IATE term of the week: Proxy War

November 13, 2015 2:58 pm

Context and definition

Let’s start with this: last week, on November 5, many newspapers released the news that the CIA was going to increase the number of weapons it is providing to the Syrian moderate opposition, consequently putting President Obama in the difficult position to avoid a “proxy war” between the United States and Russia. In the meantime, however, diplomats from around the world will meet again in Vienna this weekend to find a reasonable solution to end the four-year-old civil war in Syria. Of course, there is no immediate hope of a cease-fire, and it also seems that the warring factions themselves will not be present at the talks.

Proxy War

While analysts and journalists are questioning whether the upcoming discussion “might do more harm than good”, the Syrian conflict has already become something of a proxy war, with the United States and Saudi Arabia backing the rebel groups fighting against the government of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, Russia and Iran backing the President himself, and the extremists of the Islamic State opposing them both. To bring the fighting to an end, all parties involved, as well as outside people reading the news in their own, safe apartments, should be able to understand what a proxy war really is – and is not.

To give a first definition of the term, IATE says that it is “the active involvement of a foreign government in training, arming, and providing other logistical and intelligence assistance as well as sanctuary to an otherwise autonomous terrorist group for the purpose of carrying out violent acts on behalf of that government against its enemies“.

Proxy war article

In addition to this, as ForeignAffairs.com recently explained in its very detailed article about how proxy wars work, “the term ‘proxy war’ conjures images of the Cold War, when outside powers—namely, the United States and Soviet Union, but also regional players—treated local combatants as pawns on a geopolitical chessboard. (…) Just as it was unthinkable in those days that Washington and Moscow would get tangled in a conventional war, it is hard to imagine the United States and Russia going to war today. And, in fact, proxy wars are prevalent when the costs of traditional interstate war are high.”

In light of the recent debates, TermCoord decided to choose ‘proxy war’ as the IATE term of this week.

IATE proxy war

You can find all the languages in which the term is already available here.

Proxy War IATE

Contribute to IATE! A terminologist for the respective language will revise your answer and decide whether to validate them. Given the implications of the process, a delay is to be expected.


Foreign Affairs. 2015. How proxy wars work. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2015-11-12/how-proxy-wars-work. [Accessed 13 November 15].

NY Times. 2015. Regional newspapers weigh in on Syria talks. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/13/world/middleeast/regional-newspapers-weigh-in-on-syria-talks.html?_r=0. [Accessed 13 November 15].

The Nation. 2015. Obama administration officials insist Russia is to blame for the Syrian crisis. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.thenation.com/article/obama-administration-officials-insist-russia-is-to-blame-for-the-syrian-crisis/. [Accessed 13 November 15].


Written by Eva Barros Campelli

Communication Trainee at TermCoord

Italian Journalists Association – London School of Journalism

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