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Difference Between Proxy war and cold war


Cold War

The term Cold War refers to the tense relationship between two countries or two power blocks where neither rival engages in direct war with the other. In such a situation each of the rivals tries to downplay its opponents politically, economically, ideologically, militarily (by increasing military expenditure and adventurism in other countries) and diplomatically. Historically the term refers to the tense relationship that existed between United States and the USSR during the period beginning with end of WWII (1945) and fall of Soviet Union (1991). During this period no direct war between the two most nuclear powerful states took place due to the no-first-strike or mutually assured destruction (MAD) doctrine.

The main reason of outbreak of cold war was severe conflict between ideologies; capitalistic system of production, distribution and democratic system of political governance as championed by USA and its allies with similar political, social and economic view versus socialistic political and economic system with one party communist government with centralized power structure. During the WWII USA and (erstwhile) Soviet Union were allies against Germany led by Hitler. During that period there war clear disagreement as regards political system between the two countries, but they fought united to defeat Hitler. After the fall of Hitler’s Germany, the country was divided between the four allies, namely UK, USA, France and USSR. The city of Berlin was also partitioned among them. Soon the 3 capitalist countries combined their portion of Germany to form a new country known as Federal Republic of Germany while USSR formed German Democratic Republic as a communist state. Likewise the Berlin wall divided Berlin and in effect Europe. This marked the beginning of Cold War era. During late 1980s President Mikhail Gorbachev of USSR introduced the application of perestroika i. e. restructuring economic and political system of Soviet Union and Glasnost i. e. more transparent judicial proceedings. This together with the President’s effort to persuade President Richard Nixon of USA to eliminate nuclear weapons, in effect divided the people of USSR. Infighting among leaders of the communist party ultimately resulted in disintegration of Soviet bloc. With this Cold War era ended.

Proxy War

A Proxy War is a situation of conflict between two powerful nations where neither party directly attacks or acknowledges military hostility towards the other. But smaller and powerful states or armed militia are used as proxy to fight for them. Thus proxy war involves two bigger players fighting each other’s allies or assisting each other’s foes. After the end of WWII, Proxy War has come to prove a defining aspect of the second half of 20th century global political history.

After Vietnam War, there was overwhelming public opinion against sending US forces abroad to fight. Also the USSR found that encouraging anti NATO countries as less expensive in comparison to direct confrontation. This resulted in USA funding military operations of the Islamic fundamentalist insurgent groups fighting Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during December 1979 to February 1989. During the Spanish civil war Germany on one hand and USSR and Mexico on the other fought proxy war by supporting the Spanish Nationalists and Republicans respectively.

Many a time militarily less powerful rival finds it suicidal to indulge in direct confrontation with the stronger enemy. Rather it could benefit it by inflicting injuries through a proxy war. Pakistan’s direct financial and military assistance to the Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups to infiltrate into India and strike deadly terrorist attacks and Islamic countries’ funding of militant groups against Israel are some best known examples of Proxy War by Pakistan and Iran and its allies.


Conceptual: Cold War does not necessarily involve armed conflict. It may involve massive propaganda using government machinery to spread a particular ideology and/or harshly criticize the ideology of the opponent. Proxy War generally involves armed conflict sometimes using non-state players.

Strength of rivals: Cold War generally involves rivalry among almost equally militarily powerful states. Proxy War, on the other hand, is waged between militarily unequal rivals.

Role of State: In Cold War the intelligence services including military intelligence of the fighting countries are greatly utilized. In Proxy war, mainly ideology or religion based extremist groups are trained and deployed for insurgent activities detrimental to the interest of the hostile country.

Funding: Cold War was mainly funded by the government of the respective countries. Funding of Proxy War partly comes from the warring countries and a major part comes from illegal activities.


Cold War: Cold War was fought between USA and the erstwhile USSR and both indulged in a number of proxy wars as parts of the long spell of the Cold War. However Korean War, creation of NATO and Warsaw Pact, Blockade of Berlin, massive government propaganda and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty are the five best examples of Cold War fought between USA and the erstwhile USSR.

Proxy War: Significant proxy wars are Vietnam War when USSR supported North Vietnam and South Vietnam got patronage from USA. In Syrian civil war Russia and Iran were allies against USA and EU. In Soviet-Afghan proxy war USA openly supported the Islamist mujahedeen fighting Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran on one hand and between Israel and Palestine on the other have s devastating impact on the Middle East, giving rise to deadly suicide bomb squads and mindless killers.

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