Tuesday, December 15, 2015

50 Shades of Gray: Why the Gray Wars Concept Lacks Strategic Sense by Adam Elkus

We should remember Colin Gray (whom I do not think was the inspiration for the Gray Zone) and Clausewitz.  And my fear is that we do not heed Clausewitz' wisdom that we must first understand kind of war upon which we are about to embark and instead we focus on simply trying to name the war.

“The American defense community is especially prone to capture by the latest catchphrase, the new-sounding spin on an ancient idea which as jargon separates those who are truly expert from the lesser breeds without the jargon.”  Colin Gray

“Thus it has come about that our theoretical and critical literature, instead of giving plain, straightforward arguments in which the author at least always knows what he is saying and the reader what he is reading, is crammed with jargon, ending at obscure crossroads where the author loses its readers. Sometimes these books are even worse: they are just hollow shells. The author himself no longer knows just what he is thinking and soothes himself with obscure ideas which would not satisfy him if expressed in plain speech.”
Major General Carl von Clausewitz

Yes Adam is correct to note that USSOCOM has lost control of the new term  "Gray Zone" with everyone applying it to everything. (or old term -see below for the chart on the 100 names of "LIC" that I have been carrying around since 1994 - note "Gray Area Phenomena")   The USSOCOM White Paper can be accessed here: http://maxoki161.blogspot.com/2015/10/ussocom-white-paper-gray-zone.html)  And Yes Adam is right that Limited War and Compellence area useful concepts and do not need to be reinvented.

While I was hopeful that the Gray Zone would be a useful construct to describe the space between peace and where (where we have a strategy gap) what is really taking place in that space is what has always been taking place - revolution, resistance, and insurgency (RRI) .  Please take a look at the Assessing Revolutionary and Insurgent Strategies (ARIS) project at the link below.  I had preferred Political Warfare with a nod to George Kennan (http://maxoki161.blogspot.com/2015/03/sof-support-to-political-warfare-white.html) but USSOCOM adopted the Gray Zone.   But we should be focusing on is revolution, resistance, and insurgency (and of course this is nothing new). This is what we should be focusing on.  And of course our adversaries are fomenting and  exploiting RRI in the space between peace and war and it was good of Congress to recognize that they are conducting their unique forms of unconventional warfare in that space (thus the directive in NDAA 2016 Sec 1097 to DOD to develop a counter-UW strategy: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/1735/text#toc-H57D78DE2C41D4347BF5202B774B80E94)  But now Gray Zone is being used to describe everything from Little Green Men in Ukraine to competition and potential conflict in the South China Sea to north Korean provocations (http://csis.org/publication/issues-insights-vol-15-no-13-struggling-gray-zone) 

Excerpts: 

Gray zone terminology has also been applied to characterize conflict in the South China Sea. Surely Putin’s various operations, Chinese territorial disputations, civil wars in Iraq and Syria, and Boko Haram’s terrorism in Nigeria are not equally gray? The idea that the term somehow meaningfully encompasses all of these conflicts is bizarre. But this is not the biggest flaw with the gray wars concept. It is yet another example of the recurring problem of military strategists and civilian analysts inventing new terminology to replace forgotten, yet perhaps more coherent concepts. Gray zone wars seem to be a composite of two very well known ideas in military strategy and political science: limited wars and compellence.

Gray wars are often defined as wars in which combatants minimize the scope and scale of combat. This is not an exotic new stratagem as much as the realization that, as Carl von Clausewitz noted, absolute war — war unconstrained by any kind of political limitation — is largely if not completely impossible in practice. The political context of war always involves some degree of minimizing the scope and scale of combat.


  • ARIS Logo


    Assessing Revolutionary And Insurgent Strategies (ARIS) Studies

    The Assessing Revolutionary and Insurgent Strategies (ARIS) project consists of research conducted for the US Army Special Operations Command by the National Security Analysis Department of The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Its goal is to produce academically rigorous yet operationally relevant research to develop and illustrate a common understanding of insurgency and revolution. Intended to form a bedrock body of knowledge for members of the Special Operations Forces, the ARIS studies allow users to distill vast amounts of material from a wide array of campaigns and extract relevant lessons, enabling the development of future doctrine, professional education, and training. The ARIS project follows in the tradition of research conducted by the Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of American University in the 1950s and 1960s, adding new research to that body of work, republishing original SORO studies, and releasing updated editions of selected SORO studies.


50 Shades of Gray: Why the Gray Wars Concept Lacks Strategic Sense

  • by Adam Elkus 
  •  Dec. 15, 2015 
  •  7 min read 
  •  original
Many men, as they age, start to worry about gray hairs. America’s military men, however, worry about gray wars. Gray wars are, as the former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command noted, wars in which groups or entities “seek to secure their objectives while minimizing the scope and scale of actual combat.” These wars and geopolitical conflicts, ranging from the Russian annexation of Crimea and its continued aggression in Ukraine to Boko Haram’s reign of terror in Nigeria, require allegedly new means of training, organization, and doctrine. There’s only one problem: The “gray wars” concept lacks even the most basic strategic sense. Like the book and movie 50 Shades of Grey, the gray wars concept grossly over-exaggerates its own transgressions from the norm. Beneath the hype is something rather ooh-la-lame rather than ooh-la-la.
First, it should be observed that this definition, which is applied to both wars with Vladimir Putin’s deniable “little green men” and Middle Eastern wars in Iraq and Syria featuring mobile combined arms maneuver, is incoherent. Yes, Putin is keeping it low-key, but can the same really be said of any of the Syrian or Iraqi factions contesting major cities and tweeting beheading pictures at each other? If the latter form of combat is somehow lacking in scope and scale, it is certainly not lacking in ferocity due to the intentions of the combatants (who are all fighting for their survival). And one can also quibble with the idea that these conflicts also are somehow lacking in scope and scale to begin with. Every faction in Syria and Iraq is fighting a war of utmost ferocity, and the expansion of the Islamic State to battlegrounds beyond Iraq and Syria suggests that the conflict may not necessarily be limited to its primary theaters of operation.
Gray zone terminology has also been applied to characterize conflict in the South China Sea. Surely Putin’s various operations, Chinese territorial disputations, civil wars in Iraq and Syria, and Boko Haram’s terrorism in Nigeria are not equally gray? The idea that the term somehow meaningfully encompasses all of these conflicts is bizarre. But this is not the biggest flaw with the gray wars concept. It is yet another example of the recurring problem of military strategists and civilian analysts inventing new terminology to replace forgotten, yet perhaps more coherent concepts. Gray zone wars seem to be a composite of two very well known ideas in military strategy and political science: limited wars and compellence.
(Continued at the link below)

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