By Aris Roussinos, Unherd
When the Biden administration undertook its first known act of war a few weeks ago, it provided an illuminating snapshot of conflict in the 21st century. The aerial strike on Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia militias in eastern Syria, facing territory held by American-backed Syrian proxy forces, in response to the shelling of American positions in Iraq by Iranian-backed Iraqi militias which led to the death of an American private contractor, encapsulates the central role of surrogate warfare in modern conflict.
Like the Karabakh conflict last year, when Turkish-backed Syrian rebel militias fought Armenian conscripts as disposable cannon fodder, as they had previously done in Libya, while Turkish drones cleared the way for Azerbaijani forces to advance, we were presented with a sobering image of the new face of war. Like the Spanish Civil War before it, the decade-long Syrian Civil War, a conflict perpetually about to conclude which yet may never fully end, has revealed itself as a harbinger of dangerous new trends the full implications of which we are yet to fully understand.
It is only natural, for example, that last week’s Integrated Review notes that Britain’s state competitors are likely to use proxy forces to challenge the international order, while the forthcoming defence review will mandate the creation of a new elite “Rangers” regiment formed precisely to advise and fight alongside proxies of our own.