Conflict Delegation and Proxy Wars in International Security - Online

Michel Wyss's picture
September 23, 2021
Subject Fields: 
Area Studies, Contemporary History, Diplomacy and International Relations, Military History, Political Science

The Military Academy at ETH Zurich, in cooperation with the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Reading, and the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy & Strategy at Reichman University (formerly Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya) is conducting a half-day event on conflict delegation and proxy wars, which will be held online on September 23, 2021, 13:00-18:00 CET.

Conflict delegation to proxies is a longstanding practice in the history of war and one of the most salient features in contemporary conflict. As demonstrated by the complicated relationships between global powers, regional actors, and local armed non-state groups in places such as Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Ukraine, conflict delegation and proxy wars pose serious challenges to researchers, policy-makers, and security practitioners alike. They encompass a wide range of – often interrelated – issues such as external support to insurgents and state-sponsored terrorism, the outsourcing of security tasks to domestic militias or mercenaries, and the ways in which governments seek to externalize their defence burden through a combination of air power, special operations forces, private military corporations, and local partner forces.

Recent scholarship has advanced our understanding of the phenomenon, including novel and more nuanced conceptualizations, more robust data-gathering efforts, and a shift towards examining the nature, dynamics, and problems behind delegation to proxies. We seek to build on these efforts by providing a forum to discuss emerging ideas, novel insights, and to outline potential avenues for future research.

Interested parties are kindly requested to register in advance:


Introductory Remarks (13:00 – 13:15)
• Mauro Mantovani (MILAC at ETH Zurich) and Michel Wyss (MILAC at ETH Zurich

Panel I: Conflict Delegation and Proxies in Contemporary Civil Wars (13:15 – 14:40)
• Niklas Karlén (Swedish Defence University): Strategic Alignment between State Sponsors and Rebel Groups
• Giuseppe Spatafora (Oxford University): From Sponsors to Cobelligerents: When Do States Escalate Foreign Support in Civil War?
• Natalia Tellidou (European University Institute): Regional Powers and the MENA region. The Proxy War in Syria that Shaped the Balance of Power
• Jérôme Drevon (Graduate Institute): The Limits of Foreign Support for Local Insurgencies, Evidence from Syria
Chair: Assaf Moghadam (Reichman University/IDC Herzliya)

Panel II: Conflict Delegation and Proxy Wars in Comparative Perspective (14:45 – 16:25)
• Alexandra Stark (New America): What Do We Mean by “Proxy War?”
• Noel Anderson (University of Toronto): External Meddling in Internal War: Tracking Global Trends, 1946-2009
• Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl (Leiden University): The Lebanese Civil War and Proxy Warfare
• Ariel Ahram (Virginia Tech) & Ranj Alaaldin (Brookings): Contrasting Proxy War Strategies - Turkey and the UAE
• Arthur Stein (University of Montreal): Committed Sponsors - External Support Overtness and Insurgent Interactions with Civilians in Civil Wars
Chair: Niklas Karlén (Swedish Defence University)

Panel III: The Future of Conflict Delegation and Proxy Wars (16:30 – 17:55)
• Kerstin Zettl (Heidelberg University): IT-Companies as Defensive Cyber-Proxies? How Democracies Play the Blame-Game in Cyber-Space
• Christopher Spearin (Royal Military College of Canada): Russian Private Military and Security Companies and Special Operations Forces: Birds of a Feather?
• Amos Fox (independent): Proxy War: A Useful Strategic Solution to Conflict Delegation in Limited War
• Sara Plana (MIT): How States Control Groups
Chair: Vladimir Rauta (University of Reading)

Concluding Remarks (17:55 – 18:00)

All times in Central European Time (CET)