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My Enemy’s Enemy

Proxy Warfare in International Politics

Geraint Hughes is currently a Lecturer in Defence Studies at King's College London, teaching at the UK's Joint Services Command and Staff College. His first book, Harold Wilson's Cold War: The Labour Government and East–West Politics, 1964–1970, was published in 2009. His current interest in proxy warfare derives from his interest in studying insurgencies and other inter-state conflicts, from both a historical and a contemporary perspective.

The topic of proxy war is currently subject to intense debate with reference to US, British and Israeli accusations that Iran is sponsoring subversive and insurgent movements from Lebanon to Afghanistan; contemporary academic and media controversies over the effect of international assistance to the Afghan mujahidin in the subsequent destabilisation of the country; and the contentious circumstances surrounding the Russo-Georgian war of 2008, and the ‘independence’ of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. While there is no shortage of academic literature dealing with specific cases of proxy warfare, there is no work providing an overarching analysis of the factors which lead to this type of conflict, or the potential consequences for the states concerned, the non-state proxies and their external patrons.

Using examples from post-1945 history, and focusing on three case studies (the Afghan war of 1978–1989, Lebanon 1975–1990, Angola 1975–1991), Geraint Hughes offers terminology intended to clarify scholarly understanding of proxy warfare, a framework for understanding why states seek to use proxies (insurgent groups, militias, terrorist movements, mercenaries, and even organised criminal groups) in order to fulfil strategic objectives, and an analysis of the potential impact of such an indirect means of waging war on not only the states that are subjected to this phenomenon, but also the proxies, their sponsors and the wider international community. My Enemy’s Enemy has a historical focus, but will be of utility to contemporary security scholars, and those involved in political/military policy.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-449-9
Hardback Price: £55.00 / $69.95
Release Date: April 2011
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-627-1
Paperback Price: £25.00 / $34.95
Release Date: March 2014
Page Extent / Format: 256 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No



1: The Characteristics and Causes of Proxy Warfare

2: The Consequences of Proxy Warfare

3: Angola, 1974–1991

4: Lebanon, 1975–1990

5: Afghanistan, 1978–1992

6: Conclusions



Hughes marshals his experience at the Joint Services Command and Staff College to write on external support for insurgencies. However, he muddies the water by framing insurgency support as “proxy warfare” because this age-old phenomenon, illustrated by the realpolitik adage “my enemy’s enemy is my friend," also includes interstate wars, whereby one power backs another state to fight an enemy. Examples of this include USSR logistical support for Cuba in Angola in the 1970s; the Nixon Doctrine, which proposed utilizing “stabilizing” regional powers such as the Shah’s Iran, also in the 1970s; and Israel’s rearming revolutionary Iran to fight Iraq in the 1980s. Also confusing is the fact that proxies have their own volition and goals; varied governments might aid the same insurgency; governments might use domestic proxies, such as the Janjaweed militia in Sudan, and wars may not have been the sponsors’ idea in the first place. Still many insights and cautionary tales useful for policy makers can be derived from the multiple incidents and in this book’s conceptualization and historical case studies of Angola (1974–91), Lebanon (1975–90), and Afghanistan (1978–92). Recommended.

This wide ranging and impeccably researched study provides a much-needed degree of analytical insight into the understudied and frequently covert phenomena of proxy war. Geraint Hughes has written what will surely become the key textbook on the subject, and an essential guide to the strategic complexities of proxy war for students and policy makers alike. An outstanding glimpse behind the scenes of how many modern states and non-state actors choose to fight, which should be on the reading list of any course on strategic studies.
Alex Marshall, Glasgow University Convenor, The Scottish Centre for War Studies

My Enemy's Enemy is a ground-breaking look at proxy warfare – how countries such as the United States and Great Britain use other countries to wage their wars without ever getting involved themselves. In this book, author Geraint Hughes shines deserved attention on a long-neglected subject. This kind of war is of greater and greater interest today as the great powers face an era of fiscal austerity in which direct involvement in costly wars may no longer be possible. In such times, placing the burden on other countries becomes more and more practical. Timely and scholarly, My Enemy’s Enemy will likely have a great impact on future strategic policies worldwide.
Carter Malkasian, US Center for Naval Analyses

The logic of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ is ancient. But proxy war as a tool of policy is badly in need of more rigorous understanding. My Enemy's Enemy is a rich historical and theoretical study of this important subject. Not only does Geraint Hughes diagnose how and why states go about sponsoring mischief in their enemy's backyards. He also demonstrates that proxy war is an ambiguous weapon that can backfire and bring harm to those who wield it. At a time when we might be seeing the return of great power rivalries and new rounds of security competition between states, Hughes' historical interpretation is a well-timed and sober argument about the hazards of waging triangular shadow wars abroad.
Dr Patrick Porter, Reader in Strategic Studies, University of Reading, and author of Military Orientalism: Eastern War through Western Eyes

Reviewed in Politique étrangère, 4/2012:

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