Grey Zone Warfare

Sub Title : The character of warfare is continually changing making available the widest range of instruments for pursuing strategic interests

Issues Details : Vol 15 Issue 1 Mar – Apr 2021

Author : Maj Gen Harvijay Singh, SM (Retd)

Page No. : 61

Category : Military Affairs

: March 27, 2021

The character of warfare is continually changing making available  the widest range of social, political, economic and military instruments for pursuing strategic ends,  just below the threshold of traditional armed conflict. Such endeavours constitute Grey Zone Warfare and threaten the very character of a nation: its ethos, traditions, history, governance and international relations. An articulation of the same

Warfare: is an act

  • undertaken by nations to weaken or destroy another,
  • struggle between competing entities to undermine or destroy the strength of the other and so on.

Forms of Warfare are many with each either flowing into another or being a subset of it. There are two forms of contemporary warfare which merit attention: Hybrid Warfare and Grey Zone Warfare. Simply stated, Hybrid Warfare relates to the tactical level and Grey-Zone Warfare incorporates a long-term strategy to ‘settle’ disputes between nations. Going a step further in understanding the difference, it can be stated that Hybrid Warfare is a tactical subset of Grey-Zone conflict.

Hybrid Warfare employs multiple and diverse tactics simultaneously. This is a multi-domain warfighting approach to disrupt and disable an opponent without engaging in open hostilities. Hybrid Warfare combines military and nonmilitary actions including disinformation and deception, it is largely used in the asymmetric sphere.

Hybrid Warfare does not follow the conventional progression of a sequential linear conflict but a nonlinear simultaneous deployment of multiple, complementary military and non-military warfare tactics. Instantaneity of violence is facilitated by globalization and the revolution in communications and internet.

Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah, claimed protection of Shiite shrines and fighting ISIS for their presence in Syria. However, they focused on helping President Bashar Al Assad put down the revolt against his rule, contributing significantly to the regime’s violence and depopulation of inhabitants from Sunni rebel areas. Pakistan backed Taliban, simultaneously employed conventional, non-conventional, irregular, informational and political components to weaken and ultimately cripple the enemy’s ability to defeat them. After 2005, they effectively avoided direct confrontation with well-equipped troops. The Russians meanwhile have successfully weaponized information, integrated cyber and electronic warfare and use local militia against government and civilian targets, denying any involvement themselves. The successful incursions into Georgia and Ukraine illustrate their strength in conducting Hybrid Warfare.

Grey-Zone Conflict refers to conflicts – not always violent – which are prolonged and frequently characterized by an ambiguous point of victory. Grey Zone conflict participants rely on unconventional tactics that do not cross the threshold of formalized state-level aggression. The aggressor however uses the risk of escalation as a coercive leverage; intimidation is central to effective grey zone operations.

Grey Zone actions include election meddling, economic coercion, prolonged agitations, and the ambiguous use of unconventional force. They target specific vulnerabilities in the targeted nations to include political polarization; social imbalances, economic stagnation, unmanaged unemployment, and a weak military capability. Democracies are more likely to be the targets of manipulations of a Grey Zone conflict.

The Grey Zone attack threatens the very character of a nation; its ethos, traditions, history, governance and international relations. This primarily involves media, psychological warfare and legal manipulations to weaken and discredit a nation.

Recommended Counter Strategy Against Grey Zone Warfare

Grey Zone Conflicts are best handled politically and diplomatically complemented as in every form of warfare by deterrence and confidence provided by a strong military.

Some political and diplomatic vaccines to safeguard against the malice and self-inflicted inadequacies that weaken the defence mechanism creating vulnerabilities for the enemy to exploit are discussed as under:

♦             A strong political will to manage the country’s economic and social resources efficiently goes a long way in defeating the virus of Grey Zone Conflict; inadequacies and deficiencies can generate disharmony and conflict in the society, creating a key vulnerability.

♦             Politically capable and strong governments work hard to achieve their desired and favoured policy outcomes; arrogant and domineering implementation, however, can underscore their value and fuel unrest.

♦             A strong federal structure is a strength, it helps to offset governmental elitism. And enables division of power to check despotic central governments.  On the contrary, excessive centralised control is the enemy of peace and harmony, especially in nations with demographic diversity, and provides fodder for Grey Zone manipulations.

♦             A large gap between haves and have nots will always create instability and harmful affiliations; poverty alleviation is as important for poor nations as is capital expenditure on infrastructure development.

♦             Good governance, which includes justice, ethics and institutional quality, among other variables are an antidote to the vulnerabilities; diseased governance and institutions create a conducive atmosphere for Grey Zone manoeuvring.

♦             Creating a strong Cyber and Information Warfare capability is an effective countermeasure against the perpetuators of Grey Zone Conflict; The rise of Cyber and Information Warfare today challenges the prevalent notion of the centrality of violence to the nature of war.

♦             Increasing strategic ties with democracies is a good countermeasure and an effective tool. ‘Democratic Multilateralism’ – seeking to advance coordination and cooperation among democracies is a strong collective response against totalitarian regimes who are the principal initiators of Grey Zone Warfare.

Initiating Grey Zone Conflict Against India: The Sino-Pak Collusivity

China has deployed its most crucial, Western Theatre Command well-endowed in Information and Cyber Warfare assets against India. It seeks to achieve dominance against the Indian Armed Forces by simultaneity and linearity in deployment of resources during a conflict. In the meantime, it continues it Grey Zone manipulations in collusivity with Pakistan.

China’s Insidious Strategy

♦             Political actions to promote favourable global changes and international norms to accumulate comprehensive national power in all its dimensions—economic, military, technological and diplomatic

♦             Chinese economy is growing, its population is growing, and it needs new boundaries, resources, and avenues. China is determined to occupy new territories by trick or by force. Coercive tricks involve massing of troops on contested borders and the alteration of status quo or delineation of territories by covert manipulations of records and treaties.

♦             Build ports, highways and pipelines across Europe, Asia, Africa and South America to expand its military, commercial and economic reach under the guise of economic growth; the Chinese like to say, building ‘a brighter future together’. When contested, China uses trade, aid, investments, and threats of sanctions to have its way.

♦             Engagement in Cyber and Network Warfare; China seeks to combine coordinated use of cyber operations, electronic warfare, space control, and kinetic strikes to create “blind spots” in an adversary’s C4ISR systems.

Pakistan having been humiliated in its wars with India has chosen to adopt the low-cost option of terrorism. It also rides piggyback with China in its conflict with India. Their collusivity:

♦             Oppose India in all International forums.

♦             China is dumping its cheap products into India to hurt its manufacturing capability.

♦             Pakistan has allowed China to construct the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) through Indian Territory in Gilgit Baltistan.

♦             Both Pakistan and China indulge in Information and Cyber Warfare against India and have made attempts to infiltrate and destabilise its IT Infrastructure.

♦             China has increased its presence in the Indian Ocean Region and built its ports and bases in the Indian Ocean Rim region.

♦             Pakistan frequently engages in trans-border firing and support to insurgent groups in Kashmir.

♦             Increased Chinese aggression and assertion on the Line of Actual Control between India and China.

♦             There is an increasing presence of Chinese Fishing and Research vessels in the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea.

♦             China supports insurgent and separatist groups in the North Eastern Indian States.

♦             Pakistan and China both encourage non state actors to act against India.

♦             Both China and Pakistan have by their belligerence initiated an arms race in the region.

India is a well-established democracy, with an elected government, apolitical armed forces and independent judiciary. This is in a sharp contrast to the centralised and authoritative form of governance in China and Pakistan. India must continue to strengthen these institutions, alleviate the social and economic status of its masses and nurture its mature federal structure to defeat any attempts at Grey Zone Warfare. India must also strengthen its resolve to respond quickly and decisively to any new provocation with political and diplomatic dexterity; the first step would be to name and shame the enemy under the shroud.