Rising ‘international disorder’; multiplying proxy wars


An intriguing feature of current international politics is the rise of proxy wars in the global South in particular. Whereas one would have expected such wars to end along with the Cold War in the early nineties, a survey of contemporary war zones would reveal that this is not quite so. Proxy wars are very much alive; some even in their old forms.

The regions to watch most closely are the Middle East and North Africa, besides South Asia. In the last mentioned region, resumed peace talks between the Taliban in Afghanistan and the US, one hopes, would lead to some positive results and a let-up in the blood-letting. However, more than one external actor plays a covert interventionist role in Afghanistan and the success of these peace talks would depend crucially on all these external actors participating positively in the initiative. It should be plain to see that given its strategic location in South West Asia, Afghanistan should be of interest to Iran, Pakistan, India and Russia, besides the US.

To see any peace initiative in Afghanistan through to success the participation of the above powers may be required and they may need to parley under the guidance and leadership of the UN. However, thus far, this has not transpired and to what degree the on-going peace effort would succeed in the absence of these factors is a matter of interest.

It is clear that proxy wars are on the increase amid the gathering impression that ‘international disorder’ is getting into ‘overdrive’ mode. Take the case of the Yemen where in a recent confrontation between state forces and rebel groups more than 100 lives were lost, many of them civilians. The accusation in this theatre is that the rebels are backed by Iran, while the Yemenese state enjoys the support of Saudi Arabia.

Needless to say, Iran and Saudi Arabia are in an effort to bolster their influence in the Gulf, being two of the most powerful states in the region. The fact that Saudi Arabia is a key ally of the US in the region makes the contest for power between Saudi Arabia and Iran increasingly engrossing.

This conflict is of increasing interest to the world on account of its grave implications for the uninterrupted supply of oil. The worrying feature in this conflict is that a powerful neighbouring country is standing accused of supporting a rebel group against a legally-constituted state that enjoys international recognition. If there is any truth in the accusation, International Law could be said to be winked at, resulting in the aggravation of international turmoil.

A like situation has developed in Libya, where the UN-backed central government is being challenged militarily by a rebel group believed to be backed by Russia. Here too, the country is in a condition of chronic instability. However, there is a positive development in the form of an initiative by the UN to assemble those powers seen as being of relevance to the internal situation – Russia, Turkey and France. Under the aegis of the UN peace talks are under way among these powers over Libya.

Quite rightly, if Libya is to be prevented from breaking-up external actors should be persuaded to help out in the effort by ending their involvement in the internal politics of Libya. Being a major oil exporter, any further aggravation of the internal conflict in Libya could have grave implications for the world’s oil supply.

The Libyan situation is a veritable throw-back to the past on account of it being a zone of contest between Russia and the US, besides other matters of interest to the international politics watcher. It was through the instrumentality of the US and the West that the Libyan central government was brought into being, following the ousting from power of former strongman Muammar Kaddhafi. Today, it is challenged, among others, by Russia. Clearly, here we have the overtones of a proxy war between the US and Russia, as in times gone by.

Following Iranian President Ali Khamenei’s injunction to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to take their war against ‘the Great Satan’ outside the confines of the US, following the recent killing by the US of the Revolutionary Guards’ commander, one is likely to see ‘US targets’ the world over coming under attack in future. But given the general volatility of the Trump administration, and particularly in view of this being election year in the US, enemy action against US interests is unlikely to go unanswered by strong military means. This does not augur well for international stability.

Needless to say, the human costs of these conflicts would prove to be highly disquieting. Civilian casualties, as always, will be prohibitively high. This has been a continuing feature in Afghanistan and the Middle East as well as the Gulf and parts of Africa. Syria has just witnessed one such outrage in its North-East where an assault on rebel positions by central government forces backed by Russia has killed some 28 civilians, many of them children. Syria, apparently, would continue to bleed, considering continuing big power military intervention in the country’s crisis.

In many of these conflict zones the authority of the UN and that of legally-constituted governments is militarily challenged by anti-state actors backed by external powers. This is a sure recipe for continuing bloodshed and war. The fact that the UN Security Council is dominated by some of those very states who feature prominently in these conflicts renders conflict-resolution an uphill challenge.

The painful truth is that the lessons of history are easily forgotten by those who seem to matter. This is particularly true of the major powers. Past wars, such as those in Vietnam and Afghanistan, which proved particularly bloody ought to have driven home to the big powers that peace derives only from peaceful means.

However, short term interests seem to be taking these major powers on a self-destructive path today as well. Hopefully, the UN would implement its long-delayed project of internal reform to enable the UN Security Council to reflect more fully and correctly today’s global power balance. This would go some distance in preventing those states that have hitherto exercised overwhelming power within the UNSC from continuing to do in the future.

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