Gray Zone Defense Assessment Act

Last week I introduced the Gray Zone Defense Assessment Act. This bipartisan legislation directs the United States to develop a playbook to properly counter gray zone aggression and strengthen U.S. national security.

For two decades, U.S. warfighters have primarily been engaged in countering the threats posed by violent extremists. Asymmetric tactics utilized by these extremist groups have shown our near-peer adversaries in the great-power competition that our nation is susceptible to threats that fall outside of the traditional means of conflict.

Since the shift from countering violent extremism to the great power competition, Russia has used private military companies to illegally seize territories, the People’s Republic of China is employing coercive economic practices through their Belt and Road Initiatives, and Iran is using proxies throughout the world to export terrorism and launder money for the regime. All these actions are used as an attempt to secure national objectives in what is now known as the “Gray Zone.”

Although the definition of the gray zone is fluid, it is widely described as geopolitical, economic, military actions and cyber and information operations that go beyond regular diplomatic and economic activities but fall below the use of kinetic military force. Gray zone aggression has become the preferred method of adversarial governments because it exploits the weaknesses of Western nations and provides plausible deniability to the hostile actor. Tactics utilized in the gray zone include but are not limited to:

  • Information warfare;
  • Encouraging internal strife within targeted countries;
  • Subversive economic practices;
  • Support for domestic and international proxies;
  • Coercive investment and bribery for political aims;
  • An industrial policy designed to monopolize a strategic industry or to destroy such an industry in other nations;
  • Military and paramilitary provocations and operations short of war;
  • Hostage diplomacy;
  • Changes in internationally recognized borders;

The Gray Zone Defense Act requires the Department of Defense, the State Department, and the Director of National Intelligence to coordinate and evaluate our nation’s capacity to respond to gray zone aggression. In addition, the bill requires the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence to conduct an annual assessment of the gray zone threats posed by the People’s Republic of China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and Syria pose to the United States.

The future of warfare is evolving, We risk falling behind the curve if our nation fails to adapt and identify unconventional threats like information warfare, coercive investments and bribery, malign industrial policies, and more. The Gray Zone Defense Act is a critical first step in ensuring that the United States is prepared to assess and counter all threats to our national security.


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