by Giancarlo Maragucci


Conventional and regular warfare usually evokes images from movies recounting battles of previous centuries, where armies fought in limited spaces, maybe a valley, and generals were monitoring from the top of a hill, waiting for the end of clashes. Battles were usually far from civilians and cities. Two global wars showed how new weapons and airplanes could enlarge the battlespace to entire nations and regions, but still the war was mainly (even if not exclusively) a trained and professional armed forces issue. The forces on each side were well-defined and fought using weapons that primarily targeted the opposing army.


Today the term “conventional” is used to define a form of warfare conducted by using conventional military weapons, and not with chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons; moreover, based on the definition of “regular warfare” as a war undertaken by regular forces between the countries, it can be argued that “irregular warfare” is a concept that refers to situations of war where at least one of the warring parties is not a “regular” country and therefore, does not use a regular army in the war. The term “irregular warfare” is also accompanied by several characteristics, such as the non-use of regular war tactics, the difficulty of observing the regular norms of war, and the tendency for the war to drag on for a long time without arriving at a conclusion because the party using the “irregular” army is avoiding a decisive battle, or because of the absence of a decisive gravity point such as the capital of a country (See: The Conceptual Definition of “Irregular Warfare” and the Today’s International Security Environment by Tetsuya Endo).


Basically, conventional and regular warfare describe a way of fighting that encompasses the doctrinal thinking, the organizational structures, the rules of engagement, and even the appropriate goals of violence. Besides terroristic or rebel organizations, also nations learnt that irregular warfare is very quick and effective, reaches the objectives at a much lower costs compared to official army and it is extremely difficult to track (and judge) the actions on the ground. Therefore, if on one side many power States around the world increase their military capability year after year, it is also true that the same Nations increase the sponsorship of unofficial armies or organizations to fight a competitor on a neutral battlefield. Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Ukraine are considered just battle areas of so-called proxy war, that is, a war supported by a major power which does not itself become involved.

So, proxy looks like a hidden alliance, maybe more like a sponsorship and has probably one positive aspect: to keep the conflict to a low intensity level, avoiding escalation.


Proxy wars have proven their effectiveness through the years, so why keeping increasing the spending and training of regular and conventional forces?


Usually the answer points to the readiness for a possible future conventional war, but probably the only true reason is deterrence, defined as “the action of discouraging an action or event through instilling doubt or fear of the consequences”. During the Cold War the real deterrence was the nuclear arsenal of both sides, today the concept has shifted to the conventional and integrated capabilities on all five domains, land, sea, air, space and cyberspace.


A nuclear war would bring to a world suicide, and nuclear capability is really considered as a last action just before dying, while military conventional deterrence, based on a strong and trained army, could seriously affect the enemy’s actions and decision making.


If it is true that in the future there will be no open and official military confrontation between major powers, it is also foreseeable that we could assist to multiple small scale events like laser shots (that are invisible to human eye), warships confrontations in international waters, anonymous cyber-attacks, space collisions and close fly-by. Proxy wars, though, will keep existing.