Proxy warfare usually involves two or more powers or neighbouring nations engaged in a long, protracted conflict where both parties primarily use lesser powers to wage conflicts without directly using their full military and economic resources to engage in an all-out brawl.
The reason why nations engage in proxy warfare is that total war, particularly with the advent of atomic weaponry in 1945 and the destructiveness of modern war, makes direct great power engagement increasingly unlikely due to the share costs of open warfare.
(According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, total war is a military conflict in which the contenders are willing to sacrifice lives and other resources to obtain a complete victory, as distinguished from limited war.
Throughout history, limitations on the scope of warfare have been more economic and social than political.)
This is why contemporary nations and throughout human history have engaged in proxy warfare to pursue their national interest as long as there have been kingdoms or nations.
There are many contemporary examples today, with the French supporting their interests in Libya, Syria and Niger going against other Allied powers such as Turkey and Great Britain pursuing separate foreign policies in Syria and North Africa.
Turkey, for example, has seized parts of northern Syrian land and is in a low-level conflict with Russia over influence in Syria and a disagreement with other NATO powers regarding their support of Kurdish separatists in Syria.
Proxy warfare is not always between enemy nations. Still, it can be a great way for governments to pursue their regional and international foreign policies without severely damaging the other allies and interests around the globe.
Proxy Warfare Before 1900
The art of proxy warfare works best when draining the resources and the ability of a nation’s enemy to fight and engage in other conflicts and pursue its foreign policy around the globe by draining its Treasury and manpower.
Early examples of this strategy can be seen during the Hundred Years War between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of France from 1337 to 1453. During that long conflict, both kingdoms engaged in proxy war conflicts.
These proxy wars were fought in Brittany for the Brittany succession was a conflict between the Counts of Blois and the Montforts of Brittany for control of the Sovereign Duchy of Brittany, then a fief of the Kingdom of France.
It was fought between 1341 and 12 April 1365.
The war over the control of the kingdom of Castile from 1366 60 1367, and finally, the conflict between the Almanacs and Burgundians during the last phase of the Hundred Years’ War.
During these proxy wars, England normally drew the short straw. England at this time had a population between 3 million people and 5.5 million compared to the kingdom of France, which had a population between 14 and 25 million people. The French successfully used proxy warfare as a means to drain the finances of the King of England and remove their ability to wage war was successfully used multiple times.
After Edward, the Black Prince defeated King John II of France, who ruled from 1350 to 1364, in the battle Poitier 1356, successfully led to the capture of the King of France, and his youngest son, Philip, became the first of House Valois Burgundy.
This victory led England and the Plantagenet dynasty to assume control over the dukedom of Aquitaine and most of southern France for at least a decade. English successes were reversed by Charles V of France, who ruled from 1364 to 1380 and aptly called the wise.
His strategy for defeating the English was having them engage in a conflict over the control of the kingdom of Castile.
The English won the war, but his half-brother later murdered King Pedro the Cruel of Castile, and the English did not recover financially, with the Treasury of the Princeton of Aquitaine going bankrupt.
It is this success in the kingdom of Castile that led to the reversal of England’s fortunes, and by the time of Edward III’s death in 1377, the English crown was over £400,000 in debt, and the conflict with France would not resume again until the rain of King Henry V of England from 1413 to 1422.
The Wars of the Roses 1455 to 1487
The Cousins War, or the Wars of the Roses, was a great example of a proxy war conflict where foreign powers would intervene in other nation’s internal strife to influence their foreign policies or ensure the enemy is focused on internal concerns.
For the English, the king of France, Charles VII of France, called Victorious, ruled from 1422 to 1461, and his son, Louis XI of the Spider, ruled from 1461 to 1483, backed different candidates for control of the English crown to keep England in a state of civil war.
The French monarchy and great powers engaged in this behaviour to keep the enemy weak and avoid protracted wars. If it hadn’t been for the Wars of the Roses and the madness of King Henry VI of England, then the conflict between England and France would have continued much longer.
The conflict finally ended when the Regency Council Charles VIII of France used Henry Tudor, who was very much a creature of Louis XI, as a means to destabilise the English crown with his success at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 primarily due to the pikemen provided by the French crown.
Wars Between France and England in the 18th Century
From the late 17th century until the early 19th century, England and France became embroiled in a Second Hundred Years War or Third Hundred Years War, depending upon which historians you listen to; this new conflict was sparked with the removal of James II of England from the English throne.
His removal opened during the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to 1689. This marked the return of England as an international power within Europe, and its dreams of global supremacy over the French sparked a series of conflicts and proxy wars between both powers.
During the 18th century, the English became the masters of proxy warfare, with the English political classes and culture at that time being financially against creating a large army, seeing them as a means to attack the liberties of native Englishmen.
Due to this development, the English opted to support France’s foreign enemies with financial subsidies; during Frederick the Great of Prussia’s rule from 1740 to 1786, the English paid for his entire nation’s budget to fund them to fight the French and the European continent.
France spent 45 years out of the Hundred Years of the 18th Century at war, with most of their enemies being financially backed by the British for that time.
Another example of proxy warfare during the 18th century between the English and the French was the American Revolution or the American War of Independence from 1775 to 1883.
This is another excellent example of a nation: France supplied men, equipment, and financial backing to Britain’s enemy, leaving that nation weakened internationally and overstretched while trying to maintain control over the 13 colonies.
This scenario is repeated over and over again throughout human history, with the most recent examples being the Soviet-Afghan war from 1979 to 1989 and the American war on terror from 2001 to 2021.
Cold War Period
The Cold War lasted for around 44 years, from 1945 to 1989.
Throughout that period, both the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Republics or just Russia as we would understand it in modern terms were engaged in a conflict over which ideology, capitalism or communism, would be the future of humanity.
United States favoured a liberal approach to the economy where individual citizens had the freedom to invest their goods and services, invest in the US economy, and plan their futures.
In contrast, the Soviet Union favoured a state-planned economy where there was no freedom of market forces to dictate the development of new technologies and the worth of goods and services; this is why, in the last two decades of the Cold War, Russia so massively behind the Western world.
As for the conflict between both superpowers began almost straight after the ending of the Second World War in 1945; the first conflict was in Vietnam, with American involvement starting in 1947 until the conclusion of the Vietnam War in 1975.
The impact of this conflict was that it demoralised the American public against supporting the fight against communism and that the United States public began to mistrust his political leaders. The next conflict was much shorter, lasting from 1950 to 1953, called the Korean War.
With the support of the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the United States successfully liberated South Korea from the communist North.
During this conflict, much like the Vietnam conflict, the Soviet Union supported the Chinese and the North Koreans in their war against the United States by providing them with equipment, and this was repeated during the Vietnam War.
The Cold War’s final great conflict was the Soviet-Afghan war, which was waged between 1979 and 1989. The United States supported the mujahedin (including Osama bin Laden, who planned the 9/11 attacks on the USA in 2001), fighting against the Soviet Union.
The significant impact of the Afghan-Soviet war was that it meant the death of the Soviet Union by 1989. The only form of legitimacy that kept the Soviet Union alive was its reliance on the prestige and capabilities of its military.
Without that legitimacy, their failure to win the war in Afghanistan meant the end of the Soviet Union.
Ukraine Proxy War
Suppose any conflict in the history of humanity deserves to be called a proxy war. In that case, the Ukraine deserves that title and the definition.
However, the Ukrainians fighting their war for independence and emerging as a separate identity from Russia would differ significantly from my statement.
For the Ukrainians, the war they have been fighting for the liberation and independence of Ukraine has been going on since the Russians took the Crimea Peninsula in 2014 to the present day.
This could be likened to the American War of Independence from 1775 to 1783, with the Americans emerging as a separate cultural and political identity from England, the mother country.
For the United States and its Western allies, the Ukraine war prevents the opportunity to give a knockout blow to the Russian Federation and ensure Russia as a military power is contained within current territorial boundaries and becomes irrelevant due to its declining demographics.
Ukraine will be Russia’s last war due to the terminal demographic decline. It will take a century to make the corrections necessary to regrow its population due to the fall in birth rates since the end of the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
As well as the chaos in the 1990s, Russia has had 40 years without a successful replacement generation that was big enough to replace the previous generations within Russia.
Here is how much Aid the USA has sent Ukraine between January 24, 2022, and July 31, 2023. The Aid has primarily been provided through appropriations bills. This information only covers aid to Ukraine and does not include all U.S. spending related to the war.
Total: $76.8 billion
$3.9 billion (5%)
Emergency food assistance, health care, refugee support, and other humanitarian aid
$26.4 billion (34%)
Budgetary aid through the Economic Support Fund, loans, and other financial support
$18.3 billion (24%)
Training, equipment, weapons, logistics support, and other assistance provided through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative
$46.6 billion (61%)
Weapons and equipment
$23.5 billion (31%)
Weapons and equipment from Defense Department stocks, provided through presidential drawdowns