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Escalation Management in Gray Zone Crises: The Proxy Factor


This study addresses the dynamics of how states employ proxies to achieve their strategic goals in the so-called gray zone between normal competition and armed conflict. The basic question is whether the use of proxies by the challenger in a crisis decreases the probability that the defender state will respond with violence. We start by examining a broad set of crises where the initial triggering act is either nonviolent or violent, to assess whether defenders respond to proxy triggers or triggers by the challengers themselves with a greater propensity for violence (hypothesis A). We also consider a narrower set of cases, where the triggering act is violent, asking whether the defender is more likely to respond in a tit-for-tat manner to a proxy, or to a state challenger (hypothesis B). We find that proxy use is associated with a higher probability of defender violence, regardless of whether the initial crisis trigger was itself violent. In addition, when the trigger is violent, defenders are more likely to respond in a tit-for-tat manner when a proxy does the triggering. Proxy usage actually leads to violent escalation, potentially questioning the assumption that challengers may minimize damage through the use of proxies.

Publication Information

Full Citation:

Wilkenfeld, Jonathan, Egle E. Murauskaite, David Quinn, Devin Ellis, Allison Astorino-Courtois, and Corinne DeFrancisci. 2022. "Escalation Management in Gray Zone Crises: The Proxy Factor." International Studies Quarterly 66 (September). https://academic.oup.com/isq/article/66/3/sqac038/6646033