Proxy Wars Interventions and Covert Operations

Contemporary armed conflicts – such as those in Syria, Yemen and Ukraine – illustrate that civil wars are rarely just a matter of internal affairs. Complex webs of relationships that transcend interstate borders have long influenced conflict dynamics.

This course focuses specifically on proxy wars, their political decision-making processes, characteristics, and consequences. During the course, we will discuss how this type of warfare relates to the larger realms of international interventions and covert operations.

The students will analyse contemporary as well as historical proxy wars, using
theoretical concepts from the latest research on the topic. Key questions to be addressed include:

  • What is proxy warfare?
  • Why do states use proxies?
  • Why do governments and non-state armed groups request external support?
  • What type of support is provided and what is central in the decision-making process?
  • What determines whether an intervention is overt or covert?
  • How do states control their proxies?
  • What are the consequences of these type of interventions?
  • Is war by proxy an efficient way to achieve political goals?

The course is mainly seminar-based, and it uses different teaching activities that
encourage active student participation. Watch the course trailer for Proxy wars interventions and covert operations.


Dr. Niklas Karlén is Associate Senior Lecturer in War Studies. His main research interests cover thirdparty interventions, international dimensions of civil war and US foreign policy. His most recent work focuses on invitations to intervene, the role of intermediaries in proxy warfare, frozen conflicts, and foreign-policy decision-making.

Currently, he is writing a book on why political leaders request military interventions when responding to domestic threats. His research has appeared in outlets such as Journal of Peace Research, Security Studies and Terrorism and
Political Violence.