Article published by the Gatestone Institute, 10 April 2021. © Richard Kemp
In March, US President Joe Biden issued his Interim National Security Strategic Guidance. Across the Atlantic, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson presented the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy to parliament. Both leaders expressed concern over the increasing challenges in the grey zone and promised measures to respond more effectively.
The grey zone is the space between peace and war involving coercive actions that fall outside normal geopolitical competition between states but do not reach the level of armed conflict. Actions in the grey zone are conducted by states often using proxies including terrorists, and also by terrorist organizations in their own right. Grey zone actions are aggressive and often ambiguous, deniable and opaque. They are intended to damage, coerce or influence, to destabilise target states or undermine the international status quo. They usually seek to avoid a significant military response, though are often designed to intimidate and deter a target state by threatening further escalation.
Grey zone actions are not new and have long been the prevalent form of conflict across the world. But as America and Britain both recognise, globalisation and technology are increasing the frequency and efficacy of such activities, and the speed at which they unfold. More actors are becoming involved, using increasingly powerful means of ‘grey warfare’, including cyber, space, internet, social media, digital propaganda and drones.
Grey zone techniques can include terrorist attacks, sabotage, assassination, blackmail, hostage-taking, espionage, subversion (such as funding and manipulation of political groups in a target country), cyber attacks, political warfare including lawfare, disinformation, propaganda, electoral influence and economic coercion. They sometimes involve military intimidation and conventional and unconventional military operations. Continue reading