam and the government of South Vietnam. The North was supported by the Soviet Union, China as well as (2) other allies. The South Vietnamese army was supported by the United States, South Korea and other anti-communist allies.This started yet another proxy war. The war lasted from 1955 to 1975. The United States involvement ended with a withdrawal, the fighting continued until Saigon fell to the communist North.
When some people hear the meaning of a proxy war they ask, why don’t the two larger countries just go to war? This would usually be the case except for one major factor that arose during the final days of World War Two. The development of the nuclear bomb would change the way that country’s interacted with each other forever. Never before in history has a weapon so deadly that it could literally destroy the world ever been in existence. After the second world war tensions arose between the United States and the USSR to the point where a war seemed unavoidable. One ideology saved the world from a possibly apocalyptic war and it was MAD “ mutually assured destruction (MAD) is a doctrine of military strategy and national security policy in which a full-scale use of nuclear weapons by two or more opposing sides would cause the complete annihilation of both the attacker and the defender”(Mutually). This idea of total annihilation that neither country was going to let happen led to the increase in proxy wars between the two. This was away for the two powerhouse countries to “fight” through smaller conflicts such as the Korean and Vietnam civil wars by supporting their respective sides with supplies and even troops. This was the best method of “releasing the tension” between the two countries without the end result of MAD.
The word proxy war was a concept that may be seen as left in the Cold War, however there are instances even today that the united states is involved in these types of conflicts. The Middle East has long been an area of constant conflict for various reasons spanning from religion to oil. The United States dependence on oil and need to be a sort of “world police” drives there increased involvement in foreign conflicts in the Middle East. One specific conflict that is still on going (3) involves the “U.S. military involvement in a proxy war with the Islamic Republic in Yemen”(Haas). In this case the United States had already been at odds with Iran due to their increasing nuclear potential and association with known terrorist groups. An opportunity for the two countries to engage in a proxy war was found in a Civil war within Yemen. Iran, in this case, is supporting the Houthis rebels while the United States operates from remote missle strikes. Modern examples of proxy wars are most common between two countries with nuclear power because of the MAD ideology.
The Cold War contained an extensive amount of proxy wars. If you identify the how and why of these past wars you can apply it to modern conflicts and identify a proxy war and act accordingly. The proxy wars from the Cold War like the Korean War have striking similarities with the current proxy wars in the Middle East like the Yemen civil war with regards to the why and how. Now that you have the historical context and ability to identify Modern Proxy wars you (as a future or current voter) must vote to for or against these types of issues accordingly.
Article by Hank Sanford & Video by Connor King
“Proxy War.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/.
Haas, Lawrence J. “Our Predictable Faceoff With Iran.” US News, www.usnews.com/opinion/world-report/articles/2016-10-18/america-is-fighting-a-proxy-war-with-iran-in-yemen.
“Mutually Assured Destruction .” Nuclear Files: Key Issues: Nuclear Weapons: History: Cold War: Strategy: Mutual Assured Destruction, www.nuclearfiles.org/menu/key-issues/nuclear-weapons/history/cold-war/strategy/strategy-mutual-assured-destruction.htm.