Escalation Management in Gray Zone Crises: The Proxy Factor

July 2021 No Comments

Speaker(s): Murauskaite, E. (University of Maryland); Ellis, D. (University of Maryland)

Date: 27 July 2021

Speaker Session Summary

SMA hosted a speaker session with Ms. Egle Murauskaite (University of Maryland) and Mr. Devin Ellis (University of Maryland) as part of its SMA STRATCOM Speaker Series.  

This research, supported by the DoD’s Minerva Research Initiative, looked at International Crisis Behavioral Project data on how crises evolve over time. The team asked what do we understand from the data on the role that proxies (often violent non-state actors) have on determining the direction and outcome of a crisis; that is, does the use of a proxy escalate a conflict, make violence more likely, and/or shield the patron state from retribution. Mr. Ellis defined a proxy conflict as a state acting as a patron to a client and offering funding, training, support, and protection. A patron state is likely to support a proxy for two reasons: a) to gain a supplementary military force, and b) to avoid attribution and counter attacks from the defending state.  

A crisis was defined as “when a state believes there is a challenge to an existential value.” Ms. Murauskaite stated that of the 369 crisis examined, most were triggered by violent actions. Furthermore, 88% of crisis initiated by proxies were triggered by violence. Proxies were also frequently more violent than their state counterparts. The defending state usually responded with an equal amount of force to which they were attacked, and violence would usually be responded to by violence. In conclusion, the use of military proxies increases the likelihood of a conflict becoming more violent. Also, the use of proxies shields the patron from retribution: however, the defender is more likely to target the patron if the proxy uses violence.

Speaker Session Recording

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Briefing Materials

Murauskaite and Ellis Bios

Murauskaite and Ellis Slides


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