4 Fletcher Sec. Rev. 93 (2017)
Below the Threshold: Gray Warfare and the Erosion of U.S. Influence: A Conversation with Hal Brands

handle is hein.journals/fletsrev4 and id is 93 raw text is: 


Below the Threshold:

Gray Warfare and the Erosion of U.S. Influence

A   Conversation with Hal Brands


Interviewed   by Austin Bowman


Fletcher Security Review:  You have done a lot of
work on gray zone conflicts. Could you briefly explain
what those are for people who are not well versed in the
material? Who are the actors involved, what are the
target vulnerabilines, and what are the goals actors are
seeking to achieve?

Hal  Brands: When  we  talk about gray zOne coercion,
or gray zone aggression, we are talking about coercion
that is more itense than mn-of-the-mIll diplomacy but
less explicit and overt than a fril-on military conflict.
Grax zone aggressors tend to be revisionist powers;
they are actors with some grievance about the curr nt
international system. But they don't wish to pay the
costs ot or   aggression and full-on war, whether
those costs are economic sanctions. confrontation with
the ES. alliance system, or others. And so they pursue
coercion in a low-key, calibrated way. A good example is
Chinese island building and expansionism in the South
China Sea. China is usaIg its power in an assertive fash-
ion to bend the regional order to its liking, by using
tools ranging from fishing boats to its maritime militia
to economic coercion of its neighbors. But it is remain-
ing well below the threshold of open war.

FSR:  When  moder   revisionist powers are looking to
change their relative power, the targets they select for
these conflicts are conventionaliV weaker comparativey.
What  other vulnerabilies create the potential for gray
zone conflicts? Is the conventional power differential
the primary driver or are there other factors to consid-
er

HB:  The conventional power  differential is very im-
portAnt because it gives the initiator escalation domi-
nance. \s a result, the target state feels constrained
fErm responding  militarily because it worries that it
might well lose if the conflict were to escalace out of
the gray zone and into open warfare. For instance, the
Vietnamese  know there is only so far that they can go in
response to Chinese provocations because China is by
far the stronger power. Th same gos with respect to
Ukraine and Russia.


But the differenual in conventional power is not the
only weakness gray zone Largets tend to have Target
states usually have relatively weak state institutions and
they often have trouble exerting full control or sover-
eignty over territrv This is certainly the case in
Ukraine, for instance4 Targets may also have ethnic or
linguistic cleavages that render pats of the population
more  susceptible to propaganda, subversion, and other
aspects of gray zone con flicr. Again, this is particularly
the case in Ukraine or the Baltic states.

FSR:  With regard to the different target vulnerabilities,
many  of them seem systemic or engrained in the cultur
al, societal, or political system. What can states do to
mitigate these vulnerabilites and reduce their risk of
such conflicts being initiated?

HB:  There are a number of actions states can take. For
instance, if one of your vulnerihities is that your pop
ulation includes groups that are not well integrated into
the national society, then the task is one of socio-politi-
cal and economic integration. There are also nearer
term initiatives one can take to become a harder target.
A country can develop better-armd  and better-trained
gendarmerie units or other law enforcement units that
are more powerfuls than a local police force but whose
use is not as escalatory as calling in the military One
can also develo ways of identifying subversion and
propaganda  earlier, and methods to make the popula-
tion, government ofticials, and allies aware of such tac-
tics.,

FSR:  What can international allies and the international
community  do? What  responsibilities do they have
when  gray zone tactics are being employed?

UB:  Insofar as this sort of behavior flouts established
imernational norms such as non-aggression or peaceful
resolution of disputes then the international community
might indeed have a roie to play through the enactment
of multilateral economic sanctons or other methods.
The  United States certainly has its own role to play, par-
ticularly when gray zone tactics arc used against U.S.

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