Perils and positives of the proxy war in Ukraine

Ivano-Frankivs'ka oblast, Ukraine. Photo by Max Kukurudziak on Unsplash

“The West has entered a proxy war,” writes Michael Ignatieff (paywall), professor of history at Central European University, going on to define the limitations of this position.

He said: “In proxy wars, the proxy defines the objectives. When proxies do well, it is tempting to start envisaging more ambitious objectives, from forcing the opponent into a humiliating stalemate to effecting regime change. Yet this raises the risk of strategic hubris. “

The professor’s categorisation may be puzzling to those who go by the textbook definition of a proxy war.

And here’s another, in the Ukrainian context, from the Lawfare blog:

Like Professor Ignatieff, Mr Wyss believes that the proxy war raging in Ukraine carries several considerable risks.

It can lead to broader involvement, creating another Vietnam. But more generally, Mr Wyss writes, “proxy interventions often prolong the duration of fighting, raise the overall lethality rate, and increase the risk of conflicts recurring in the future.”

But the reality is that Ukraine was invaded by Russia on February 24 and it is engaged in desperate defensive struggle to retain its land and sovereignty. Western countries are giving it weapons and money to continue the fight. Idealistic volunteers have been pouring in to help fight for a cause that is essentially seen as just and moral.

I’m not sure the alternative to a proxy war – ie., letting Ukraine be trampled underfoot the Russian invaders – would serve Europe any better.