U.S. competitors pursuing meaningful revision or rejection of the current U.S.-led status quo are employing a host of hybrid methods to advance and secure interests that are in many cases contrary to those of the United States. These challengers employ unique combinations of influence, intimidation, coercion, and aggression to incrementally crowd out effective resistance, establish local or regional advantages, and manipulate risk perceptions in their favor. So far, the United States has not come up with a coherent countervailing approach. It is in this “gray zone”—the awkward and uncomfortable space between traditional conceptions of war and peace—where the United States and its defense enterprise face systemic challenges to U.S. position and authority. As a result, gray zone competition and conflict should be pacers for defense strategy.
U.S. Army Foreign Military Studies Office: Russia’s Military Strategy Impacting 21st Century Reform and Geopolitics
Today’s military innovators are the modern-day scientists and engineers who assist in the creation of contemporary and new concept weaponry; and the military theorists who study changes in the character of war. Digital specialists understand how to develop and employ the capabilities of electronic warfare equipment, satellite technology, and fiber optic cables. While Kalashnikov’s fame is imbedded in Russia’s culture, it may be harder to find a current digital entrepreneur whose legacy will endure as long as his: there are simply too many of them, and their time in the spotlight appears to be quite short, since even now we are about to pass from the age of cyber to that of quantum. It is difficult to predict whose discoveries will be the most coveted by tomorrow’s military-industrial complex, not to mention the decision-making apparatus of the Kremlin and General Staff. Military theorists are playing an important role as well. They are studying how new weaponry has changed the correlation of forces in the world, the nature of war, and the impact of weaponry on both forecasting and the initial period of war.
The study addresses the challenges facing the United States from the increasing use by rivals and adversaries – state and non-state alike – of what have come to be called “Gray Zone” techniques. The term Gray Zone (“GZ”) denotes the use of techniques to achieve a nation’s goals and frustrate those of its rivals by employing instruments of power – often asymmetric and ambiguous in character – that are not direct use of acknowledged regular military forces.
Russia’s strategic objectives in the Baltic region do not focus on the Baltic States as final targets, but on using the Batlic States to discredit and dismantle the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and undermining the European Union (EU) by using the Baltic States. Experts in Russia and European security from the United States and the Baltic region agree that Russia could use the Baltic States toward this end by employing any one of a spectrum of actions, to include direct invasion with conventional forces, an incursion and occupation using irregular forces like the one witnessed in Crimea in 2014, or longterm fostering of social, political, and economic instability. Disagreement existed among experts as to which approach was more likely.
Gray zone security challenges, existing short of a formal state of war, present novel complications for U.S. policy and interests in the 21st century. We have well-developed vocabularies, doctrines and mental models to describe war and peace, but the numerous gray zone challenges in between defy easy categorization. For purposes of this paper, gray zone challenges are defined as competitive interactions among and within state and non-state actors that fall between the traditional war and peace duality. They are characterized by ambiguity about the nature of the conflict, opacity of the parties involved, or uncertainty about the relevant policy and legal frameworks.