“Gray Zone warfare is a set of actions that press conflict without starting an actual shooting war.” Intelligence analyst Sam Culper of Forward Observer talks about Our Gray Zone Future.
Gray Zone warfare is a set of actions that press conflict without starting an actual shooting war.
Like our own Low Intensity Conflict, these activities fall below the threshold of conventional war but remain well above peaceful, routine competition.
A book I’m reading outlines some CIA gray zone activities taken against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In addition to supporting the liberal intellectual class in the Soviet Union, CIA shopped books and films like Dr. Zhivago to Soviet outlets, which would distribute these often-unknowingly subversive materials.
Author Boris Pasternak writes in Dr. Zhivago, “[R]evolutions are made by fanatical men of action with one-track mind… They overturn the old order in a few hours or days, the whole upheaval takes a few weeks or at most years, but the fanatical spirit that inspired the upheavals is worshiped for decades thereafter, for centuries.”
This is a great example of the kind of subversive media the Agency seeded into the Soviet Union in order to foment revolution and topple the Soviet regime. This was Gray Zone warfare aimed at internal disruption.
Now bear with me for a moment…
French President Emmanuel Macron and other French intellectuals are renewing complaints about the dangerous ideas emanating from U.S. college campuses; specifically warning of “ideological excesses” that lead to the “ethnicization of the social question.”
These ideas on race, gender, post-colonialism, multiculturalism, and forced diversity — what Macron described in October 2020 as “certain social science theories entirely imported from the United States” — are undermining French society, according to Macron and other government officials.
Macron went so far as to warn that these ideas are “breaking the [French] republic in two.” France’s education minister last year remarked, “There’s a battle to wage against an intellectual matrix from American universities.” French professor François Cusset summarized what’s happening: “It’s the sign of a small, frightened republic, declining, provincializing… and which thus seeks those responsible for its decline.”
This sounds oddly a lot like similar Gray Zone activities that undermined Soviet society during the Cold War, and which are now being propagated across the West.
I’m not explicitly saying that America’s current Cultural Revolution is the result of Cold War-era Gray Zone tactics come home to roost.
But maybe they are.
As if our own internal disputes weren’t enough, our domestic information environment is made even more complex due to foreign involvement in politics and the manipulation of public opinion through information operations.
The United States today is, virtually by definition, a Gray Zone of subversive ideas and armed belligerent groups. It’s a virtual certainty that foreign governments will become more involved.
Political pundits and casual observers have warned that another American Civil War is coming. They’re wrong. As I’ve been writing since 2016, it’s already started. We’re in the early stage of a Low Intensity Conflict and, regardless of the final form it takes, it’s likely to be waged well into this decade.
Given that Gray Zone warfare exists below conventional war — and it’s being waged by domestic groups if not foreign ones — it would behoove Americans to study gray skills, like intelligence and security.
We at Gray Zone Activity teach these skills for emergency preparedness and community security. I’d like to invite you to sign up for the Gray Zone newsletter to stay aware of our research and training. You can sign up at https://www.grayzoneactivity.com.
Always Out Front,