What is the Gray Zone?

Feb 06, 2021

We typically look at places like Ukraine, Syria, and the South China Sea as "gray zones" where foreign powers take advantage of fragile or failed states. Regional powers erode security and stability through the use political, economic, information, and diplomatic warfare, and sometimes the ambiguous use of unconventional forces. These conflicts are marked by activities that fail to rise to the threshold of conventional war, but remain well above peaceful, routine competition.

This organized, coercive, low-level warfare is intended to exhaust adversaries, and is often described as Gray Zone conflict because it exists in the space between war and peace.

Counterinsurgency strategist David Kilcullen points out in The Accidental Guerrilla that foreign adversaries can't compete with the United States conventionally, so they use Gray Zone warfare to undermine stability and erode U.S. advantages.

I have a specific concern that the United States may come to resemble one of these Gray Zones. In addition to our own low intensity conflict (kind of a three-sided conflict between the Far Left, Far Right, and the federal government that we document daily over at Forward Observer) we're seeing foreign involvement inside the United States. Much of this activity is actually Gray Zone Activity: economic, political, diplomatic and information warfare.

With substantial strategic challenges for the United States -- a country in relative decline, increased domestic turmoil, and a fiscal and monetary tsunami still ahead of us -- comes opportunities for foreign powers to exploit these lingering issues. This is just beginning to happen now.

I'm banking my livelihood and professional career on domestic conditions in the United States worsening over time, and I do believe that we'll be living in the Disunited Gray Zones of America. The next 20 years are likely to be tumultuous as the end of the American Empire comes to a close.

Your ability to anticipate and respond to local security and stability challenges will depend on your access to local information, your ability to produce intelligence, to communicate and employ the "soft skills" required to survive in a contested environment.

I'm here to teach you what I know via this blog, online lessons, and courses taught in the classroom and the field. I'm also here to continue studying low intensity conflict and how Intelligence + Security can be used by concerned citizens to adapt to changing and likely dangerous conditions.

If you want these future blog posts delivered via email, then sign up below. I'm writing about do-it-yourself Intelligence. In the next blog post, I'll answer the question "Why Intelligence?" and provide some use case information to help you see the bigger picture.

Until then, stay out front.


Always Out Front,

Mike Shelby

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