“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
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.
Assessing Revolutionary And Insurgent Strategies (ARIS) StudiesThe 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.