Protean War: Embracing Complexity in International Relations

“Protean war” offers a compelling new paradigm for scholars studying complex conflicts in international relations. Some scholarship in foreign policy history and political science attempts to fit complicated wars, with multiple, varied actors, into conventional typologies, such as “civil war,” “interstate war,” or “proxy war.” The “protean war” paradigm, rather than narrowing a conflict down into one of these types, offers a convenient framework for layering in the civil, proxy, and interstate dimensions of a particular conflict. A protean war is an environment of violent flux, in which multiple “constituent wars” overlap, enmesh, and entangle. The Lebanese War of 1975-1990 serves as a case study, one that vividly illustrates how using the protean war paradigm of complex conflicts offers greater analytical clarity than conventional typologies.

Dr Emily Whalen is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas – Austin. She earned her doctorate in International History at UT Austin in 2020, focusing on the history of U.S. foreign policy and the modern Middle East. Previously, she has been an Ernest May Predoctoral Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, a Smith Richardson Predoctoral Fellow at Yale University’s International Security Studies program, and an affiliated scholar at the American University of Beirut’s Center for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies. Dr. Whalen’s work has appeared in several outlets, including Foreign Policy, Lawfare, The New Rambler Review, and H-Diplo. She is completing two manuscripts, A Better World: John Edwin Mroz and the EastWest Institute, 1980-2020, a microhistory of Track II diplomacy, and The Lebanese Wars: An International History, 1975-1990, based off of her doctoral research.