Vicarious warfare: the counterproductive consequences of modern American military practice

Thomas Waldman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


This article examines contemporary modes of American warfare. It posits the concept of “vicarious warfare” as a means of capturing prominent patterns in warfighting approaches. Although rooted in long-standing traditions of military practice, vicarious warfare is sufficiently novel as to be identifiable as a distinct phenomenon. The precise manifestation or combination of vicarious methods vary according to the specific circumstances and political contexts prevailing in different theaters. However, America’s general preference is to fight its wars by delegating tasks to proxies and limiting exposure of its own military to danger. Where U.S. forces are employed directly, this takes place largely in the shadows. Such approaches have clear attractions, offer undoubted tactical advantages, and permit successive administrations to maintain a persistent tempo of operations that evades rigorous democratic scrutiny. Yet, prominent cases and numerous studies suggest that vicarious warfare has a high potential to generate counterproductive effects and significant strategic harm.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-205
Number of pages25
JournalContemporary Security Policy
Issue number2
Early online date5 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2018


  • U.S. military strategy
  • modern warfare
  • drones
  • special operations


Dive into the research topics of 'Vicarious warfare: the counterproductive consequences of modern American military practice'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this