A limited war is a war fought primarily between professional armies to achieve specific political objectives without causing widespread destruction. Although the total of civilian casualties may be high, combatants do not seek to completely destroy the enemy’s social and economic frameworks. The Persian Gulf War of 1990–1991 was a limited war in which the United States and its allies forcibly removed Iraqi troops from Kuwait.
A guerrilla war is a war in which one or both combatants use small, lightly armed militia units rather than professional, organized armies. Guerrilla fighters usually seek to topple their government, often enjoying the support of the people. These wars are often very long but also tend to be successful for the insurgents as evidenced by Mao Zedong’s victory over Chiang Kai-shek in China in the 1940s, the Vietcong’s victory over the United States in the Vietnam War, and the Mujahideen’s victory over the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
A civil war is a war fought within a single country between or among different groups of citizens who want to control the government and do not recognize another group’s right to rule. Civil wars are almost always total wars because each side feels compelled to destroy the enemy’s political support base. Regional rifts, such as the American Civil War between the North and the South, characterize some civil wars, whereas other civil wars have been fought among ethnic rivals, religious rivals, and rival clans. Revolutions can spark civil wars as well.
A proxy war is a war fought by third parties rather than by the enemy states themselves. Many of the militarized conflicts during the Cold War, such as the Korean War and the Vietnam
War, can be interpreted as proxy wars between the United States and the Soviet Union, neither of which wanted to fight each other directly.
Intervention is a fairly common way for a third-party state to get involved in a civil war or a war between two or more other states. A state intervenes when it sends troops, arms, money, or goods to help another state that is already at war. During the Cold War, the term intervention was used to describe one of the superpowers becoming involved in a smaller country’s war (often a developing country).
But states sometimes intervene in order to bring peace. This type of intervention occurs when a country (or countries) sends military forces into another state to act as peacekeepers or to block other forces from attacking. Sometimes these interventions are organized or conducted by the United Nations or another international governmental organization.
Example: The United States, along with other NATO nations, sent troops into the former Yugoslavia on a number of occasions to protect people from war. A successful example of this peaceful intervention occurred during the 1999 U.S. bombing campaign in Kosovo, which helped stop a slaughter of Kosovars by attacking Serbs. A less successful example was the U.S. intervention in Somalia in the early 1990s, an attempt to provide humanitarian aid that ultimately achieved little at the cost of American lives. This failed intervention culminated in the Battle of Mogadishu (dramatized in the movie Black Hawk Down ) October 3–4, 1993, which killed eighteen Americans and as many as a thousand Somalis.