Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


International Relations

Reader 1

Jennifer Taw

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Rights Information

2019 Ruiyang Wang


This thesis discusses how local forces, despite being the weaker actor in a proxy relationship, manipulate external powers’ support to pursue their own objectives. Three factors – practical advantage, relative will, and diverging objectives – explain this counterintuitive power dynamic. First, local forces have better local knowledge, more extensive networks, and greater legitimacy, which give them leverage and make them desirable partners. Second, local forces' involvement is often existential rather than selective; unlike external powers, local forces are thus unconstrained by domestic political vulnerabilities. This enables them to close the significant power gap with external powers. Third, local forces' objectives may diverge from their sponsors', creating incentives for exploitation and manipulation of external support to pursue their own agenda, regardless of the external powers’ interests. These three factors effectively explain the dynamic between the Soviet Union and Cuba during the Angolan civil war and the relationship between the U.S. and the Kurds in the fight against ISIS. Cuba mostly operated within the Soviet strategic parameters, while at the same time manipulating Soviet support to forward its own interests in Africa. The Kurds manipulated U.S. support while fighting ISIS to acquire territories and to pursue autonomy and independence, goals inconsistent with US interests. Further research is still needed to identify under what conditions local partners will wield this counterintuitive power, since there also are cases in which this does not take place.