COMPETING IN THE GRAY ZONE : Countering Competition in the Space between War and Peace

Gray zone actions are increasing from countries seeking to challenge the United States. These actions, which seek to gain advantage without provoking a conventional military response, are often difficult for free-market democracies to counter. The CSIS International Security Program is undertaking work to examine the challenge the United States faces and to explore options for how to better organize itself and respond to these gray zone challenges.

Understanding Gray Zones Video and Survey

Countries like China and Russia increasingly use non-military means to achieve their objectives. These gray zone actions include election meddling, economic coercion, and the ambiguous use of unconventional force. Below the level of war, gray zone conflicts pose a challenge to U.S. efforts to pursue its interests.

Remote Visualization

Information Warfare

CSIS explores Russian, Chinese, and other countries’ use of disinformation, election meddling, and social media accounts to spread propaganda and sow division through gray zone tactics.

Remote Visualization

Economic Coercion

CSIS explores Chinese, Russia, and other countries’ use of economic power to coerce others into positions of disadvantage. Gray zone techniques discussed include cyber espionage, forced technology transfers, and debt-dependency.

Remote Visualization

Use of Ambiguous Forces

CSIS explores Chinese, Russian, Iranian, and other countries’ use of gray zone actions to coerce or compel others using ambiguous forces. Techniques discussed include use of unattributed military forces, island building, and the use of proxy forces.

Remote Visualization

Responding to the Threats

CSIS explores how the United States can better manage gray zone competition by speaking for American values, working with allies and partners, and ensuring that Americans understand how foreign powers seek to influence each of us every day.

Remote Visualization

A product of the Andreas C. Dracopoulos iDeas Lab, the in-house digital, multimedia, and design agency at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.