Gray Zone Warfare Is The New Terrorism: A Shift In U.S. Strategic Thinking

A 150+ page report, prepared by the Commission on the National Defense Strategy of the United States, for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in May 2019, has warned that current United States foreign policy, diplomatic posture and strategic posture do not adequately communicate the threat presented by Russian aggression.

The report, prepared by independent strategists and Pentagon analysts, reflects the concern among the United States Intelligence Community  that continued Russian aggression holds the potential to lead to armed conflict.

Intended for civilian policy customers, the report warns that increasing “economic competition, influence campaigns, paramilitary actions, cyber intrusions, and political warfare” can lead to increased “risk of misperception and miscalculation, between powers with significant military strength, which may then increase the risk of armed conflict.”

The new strategy outlined in the report suggests an increased focus on countering emerging threats from Iran, Russia, China and North Korea while maintaining security forces in the Middle East to protect the “profound” U.S. economic and security interests there.

The report highlights the increasing threats presented by aggressive increases in military buildup by both Russia and China as well as an increase in “gray zone conflicts” involving Iran, Russia, China and North Korea and others.

According to the report the amount of “gray zone” activity expressed by Russia indicates that Russia’s “leadership sees itself as at war with the US and the West as a whole.”

Gray zone activity is defined by the report as the “use of paramilitary forces and other proxies, interference in political processes, economic and energy exploitation (particularly in Africa), espionage, and media and propaganda manipulation.”

The report also highlights Putin’s “blending of military and civilian elements.”

According to International Humanitarian Law (IHL) established by, among other instruments, the Geneva Conventions, a series of international agreements to which 196 countries are a party: “parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants.”

IHL also establishes that: “in the conduct of military operations, constant care must be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects.”

The National Defense Strategy proposed by the report reflects a shift in U.S. strategic thinking away from the global war on terror which has dominated the U.S. strategic policy for the last 17 years.

Instead the new strategy prioritizes the need to counter a complex set of threats presented by China, Russia, North Korea and Iran.

Under this refactored strategy the United States and allied forces have increased their military presence in Eastern Europe to combat Russian aggression.

According to a July 12th article from the New York Times, there are currently 1,400 American and allied soldiers stationed in Eastern Europe and the Baltic’s focused on combating “shifting Russian threats.”

In addition to an increase in “gray-zone activities” the May report to the Joint Chiefs reflects a concern over investments by adversarial states in “critical technologies” including “hyposnic delivery vehicles, artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies.”

A June 19, 2019 article by the New York Times reports that a 2018 United States weapons program intended to produce a viable hypersonic missile puts the United States in new arms race with both Russia and China for a “game changing” weapon capable of traveling 15 times the speed of sound and arriving on target without warning.