Summaries - Office of Research & Innovation
Back Countering Gray Zone Strategies: Options for I MEF in the South China Sea
|Division||Research & Sponsored Programs|
|Department||Naval Research Program|
Malley, Michael S.
Glosny, Michael A.
|Sponsor||NPS Naval Research Program (Navy)|
Around the world, the United States and its allies confront a growing number of challenges that fall in the gray zone between peace and war. Adversaries are choosing to employ a strategy that some analysts have called “tailored coercion.” This approach typically relies on paramilitary forces to intimidate weaker opponents and avoid crossing the threshold into armed conflict. Consequently, they also avoid crossing the red lines that would require the United States to come to the defense of its treaty allies. In the South China Sea, China has used its Coast Guard and other paramilitary forces to create new islands and assert jurisdiction over disputed territories in an incremental fashion.
In gray area situations, the United States and its allies face challenges far below the high-intensity engagements for which our forces typically plan, but well above the ones for which “phase zero” shaping operations would be appropriate. In a speech last year, General Joseph Dunford noted that the combatant commanders had described our adversaries as being at “phase 2 or . . . phase 2 ½.” In the face of these challenges, he added, “I don’t find the current phasing construct for operational plans particularly useful.” (http://www.jcs.mil/Media/Speeches/Article/707418/gen-dunfords-remarks-and-qa-at-the-center-for-strategic-and-international-studi/ )
The increasing use of gray zone strategies creates three increasingly pressing problems. One is that adversaries feel undeterred or, worse, emboldened. Another is that the assurance of allies is eroded, since U.S. plans are underdeveloped at such low levels of conflict. And the third is the growing possibility that existing U.S. capabilities, intended to counter much different threats, are employed in a way that unintentionally escalates irregular conflicts into those that involve regular military forces.
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