Small Wars Journal

Unconventional Warfare in the Gray Zone

Sun, 01/17/2016 - 4:45pm

Unconventional Warfare in the Gray Zone by Joseph L. Votel, Charles T. Cleveland, Charles T. Connett, and Will Irwin, National Defense University Press

In the months immediately following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in the autumn of 2001, a small special operations forces (SOF) element and interagency team, supported by carrier- and land-based airstrikes, brought down the illegitimate Taliban government in Afghanistan that had been providing sanctuary for al Qaeda. This strikingly successful unconventional warfare (UW) operation was carried out with a U.S. “boots on the ground” presence of roughly 350 SOF and 110 interagency operatives working alongside an indigenous force of some 15,000 Afghan irregulars. The Taliban regime fell within a matter of weeks. Many factors contributed to this extraordinary accomplishment, but its success clearly underscores the potential and viability of this form of warfare.

What followed this remarkably effective operation was more than a decade of challenging and costly large-scale irregular warfare campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq employing hundreds of thousands of U.S. and coalition troops. Now, as Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom have come to an end, the defense budget is shrinking, the Armed Forces are drawing down in strength, and support for further large-scale deployment of troops has ebbed. Our nation is entering a period where threats and our response to those threats will take place in a segment of the conflict continuum that some are calling the “Gray Zone,” and SOF are the preeminent force of choice in such conditions.

The Gray Zone is characterized by intense political, economic, informational, and military competition more fervent in nature than normal steady-state diplomacy, yet short of conventional war. It is hardly new, however. The Cold War was a 45-year-long Gray Zone struggle in which the West succeeded in checking the spread of communism and ultimately witnessed the dissolution of the Soviet Union. To avoid superpower confrontations that might escalate to all-out nuclear war, the Cold War was largely a proxy war, with the United States and Soviet Union backing various state or nonstate actors in small regional conflicts and executing discrete superpower intervention and counter-intervention around the globe. Even the Korean and Vietnam conflicts were fought under political constraints that made complete U.S. or allied victory virtually impossible for fear of escalation.

After more than a decade of intense large-scale counterinsurgency and counterterrorism campaigning, the U.S. capability to conduct Gray Zone operations—small-footprint, low-visibility operations often of a covert or clandestine nature—may have atrophied. In the words of one writer, the United States must recognize that “the space between war and peace is not an empty one” that we can afford to vacate. Because most of our current adversaries choose to engage us in an asymmetrical manner, this represents an area where “America’s enemies and adversaries prefer to operate...

Read on.


Bill M.

Thu, 01/28/2016 - 11:58pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Concur that we are successful when we pursue limited objectives. These limited objectives can still advance our values, while pursuing unrealistic unlimited objectives needlessly undermines our credibility and values.

Bill C.

Thu, 01/28/2016 - 12:28pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Re: your excellent "realistic objectives"/"understanding the risks" thought above, and with the 20/20 hindsight now before us, to (1) review the different ways/means/approaches used by certain Presidents of the United States recently and to (2) review the effects, positive or negative, of these such approaches:

a. Limited Approach No. 1 (based on "realist" thinking?):

As per Bush Sr.: Wherein, by simply kicking ass on Saddam, he leaves the U.S. with the continuing ability to coerce other regimes. (Via this more-limited approach, Bush Sr. actually enhances U.S./the West's such coercive abilities/capabilities?)

b. Limited Approach No. 2 (also from the "realist" camp?):

As per Bush Jr. Phase 1: Wherein, by simply kicking the Taliban's ass, he could have left the U.S. with the continuing ability to coerce other regimes. (Via this more-limited approach, Bush Jr. actually did -- for a moment at least -- significantly enhance the U.S./the West's such coercive abilities/capabilities?)

c. The No-Bounds/Unlimited Approach (based on idealist thoughts?):

As per Bush Jr. Phase 2: Wherein, by moving beyond the simple kicking of the Taliban's ass -- to attempting to transform the entire Greater ME more along modern western political, economic and social lines (starting with Iraq) -- and herein failing miserably --

1. Not only do our recently-enhanced coercive abilities/capabilities (see "a" and "b" above) become squandered and lost? But, also,

2. Our ability to coerce regimes general and by whatever method? (As we discuss above.)

Bill M.

Thu, 01/28/2016 - 1:41am

In reply to by Bill C.

These are valid concerns, the regime's most at risk to internal political tensions that we could exploit to threaten or overthrow a regime would result in undesirable conditions. We have seen that most recently in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. I think our neocon hubris has been somewhat checked temporarily. Notable exceptions are author's like Max Boot who will continue to advocate irrational policy.

This doesn't mean that war is no longer a viable policy tool, and it doesn't mean UW is no longer a viable policy tool. It does mean we need to develop realistic objectives and understand the risks associated with our proposed path. There will still be times when failing to act will be the greater risk. It is hard to imagine where we would be today if we pursued a UW strategy to eliminate UBL and his cadre before 9/11.

Bill C.

Wed, 01/27/2016 - 1:20pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill M:

Thanks very much for the above.

My more-broad and overall concern is that:

a. The exceptionally negative results of our recent efforts in the Greater Middle East,

b. These tell us, most specifically, that ALL means/measures -- which might before these such failures/reversal have been used to cause a regime to act in the manner that we might prefer -- or to overthrow and replace a regime that did not conform to our wishes --

d. ALL these such means/measures (those employed of late, those that have been employed in the past, and those that might, before these such failures/reversals, have been employed in the future) have -- by these recent failures/reversals -- been rendered obsolete and useless.

e. Why? Because everyone (ourselves, our opponents, the world at-large) now know that -- via these such efforts -- we have the clear potential of achieving negative (region in flames, massive populations displacements, terrorism increased and enhanced, etc.) rather than positive results.

My argument above stated another way:

a. We ourselves, our opponents and the world at-large now know that we will not be undermining or overthrowing any regimes -- for pretty much any reason. (Thus, "5th column" efforts, or even economic sanctions, to be seen [1] by "us" as exceptionally dangerous and potentially catastrophically counterproductive and, accordingly, [2] by "them" as "hollow" threats?)

b. This, because we have proven (see the Greater Middle East today) that we do not have the will, the means, the measures and/or the other capabilities needed to, thereafter, achieve "a better peace" (or even to achieve a peace as it was before).

Thus -- and here is the scary part -- I see opponent regimes (and especially WMD-armed and/or population "Pandora's Box" such regimes) -- and for the reasons outlined above -- (a) becoming emboldened (see Putin today, etc.), (b) turning the tables on us (threatening us with their demise) and, thereby, (c) bending us to their will?

(How could we allow, for example, such countries as Russia and China to go the way of Libya, etc., etc., etc.?)

Thus, a "we might be hoisted on our own petard" and a "regime coercion is now a limp noodle" scary thought/argument?

Bill M.

Wed, 01/27/2016 - 3:17am

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C.

I think some of our national leaders are in many ways becoming more sophisticated in how they employ state craft. The military role is still important, but in many cases its role is and should be subordinate to other agencies as part of a broader strategic approach. I see indications that we are now tending to use a wider range of tools that cut across diplomacy, economic, influence, engagement with civil society, etc. to achieve desired objectives. In this light, I agree with you that the type of UW that SF was originally formed to do has limited utility today (that could change tomorrow). However, the skills and mindset associated with UW training have unlimited utility for providing strategic to tactical options to shape situations in ways favorable to U.S. interests.

Recent SF efforts at UW have had mixed success. Recent SF UW support to Syria forces against ISIL fell short in large measure because our interests were not aligned with those we were assisting. They wanted to get rid of Assad, then get after ISIL. We wanted them to go after ISIL only. Hopefully we corrected that and moved on. If not,I suspect we'll continue to make limited progress. UW in Afghanistan during the initial invasion after 9/11 looked more like coalition warfare than UW, but for argument's sake we'll call it UW since it certainly contained aspects of it. ODAs rapidly augmented Northern Alliance forces (UW in a crisis response mode is not the norm, and it was impressive and heroic effort)that provided advice and facilitated air power that turned a formally symmetrical fight into an asymmetric fight giving the NA a huge edge that quickly routed the Taliban. It was tactical UW that achieved a short lived strategic objective. The short lived part wasn't due to a failure of UW, it was due to policy decisions that resulted in the establishment of an illegitimate government. That would have happened even if it was a purely conventional effort. In Northern Iraq, UW was a very successful 5th column effort because the Kurds were already organized, largely trained, motivated, and had aligned interests with the U.S. Bottom line, and everyone in SF understands this, UW viability is dependent on a number of variables.

Is UW catastrophic as you suggest? It can be, especially if it drags on for years and destroys the social and political fabric of that country. In that case new norms are established that promote corruption and lawlessness long after the conflict officially ends. It can also result in massive violence against civilians. Can SF led UW be effective beyond the tactical realm? I think UW has the potential to be transformational if we move beyond our WWII and Cold War UW doctrines. Today we must more than ever revisit Clausewitz's point about using force (and other tools) to achieve political ends beyond simply decisively an enemy, then watching everything collapse around us. We have more history to learn from, more tools to include information technology to employ, and in theory the ability to integrate a wide range of interagency partners to achieve synergistic effects in shaping the human domain in a way that victory results in some degree of legitimate stability that advances U.S. interests.

I also think instead of dragging a UW conflict out in the shadows for years, there will be opportunities where we can employ conventional forces decisively to hit certain targets as a means to more rapidly defeat the regime or occupation force. Using today's lingo, I'm talking about the potential of hybrid warfare, but instead of the 5th column approach where UW is a supporting tactical arm, it is now becomes the supported strategic arm.

Admittedly these opportunities may be few and far apart, but using the same skills SF still provides multiple unconventional options that are often more appropriate than other options in peace, the gray zone, and war to advance U.S. interests. We don't always need an underground, auxiliary, and guerrilla force. We generally need foreign partners to work with. Furthermore, our adversaries are using unconventional approaches, so if you believe, "it takes one to know one," then SF is an ideal force to help develop and often become the main effort in our counter-UW efforts.

Let's take a special look at the following paragraph from our authors above:

"Advocates of UW first recognize that, among a population of self-determination seekers, human interest in liberty trumps loyalty to a self-serving dictatorship, that those who aspire to freedom can succeed in deposing corrupt or authoritarian rulers, and that unfortunate population groups can and often do seek alternatives to a life of fear, oppression, and injustice. Second, advocates believe that there is a valid role for the U.S. Government in encouraging and empowering these freedom seekers when doing so helps to secure U.S. national security interests."

The key thought here, I suggest, is the incredibly -- and indeed massively limiting -- clause/phrase "when doing so helps to secure U.S. national security interest."

As we know now, this may rarely if ever be the case; this, because of our new-found understanding, which informs us that:

a. While deposing corrupt or authoritarian rulers may, indeed, be a somewhat easy task. (With the U.S./the West's help, often does not take a lot of "freedom seekers" willing to fight and die for "freedom's cause.")

b. Putting Humpty Dumpty back together again -- as we would like him to be or even as he was before -- this is a near-impossible task; one that even a great number of "freedom seekers," and even with massive U.S./Western aid, generally cannot expect to accomplish in any acceptable cost or time-frame.

Thus, these well-intended initiatives -- undertaken to free the oppressed -- these to be exceptional rare and unlikely events indeed?

That is, unless one wishes to -- once again -- embrace means/measures that are -- as likely as not -- to (a) cause whole regions go up in flames, (b) cause terrorism to be both broadened and deepened, (c) cause huge and diverse population groups to be massively displaced, (d) cause great suffering and death and to, thus, (e) cause the goal of "freedom" to be set back immeasurably?

Given the above facts, to ask whether we agree that UW -- undertaken in "freedom's cause" and employed in the manner outlined in the quoted paragraph above -- may be a very, very rare event indeed?

(Other, less-potentially catastrophic ways and means to be employed to achieve/provide for our national security needs/interests?)

Bill C.

Sun, 01/24/2016 - 8:02pm

In reply to by RantCorp

To me, RantCorp makes something of a "center-of-gravity" if not "UW" argument.

Thus, to consider that:

a. In order to end the American Plains Indian problem, the U.S. killed off the buffalo (and, thereby, the problematic Indian "way-of-life.").

b. In order to end the American Southern problem, the U.S. outlawed and ended slavery. Thereby, ending the problematic Southern "way-of-life."

So: Taking this approach the logical(?) next step forward, to suggest that the U.S./the West must, likewise, outlaw, end and/or otherwise "kill off" the heroin trade. Thereby, ending the problematic Pakistani Army (et. al) way-of-life.

Thus, "UW" -- and/or "center-of-gravity" -- in the "old days," and again today, to be seen more in this "ending the other's way-of-life" terms?

Bill M.

Sat, 01/23/2016 - 9:49pm

In reply to by RantCorp

I’m digging this rant, but I wonder if American officers and politicians are even capable of seeing this form of conflict as war? The 3rd off set strategy will keep the military-industrial complex humming, but will do little to address many of the real threats our nation faces today. This is war, and our adversaries have purposeful designs to undermine our interests. Either we are blind to these designs, or we choose not to recognize them. These designs are the true gray zone, not our FID mission in El Salvador or Jedburgh teams in France during WWII. Once again, we are trying to make the problem conform to our solution. I’m convinced we don’t have any UW experts in the U.S. military, and we have much to learn from our adversaries who are much more advanced than Mao ever was.


Sat, 01/23/2016 - 7:57pm

I find it all alarming that a description that boasts to encapsulate the past, present and future nature of UW fails to mention the UW campaign that is currently killing 10,000 Americans every year.

It is as if the pledge to defend the homeland against all enemies foreign and domestic only applies to defending just those citizen’s in uniform. Is it because we’re getting our ass handed to us so badly that our military leadership has embraced a Three Wise Monkey’s approach to the Pakistan’s Army’s UW against our homeland and the citizenry of our allies.

If war (with all the inherent strategic difficulties pertaining to mobilization, preparation and deployment) is politics by other means then it stands to reason that criminality can also be politics by other means. After all there has never been a community on the face of this planet that has not had to endure a criminal element within its midst. So why our Brass blind spot to crime as a form of UW?

To break the wind of an old phrase, it appears to me our Brass may not be interested in this form of UW but this form of UW is interested in them.

Perhaps our leaders consider themselves above ‘petty’ crime. I would argue the Butcher’s Bill indicates such a lofty consideration flies in the face of their constitutional duty to our homeland and a moral duty to defend our allies.

You need not spend much snake time in the FATA weeds to understand the Pak military are deeply committed to this form of UW and laugh till it hurts, watching us beat off on our RMA ‘hell yeah’ gun porn.

Thirty years ago it was not that way. When the Soviets left there was very little poppy (perhaps owing to the simple fact there wasn’t any people) on the AF side of the Durrand Line. Over the ensuing decades the Jihadi cloak draping the shoulders of criminal hypocrites has long passed being ragged. Yet their UW campaign still ghosts straight thru our defenses. I would have thought a body count totaling millions makes whatever impoverished excuses they choose to describe their Jihad completely irrelevant and the ruse painfully obvious.

I mean to ask, have you ever wondered why the Pak High Command allow our drones to splutter around their airspace at under 200 knots, so as to kill a few dozen outlier Pushtoons and foreigner Fruitcake for the last 15 years? Or why our fuel trucks are allowed to trundle 2000 kms thru the middle of their country with just a the occasional truck getting lit up?

There are now 4 million households supporting the Heroin Weapon System (HWS). The Operational effort to shape all those 4 million LOEs into a strategic effect that spans the globe is a tremendous military exercise that the Pakistan High Command pride itself on. However, what really gets the big mustaches’ bones off, is the fact they are conducting a UW campaign wherein their enemy’s body count doesn’t even register with the enemy’s leadership. What makes me suggest such an absurdity you may well ask? The simple answer is the funding to execute the mission is funded by the folks doing 99% of the dying!

I venture Sun Tzu would say war-fighting Generalship doesn’t get much better than that.

I read general Votel’s piece several times in the vain hope to catch a glimmer of irony - but to no avail. Is it inverted racism? Could it be that the Good Ol Boys can’t bring themselves to believe that brown-skinned folks don’t have the cognitive ability to hand them their ass in such a comprehensive manner that they don’t even know it? Are we witnessing/experiencing the execution of stealth UW?

Like Bill M says UW can take many forms. I’m with him when he says it’s war no matter what people attempt to convince themselves otherwise. Over thirty years we have bled out badly. Hundreds of thousands have died, millions have been wounded and trillions of dollars have been spent - to no avail.

How many dead must we suffer before we come up with an effective counter?

Reading the Boss man’s take suggests to me they don’t have a clue. IMHO this essay confirms my belief that our opponents are the Masters of UW and we are somewhere off with the fairies looking for Mickey Mouse with our MIC worshipping RMA bullshit.

So what?

Every year the HWS kills as many Pakistanis as it kills Americans. But surprise surprise, the small fascist element running Pakistan give as much a damn about their fellow countrymen dying as their partners in the Cosa Nostra give a damn. As only heroin can do - Pakistan is being hollowed out economically, physically and spiritually by the insidious effects of widespread cheap heroin.

I too don’t give a rat’s ass about Pakistani junkies dying anymore than I give a damn about junkies dying in America.

But here’s the rub.

The destructive societal impact of heroin doesn’t enrich those in command of American nuclear weapons; whereas in Pakistan it does.

Puff the Magic


To take my New/Reverse Cold War explanation below the logical one step further, let's first look at the following from the authors' article above:

"Foreign internal defense (FID) operations are conducted to support a friendly foreign government in its efforts to defeat an internal threat. In terms of strategic application, UW represents the opposite approach, where the U.S. Government supports a resistance movement or insurgency against an occupying power or adversary government."

Now to factor in the missing political objective -- the Old Cold War of yesterday versus the New/Reverse Cold War of today:

Herein to suggest that:

a. In the Old Cold War of yesterday, FID and UW were used to help prevent/contain/roll-back the spread of communism? This, against our opponents' then-such expansionist attempts and designs? Whereas,

b. In the New/Reverse Cold War of today, FID and UW is used to help promote/impose OUR way of life, OUR way of governance, etc? This, against our opponents' efforts (think "sphere of influence" stuff) to prevent/contain/roll-back our such contemporary expansionist efforts and designs?

Thus, and in sum, to accept and acknowledge that:

a. The roles, challenges, advantages and disadvantages in our New/Reverse Cold War -- associated with OUR promotion/imposition/expansion today of OUR way of life, OUR way of governance, etc., -- and with THEIR contemporary prevention/containment/roll-back efforts -- these are very similar to:

b. The roles, challenges, advantages and disadvantages that we and our opponents' faced in the Old Cold War of yesterday; but with the respective expansionist and the respective containment "shoes" then being on the other foot.

FID, and UW, etc., -- yesterday and today -- to, thus, be seen in this "expansionist v. containment, etc.," light?


The return of our, and our opponents, to a "cold war"/"political warfare" setting; this tells us one important but very sad and disappointing thing.

This being that, much like with communism, market-democracy appears to have no great, lasting and certainly no universal value or appeal.

Thus our enemies, understanding this, know they can now (much as we did in the Old Cold War) work with the "old folks" -- and work with the conservative elements of various populations -- to "contain," etc., us.

And we likewise, understanding this sad fact, know (much as the communists soon learned re: the Old Cold War) that we must work with the "young folks" -- and work with the liberal elements of the populations -- to (a) overcome such "natural" resistance and (b) achieve the promotion of our way of life, our way of governance, etc., in spite of such obstacles/headwinds.

(From President Obama's 2015 National Security Strategy: "Underpinning it all, we are upholding our enduring commitment to the advancement of democracy and human rights and building new coalitions to combat corruption and to support open governments and open societies. In doing so, we are working to support democratic transitions, while also reaching out to the drivers of change in this century: young people and entrepreneurs.")…

Thus, it is in this "overcome-the-resistance/achieve-world-wide-market-democracy-promotion-anyway" light, I suggest, that our use of FID, UW, etc. -- and, indeed, our use of all our instruments of power -- will play such an important role in the 21st Century.

Success or failure to, thus, be measured in such "political objective" terms as I have outlined above?

The above, otherwise very complete, concise and comprehensive explanation, is missing, I suggest, a critical component, to wit: a declaration of our, and our opponents,' political objectives.

These matters, I believe, must be clearly articulated, and must be careful taken into consideration; this, so as to understand our -- and our opponents' -- return to the use of political warfare, and return to unconventional warfare in the service of same; this, in the new Grey Zone conflicts of today.

So let me humbly try to rectify this matter:

Grey zone competitions appear to occur, as our authors frequently and consistently point out above, in a "cold war"/"political warfare" setting. Thus, in a setting wherein:

a. One power-seeking entity (the Soviets/the communists in the Old Cold War of yesterday; the U.S./the West in today's New/Reverse Cold War) uses (1) all the instruments in its arsenal short of full-scale war to (2) promote/impose its own unique culture and society on the rest of the world. And a setting wherein

b. The opposed parties (the U.S./the West back-in-the-day; the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians, etc., today) seek, using (1) all their instruments of power short of full-scale war, to (2) prevent/contain/roll back these such power-seeking efforts of the expansionist entity.

(Thus, from our authors' third paragraph above, they carefully note that: "The Cold War was a 45-year-long Gray Zone struggle in which the West succeeded in checking the spread of communism ...")

Thus, today, post-the Old Cold War, it is in this "promotion/imposition of OUR way of life, OUR way of governance" light (associated with market-democracy), I suggest, that we must:

a. See U.S./the West's contemporary "expansionist" efforts in the New/Reverse Cold War of today. And, likewise,

b. See Russia, China and Iran's (etc.) contemporary "prevention/containment/roll-back and "sphere of influence" countering efforts -- and their contemporary UW methods undertaken in this agenda's name.

(Much as it was within this "prevention/containment/roll-back" light that we understood America's "sphere of influence" countering efforts in the Old Cold War of yesterday: )

Bottom Line:

For me, what is missing from the authors' otherwise excellent "Unconventional Warfare in the Gray Zone" explanations above, is a proper identification of (a) our and (b) our opponents' overriding/overarching political objectives.

For our part, should one doubt that transforming outlying states and societies -- more along modern western political, economic and social lines -- is not our such political objective today, then we need only consider, I believe, GEN Votel's very own recent description of tentative "success" in Somalia.

Herein, GEN Votel takes special care to note that, re: Somalia:

"It’s certainly not perfect. It is Somalia and they’ve had a lot of challenges for a lot of years. But, today, they’ve got an elected president. They’ve got a parliament. They’ve got a constitution. They are now establishing a national army. And those are all good and positive things."…


With our, and our opponents,' grand political objectives now standing directly before us, might we not, thus informed, better understand:

a. Not only our new "Unconventional Warfare in the Grey Zone" roles and challenges (roles and challenges now properly understood as relating more to "expansion" rather than "containment")? But, also,

b. The exact setting within which these new roles and challenges occur (to wit: the New/Reverse Cold War of today; one that finds -- not communism -- but market-democracy being on the march)?

I really like the article, but I'm intrigued as to why it's worth mentioning Serbia 1999, but failing to articulate broader/deeper non kinetic efforts against the Warsaw Pact in the 70's/80's(as well as the defending against Soviet/WP/Communist efforts against US/NATO during the same period).

Isn't the Cold War era non-kinetic UW campaigns waged by the two main competing systems in Europe in the 70's/80's highly relevant to the battle between competing systems today?

Aren't literalist Islamic opponents using the very strategy executed by the US/NATO against the Warsaw Pact against the west in modified form?

The article does a decent job of describing the utility of unconventional warfare and foreign internal defense as national security tools. It falls short in relating the utility of UW and FID to the gray zone, largely because it didn't meaningfully describe the gray zone. When the gray zone is defined as the space between peace and war, that leaves a lot open to interpretation.

Very few people are comfortable defining the concepts peace and war, so the space in between is somewhat of a cop out in my view to describe new forms of warfare that doesn't fit into our classical paradigm of war. Americans tend to think of war as being decisive military actions to achieve total victory. Other countries, such as Russia and China, see little utility for the concept of classical war because the lines have become so blurred. Both unrestricted and nonlinear warfare doctrines provide much more holistic approaches to pursuing limited (or unlimited) political objectives in the gray zone than America's current approach. The utility of new terms, however transient, is they force the community to think harder about the challenges we're facing, and hopefully to make the need policy and doctrine changes for meeting these challenges that are both old and new.

For now the gray zone is a useful concept to provide another paradigm to view strategy from. Not all gray zone competition is special warfare, as the Chinese are demonstrating in the South China Sea. Not all gray zone competition/ confrontation even involves military or paramilitary forces. A state, and increasing non-state, actors can employ a wide range of tools singularly or in combination. One of the things I think the U.S. military must come to grips with that other tools can be more effective than military ones. These include informational, economic, law, diplomacy, etc., but the military can play an important supporting role. In a conflict short of classical war, the military must embrace the fact that it may be only serve a supporting role. We have all been taught this, but it remains a major conceptual leap for many, but once that leap is made it opens the doors to maximizing the potential of American power. Too much of that power is latent at the present time.

Back to the article, I think the authors are correct that we have seen a reduction in our ability to compete in the gray zone since the end of the Cold War. Military special warfare skills can be modified and taught fairly quickly once the need is clearly articulated and then resourced. The long pole in the tent is policy, interagency cooperation, authorities, etc. What once was old hat during the Cold War is now a Sisyphusian task.

Today we don't have coherent strategies and campaign plans to operational the strategies. Instead, we painstakingly struggle to get discreet actions approved to achieve tactical effects. We remain unable to execute a coherent campaign where a series of synchronized operations are tied to achieving objectives over time.

On the other hand, our adversaries or competitors seem to much more capable of executing deliberate campaigns in the gray zone to create facts on the ground. Facts on the ground that threaten our national interests. The competition in this space is critically important to our national interests, so it is well past time this discussion gets more serious and results in the appropriate policy changes to ensure we can out compete our adversaries in this space.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 01/17/2016 - 5:38pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

What's interesting is that the realists, non-interventionists and interventionists all fell for Johnnie Pashtun. How did that happen? All the way across the spectrum, from the Nation to National Review, from Brookings to CATO.

The utopia of realism, indeed. If you are going to negotiate, you need to pay attention to detail.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 01/17/2016 - 5:36pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

<blockquote>Estonia says it wants to build a fence along its eastern border with Russia to boost security and protect the EU's passport-free Schengen zone.</blockquote>

Fences would upset how many people?

Schengen ideologues?
Smuggling across the border?
NATO and Russian plans (factions within) to keep the zone hot?
Fences in gray zones are not as exciting as stationing troops or missiles or conducting exercises or messing around with goodness knows who, I suppose.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 01/17/2016 - 5:33pm

Like our support to the Muj that worked out so well? Wonder what we will see twenty years from now because of this. No wonder the Afghanistan myth will never die in Washington, to admit that it never worked and we were outmaneuvered might mean doing things in a completely new way--which would mean new experts and a different kind of budget.

Gray zone is another marketing term like COIN, hybrid war, technoguerillas, etc.

To fall in love with a myth is to be outmaneuvered, whether conventional or unconventional:

From Bush at War by Bob Woodward:

<blockquote>Was Kabul in danger of a Northern Alliance takeover, leaving "Johnnie Pashtun" out in the cold? How could the they detach the Pashtuns from the Taliban?
He said (Tenet) he would lean on the Pakistanis to use their tribal ties in southern Afghanistan to get the south to rise.</blockquote>

Gray zone indeed. Eastern alliance and unconventional warfare. Worked a treat.

Johnnie Pashtun? Where did that come from?

One would think destroying the Taliban would come first over such theories, but....

Dave Maxwell

Sun, 01/17/2016 - 4:49pm

This is one of the best descriptions of modern unconventional warfare and special warfare.