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Confidence in Chaos: The Growth of Grey Zone Threats

The emerging growth of ‘Grey Zone’ threats.


The supremacy of traditional security and defence systems has driven adversaries towards alternative methods. These ‘grey zone’ approaches include a myriad of new threats described by multiple buzzwords, from asymmetric to hybrid and from 5th generation to sub-threshold. All these make up the “grey zone” and explore the widest range of social, political, economic and military instruments available to achieve maximum effect – but without provoking a conventional response, or even being recognised as formal acts of aggression. Countering this requires significant change in a number of areas – from risk appetite, to the equipment used, and the skills employed. Technology will play an increasing role in each area as nations adapt to fit the way in which adversaries now behave.

The growth of grey zone campaigning

Understanding what has driven the shift can help us identify how best to adapt to grey zone threats. The first driver is the increasing access to emerging technologies. The accelerating transfer of consumer technology from lab to user lowers the bar for entry, providing adversaries with greater reach and making it easier for them to instigate a challenge. The second driver is the emergence of a new world system. Global norms, rules, accords and institutions face increasing challenges. The third driver is the growth of novel domains. The pursuit of political and territorial supremacy takes place on more fronts today than ever before. Two new domains, cyber and space, are starting to rebalance power between large and small actors.