The Proxy Phenomenon

The Proxy Phenomenon relates to a system of international actors within which a Proxy entity is empowered and instigated to act on behalf of a Sponsor in relation to an objective.

Definition

The concept of the Proxy Phenomenon relates to the sphere of international relations and refers to a system of actors within which a Proxy entity is empowered and instigated to act on behalf of a Sponsor in relation to an objective.

Background

Since the mid-20th century, the Proxy Phenomenon has been exhibited in a number of contexts:1
  1. State Proxy – During the Cold War era, superpowers activated Proxy states and organizations to serve and represent their interests and to engage in conflict with one another. This form of Proxy avoided direct superpower confrontation and mitigated the threat of nuclear war.2

  2. Terror by Proxy – Since the 1970s and 80s, states, often rogue or weak states, began supporting and instigating terror organizations to represent and serve their interests.3

Roles Comprising The Proxy Phenomenon

The Proxy Phenomenon includes within it three roles:
  1. Proxy – an entity that serves the interests of a Sponsor concerning an objective in exchange for the Sponsor's support;

  2. Sponsor – an entity that intentionally empowers and instigates a Proxy to operate on its behalf towards an objective in order to avoid its own direct participation;

  3. Host – an occasional distinct third actor which, willingly or unwillingly, provides a territorial base from which a Proxy can operate in cases where the territory is not provided by either the Proxy or the Sponsor.

1 The second Lebanon war (7-8/06) revealed a national security threat to Israel, part of which involves the Proxy Phenomenon.

2 Lebow, R. N., & Stein, J. G. (1987), "Beyond Deterrence", Journal of Social Issues, 43(4), pp. 5–72.

3 Such cases include Iran and the Lebanese Hizbullah, Syria and radical Palestinian groups, Pakistan and terrorist groups in Kashmir, and Afghanistan under the Taliban. See Daniel Byman, Deadly Connections: States that Sponsor Terrorism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, p.8.