Initiative brings together experts to pioneer a US and allied approach to hybrid conflict amid growing Russian and Chinese gray zone operations
WASHINGTON, DC—February 24, 2022—The Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security and its Forward Defense practice announced today the launch of Adding Color to the Gray Zone: Establishing a Strategic Framework for Hybrid Conflict. This major new project contends that now is the time for a comprehensive reassessment of the way the United States and its allies and partners view security competition. Over multiple years, the project’s expert task force—comprised of former US officials and private sector leaders—will put forth actionable recommendations to inform a US national strategy for gray zone operations.
Termed as hybrid conflict, US adversaries are blurring the lines between peace and war, in a space often referred to as the gray zone. This project defines hybrid conflict or hybrid warfare as a subset of statecraft using the diplomatic, informational, military, and economic levers of national power across the entire competition continuum—from cooperation to armed conflict—for the purposes of achieving national security objective(s) against a state or non-state actor(s). China and Russia made this paradigm shift in their approaches to warfare decades ago, conceding that it would be hard to compete with the United States’ unrivaled conventional capabilities and instead finding new ways to compete and win. Without firing a single bullet, US adversaries are targeting the pillars of security, society, economy, and government and posing risks to freedom and prosperity.
“Competition with China and Russia today is largely happening in non-military spaces, in the gray zone–where security intersects with economics, information, and cyber,” notes Clementine Starling, resident fellow and deputy director of the Scowcroft Center’s Forward Defense practice. “We not only lack a comprehensive understanding of the landscape of this competition, but we currently don’t have the cross-government tools to respond effectively. We’re ceding ground here. That’s what we’re aiming to do with this project–build consensus and a common language about threats in the gray zone and put forward recommendations to guide a new strategic approach for the United States and its allies.”
That’s what we’re aiming to do with this project–build consensus and a common language about threats in the gray zone and put forward recommendations to guide a new strategic approach for the United States and its allies.”
As Forward Defense recommends in their latest report, “Seizing the advantage: A vision for the next US National Defense Strategy”, the United States must engage actively in the gray zone or risk strategic rivals continuing to shape the security environment in their favor. China and Russia, among other US adversaries, use sophisticated disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks; meddle in national and local elections; and weaponize economic, diplomatic, and cultural tools to chase their own ambitions and simultaneously weaken the United States’ interests and security at home and abroad. Yet, despite the dominance of Russia and China in the gray zone, the United States has not yet developed a comprehensive response.
This project is led by Clementine Starling and Forward Defense nonresident senior fellow Arun Iyer, alongside a task force of technical and policy experts, former government and military officials, and private sector executives. The Task Force will bring extensive knowledge and experience of gray zone operations and will provide recommendations for a strategic framework for the United States to respond to hybrid conflict.
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