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Special Forces Berlin
by James Stejskal


Gray Zone

The Gray Zone is a newly emerging term to describe activities, actions, or conflict in the space between peace and war. This term, introduced by the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), is an attempt to assist government leaders and members of the military to come to grips with the newly emerging era of conflict (not so new, it has been around for a while) that is sometimes described as Hyrbrid Warfare, Political Warfare, Unconventional Warfare, Irregular Warfare, and a host of other terms.

The Gray Zone

Websites about the Gray Zone

Project Gray. A United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) initiative to generate conversation and discussion about the Gray Zone.

The Challenge of the Gray Zone Special Warfare Oct Dec 2015
Cover of Special Warfare Magazine Oct-Dec 2015

Publications Related to the Gray Zone
(listed in chronological order)


RAND, Gaining Competitive Advantage in the Gray Zone: Response Options for Coercive Aggression Below the Threshold of Major War, RAND Corporation, June 2019.


Lohaus, Phillip, Special Operations Forces in the Gray Zone: An Operational Framework for Employing Special Operations in the Space Between War and Peace, American Enterprise Institute (AEI), December 19, 2016.

Hermberg, Nicholas, "The Danger of the Gray Zone: Flawed Responses to Emerging Unconventional Threats", Small Wars Journal, December 6, 2016.

Chambers, John, Countering Gray-Zone Hybrid Threats, Modern War Institute, West Point, 18 October, 2016. An analysis of Russia's 'New Generation Warfare' and implications for the US Army.

Freier, Mr. Nathan P. et al, Outplayed: Regaining Strategic Initiative in the Gray Zone, Strategic Studies Institute (SSI), U.S. Army War Collge, June 7, 2016. A report sponsored by the Army Capabilities Integration Center in coordination with Joint Staff J-39 / Strategic Multi-Layer Assessment Branch. 135 pages.

Coffman, Sean R., Rob J. Shumaker, and Jeff M. Givens, Perception is Reality: Special Operations Forces in the Gray Zone, Thesis for Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, June 2016.

Echevarria, Dr. Antulio J., Operating in the Gray Zone: An Alternative Paradigm for U.S. Military Strategy, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College Press, April 4, 2016. Gray zone wars are not new yet there are several shortcomings in the way the west thinks about war and strategy. This monograph proposes an alternative to the U.S. military's current campaign-planning framework, one oriented on achieving positional advantages over rival powers and built around the use of a coercion-deterrence dynamic germane to almost all wars as well as to conflicts short of war.

RAND Corporation, Toward Operational Art in Special Warfare, February 2016.

Brands, Hal, Paradoxes of the Gray Zone, Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), February 2016. The author presents eight paradoxes, complexities, and nuances at the heart of the gray zone idea -- and at the heart of efforts to respond to gray zone challenges.

Dr. Frank Hoffman, The Contemporary Spectrum of Conflict: Protracted, Gray Zone, Ambiguous, and Hybrid Modes of War, The Heritage Foundation, January 2016.

NDU, Unconventional Warfare in the Gray Zone, authored by Joseph Votel, Charles Cleveland, Charles Connett, and Will Irwin, National Defense University Press, January 1, 2016.


SWCS, "The Challenge of Operating in the Gray Zone", Special Warfare Magazine, U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, October - December 2015.

Mazarr, Dr. Michael J., Mastering the Gray Zone: Understanding a Changing Era of Conflict, Strategic Studies Institute (SSI), December 2, 2015. This 159 page monograph is available from the United States Army War College Press.

Kasapoglu, Can, Russia's Renewed Military Thinking: Non-Linear Warfare and Reflexive Control, Research Paper No. 121, NATO Defense College, Rome, Italy, November 2015.

USSOCOM, The Gray Zone White Paper, United States Special Operations Command, Sep 15.

USASOC, SOF Support to Political Warfare White Paper, United States Army Special Operations Command, 10 March 2015.


USASOC, Counter-Unconventional Warfare White Paper, United States Army Special Operations Command, 26 September 2014.

Movies and Videos - Gray Zone

"Occupied". For those still a little unsure of what a "Gray Zone" situation or conflict would be like, especially at the beginning, there is a 10-episode series on NetFlix that will provide some insight. This fictional "silk glove" move by Russia into Norwary to take over the oil production (and export) reflects a form of warfare the Russians used in Crimea and the Ukraine. It also is illustrative of the type of warfare that the Russians would use in the former Soviet republics of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. It is a Norweigian film with English subtitles with excellent acting and great drama. It started airing on NetFlix in January 2016. You can watch the trailer on NetFlix at the link below.

Dunford on Gray Zone. In this two-minute long video the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joe Dunford explains what the Gray Zone is to members of the Hose Armed Services Committee. The Joint Staff (YouTube.com), April 17, 2018.

News Articles & Reports on Gray Zone

April 10, 2017. "Reclaiming Strategic Initiative in the Not-So-Gray-Zone: Winning Big Conflicts Inside Small Ones", by Spencer B. Meredith III, Small Wars Journal.

February 21, 2017. "Seeing Gray in the Next World War", by Neil Hollenbeck and Benjamin Jensen, War on the Rocks.

January 11, 2017. "A Missing Shade of Gray: Political Will and Waging Something Short of War", by Phillip Lohaus, War on the Rocks.

November 6, 2016. "Owning the 'gray zone'", by CPT John Chambers, Army Times. An instructor at West Point says the Army (SOF) needs to enhance it's unconventional warfare capability.

August 17, 2016. "The Gray Zone and Intelligence Preparation of the Battle Space", by Patricia DeGennaro, Small Wars Journal.

July 25, 2016. "In D.N.C. Hack, Echoes of Russia's New Approach to Power", The New York Times. Max Fisher ties the hacking of the Democratic National Committee emails by Russia to a new approach to political warfare.

June 9, 2016. "Gray Zone: Why We're Losing the New Era of National Security", by Nathan Freier, Defense One.

February 2016, Paradoxes of the Gray Zone, by Hal Brands, Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI).

January 14, 2016. "Special Operations and the Challenge of Working in the 'Gray Zone'", by John Friberg, SOFREP.com. How SOF forces work in the space between peace and war.

January 2, 2016. "IR Theory and the Gray Zone", by Stephen Okin. The author believes that a root cause for the inadequacy of U.S. policy tools for operating in the Gray Zone is the current state of International Relations theory.

December 31, 2015. "The Strange Words of Strategy", War on the Rocks. B.J. Armstrong examines the use of words

December 29, 2015. "Fighting While Friending: The Grey War Advantage of ISIS, Russia, and China", by Peter Pomerantsev, Defense One. can democracies compete where powers can be fighting each other with one hand and shaking hands with the other?

December 22, 2015, "Struggle in the Gray Zone and World Order", War on the Rocks, December 22, 2015.

December 15, 2015. "50 Shades of Gray: Why the Gray Wars Concept Lacks Strategic Sense", by Adam Elkus, War on the Rocks. The author believes the new term is not needed.

December 10, 2015. "America's Not Ready for Today's Gray Wars", by Eric Olson, Defense One. To defeat terrorists, we need to overhaul our military and other levers of government to tackle complex and shifting threats.

December 7, 2015. "The 'Gray Zone' Is the Future of War: Ongoing, Low-Level, and Undeclared", by John Knefel, Inverse.com. In Syria, Russia, and Pakistan we see world of constant conflict that will change our concept of peacetime.

November 28, 2015. "'Gray Zone' conflicts far more complex to combat, says SOCOM chief Votel", Tampa Tribune. General Votel says that the Gray Zone defines the area between healthy economic and political competition between states and open warfare.

May 19, 2015. "Fighting and Winning in the 'Gray Zone'", by David Barno and Nora Bensahel, War on the Rocks, May 19, 2015.

August 18, 2014. "Peace and War: The Space Between", by Nadia Schadlow, War on the Rocks.



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