Small Wars Journal

Proxy Warfare on the Roof of the World: Great Power Competition Lessons from Tibet

Sat, 03/14/2020 - 5:54pm

Proxy Warfare on the Roof of the World: Great Power Competition Lessons from Tibet by Major Steve Ferenzi - InterAgency Journal Vol. 11, No. 1, 2020 

Synopsis: A sponsor may disrupt or coerce an adversary with only a small investment in a proxy force without crossing the threshold to traditional armed conflict. Proxy employment represented a significant component of U.S. policy during the Cold War. As the United States once again relies on this tool to compete with peer state adversaries, it is beneficial to examine past engagements that may inform better ways to outsource national security objectives to proxy forces. Central Intelligence Agency support to anti-Chinese resistance forces in Tibet, the “Roof of the World,” from 1956 to 1974 accomplished the limited objective of disrupting Chinese regional ambitions as part of the global effort to contain Communist expansion. However, success came at the expense of Tibetan casualties and failure to achieve the resistance’s objective of an independent Tibet. This case study offers lessons for future proxy engagements in establishing mechanisms that facilitate proper proxy selection, mitigate deviation from sponsor goals, and optimize proxy capabilities.

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