Author | Editor: Stevenson, J., Bragg, B. & Pagano, S. (NSI, Inc).
The current international system presents multiple potential challenges to US interests. In recent years, state actors, especially but not limited to Russia and China, have taken actions that disrupt regional stability and potentially threaten US interests (Bragg, 2016). Many of these challenges are neither “traditional” military actions nor “normal” competition, but rather fall into a class of actions we have come to call “gray” (Votel, 2015). Here we define the concept as: “the purposeful use of single or multiple instruments of power to achieve security objectives by way of activities that are typically ambiguous or cloud attribution, and exceed the threshold of ordinary competition, yet intentionally fall below the level of [proportional response and] large-scale direct military conflict, and threaten the interests of other actors by challenging, undermining, or violating international customs, norms, or laws.” (Popp and Canna, 2016).
Many analyses have focused on the material effects of gray zone actions and gray strategies, such as changes to international borders, or threats to domestic political stability, however few have emphasized the role that international norms play in gray actions and gray strategies, and potential response to them. This paper beings to fill that gap by exploring the normative dimensions of gray zone challenges.