Monday, June 6th 2016
The planners and thinkers of the armed forces are in intellectual ferment as they think through new challenges – ISIS, Russia, hybrid warfare, China and the nine-dash line, a larger number of nuclear states, and near-peer competition among them. Among the new concepts under discussion is “the Gray Zone,” -- “intense political, economic, informational, and military competition more fervent in nature than normal steady-state diplomacy, yet short of conventional war.”
General Joseph Votel, Lieutenant General Charles T. Cleveland, Colonel Charles T. Connett, and Lieutenant Colonel Will Irwin explored the concept in a January 1, 2016, article, “Unconventional Warfare in the Gray Zone,” published in Joint Force Quarterly. Votel is now the Commander of the U.S. Central Command. “The Cold War was a 45-year-long Gray Zone struggle in which the West succeeded in checking the spread of communism and ultimately witnessed the dissolution of the Soviet Union,” they added.
The article relied on the familiar D-I-M-E breakdown of the elements of national power (Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic), considered the prospects for political warfare, highlighted the human domain, and recognized that other government departments and agencies will play important roles. In speaking of the informational element of national power, however, it largely focused on Information Operations conducted by military commands.
Members of the Foreign Service who read the article, I sense, will want to pull out their editing pens – and perhaps challenge some premises. My own reaction is that military and diplomatic thinking about future – and the roles of Public Diplomacy and Information Operations – are yet to be harmonized.
One of the article’s asides notes that Special Operations Forces “must continually work to upgrade their training regimen and education curriculum.” Among the subjects: social movement theory, regional history, cultural studies and language proficiency, cyber tools and methods, influence operations, negotiation and mediation skills, popular mobilization dynamics, and social network analysis and sociocultural analysis. Are these topics for upgraded Public Diplomacy training? Note too the call for “thinking critically and creatively . . . unhindered by the need for continuous and detailed guidance.”
Here are some key points that touch on political warfare and the “I” in DIME:
- While “Gray Zone” refers to a space in the peace-conflict continuum, the methods for engaging our adversaries in that environment have much in common with the political warfare that was predominant during the Cold War years.
- Political warfare is played out in that space between diplomacy and open warfare, where traditional statecraft is inadequate or ineffective and large-scale conventional military options are not suitable . . . .
- Political warfare is a population-centric engagement that seeks to influence, to persuade, even to co-opt.
- One of its staunchest proponents, George Kennan, described it as “the employment of all the means at a nation’s command, short of war, to achieve its national objectives,” including overt measures such as white propaganda, political alliances, and economic programs, to “such covert operations as clandestine support of ‘friendly’ foreign elements, ‘black’ psychological warfare, and even encouragement of underground resistance in hostile states.”
- Organized political warfare served as the basis for U.S. foreign policy during the early Cold War years and it was later revived during the Reagan administration. But, as Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations observed, it has become a lost art and one that he and others believe needs to be rediscovered and mastered.
- SOF [Special Operations Forces] provide several options for operating in the political warfare realm, especially those core tasks that are grouped under the term special warfare. Foreign internal defense (FID) operations are conducted to support a friendly foreign government in its efforts to defeat an internal threat. In terms of strategic application, UW [Unconventional Warfare] represents the opposite approach, where the U.S. Government supports a resistance movement or insurgency against an occupying power or adversary government.
- [Joint Publication 3-05.1, “Unconventional Warfare”] also provides insight into the importance of interagency planning, coordination, and collaboration; other U.S. Government departments and agencies are not only frequently involved, but they are also often in the lead.
- Advocates of UW first recognize that, among a population of self-determination seekers, human interest in liberty trumps loyalty to a self-serving dictatorship, that those who aspire to freedom can succeed in deposing corrupt or authoritarian rulers, and that unfortunate population groups can and often do seek alternatives to a life of fear, oppression, and injustice.
- Second, advocates believe that there is a valid role for the U.S. Government in encouraging and empowering these freedom seekers when doing so helps to secure U.S. national security interests.
- Through diplomacy, development, and other means, other government departments and agencies, such as the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), can help shape the environment or provide support to resistance in other ways.
- Many types of information activities are used to influence friendly, adversary, and neutral audiences. Resistance groups craft narratives that best convey the movement’s purpose and leverage key grievances of importance to the people. Another important purpose of information operations could be to encourage disparate resistance factions to work together to achieve common objectives.
- After a few early political warfare successes in the 1950s, along with some clear failures, President Eisenhower . . . . . saw the need for an NSC-level director of political warfare, someone to quarterback the habitually interagency effort.
- As Max Boot has observed, political warfare has become a lost art which no department or agency of the U.S. Government views as a core mission.
- A Gray Zone “win” is not a win in the classic warfare sense. Winning is perhaps better described as maintaining the U.S. Government’s positional advantage, namely the ability to influence partners, populations, and threats toward achievement of our regional or strategic objectives. Specifically, this will mean retaining decision space, maximizing desirable strategic options, or simply denying an adversary a decisive positional advantage.
- Planners and operators most in demand in this difficult task will be those capable of thinking critically and creatively, warriors unhindered by the need for continuous and detailed guidance.