Written evidence submitted by RAND Europe.

Prepared for the UK Parliament’s Defence Committee on Defence in the Grey Zone


Grey zone activities involve the use of diplomatic, information, military, and economic (DIME) levers to bring about desired strategic outcomes by blurring, stretching and moving thresholds, and exploiting seams in the target state's decision making. The UK’s adversaries have increasingly used these ambiguous and subversive techniques in recent years in an attempt to achieve their goals without triggering open conflict. Importantly, however, grey zone activities and conventional military threats are not a mutually exclusive binary: instead, they both exist along a spectrum of policy options for furthering national interests. The answers to the below questions discuss the unique ways in which Defence contributes to confronting grey zone activities conducted by the UK’s adversaries, before delving into the ways in which it can more effectively collaborate with partners both across government, in society, and internationally to achieve HMG's aims. In addition, this response delves into the ways in which liberal democracies are both uniquely vulnerable, and yet also in some ways particularly resilient, to hostile grey zone activities, and considers the specific lessons emerging from the Russia-Ukraine War. This builds on extensive and ongoing RAND research on the theory and practice of grey zone activities for the UK and Allied governments. 

Introduction to RAND

  1.                Part of the global RAND Corporation, RAND Europe is a not-for-profit research organisation with a mission to improve governmental strategy, policy and decision making through research, wargaming, and analysis. RAND has over 75 years of experience conducting impactful government-sponsored research across a range of policy areas, including defence, foreign policy, health, education, climate, research and innovation, the science of science, and the impact of emerging technology. This includes 30 years in Europe. To learn more about RAND Europe, visit www.randeurope.org.
  2.                This written evidence was produced by Rebecca Lucas (Senior Analyst), Charlotte Kleberg (Research Assistant), and James Black (Assistant Director) in the Defence and Security Research Group at RAND Europe. It addresses the following questions from the inquiry[1]:


  1.                It is important to frame answers to the inquiry’s questions by first defining key terms, especially conscious of how contested the notion of a ‘grey zone’ is in both academic and military-doctrinal circles, and of the marked differences across Western and non-Western thinking. 
  2.                Grey zone threats occur when a hostile power exploits a mix of diplomatic, information, military and economic (DIME) levers to try to bring about desired strategic outcomes without triggering a full-blown armed response from the target state(s).[2] Here, the focus is on an aggressor proactively exploiting thresholds (for attribution or response) and seams (between institutions and jurisdictions) on the defending side. In doing so, they embrace a strategy of ambiguity and deniability, even if individual grey zone activities may range from clandestine to covert to overt. For its part, the Hybrid Centre of Excellence (COE) in Helsinki, jointly supported by NATO and the EU, discusses how activities touch upon many different domains, including legal, information, public administration, military, societal, political, economic, cyber, space and infrastructure’.[3]
  3.                In the absence of a universally agreed definition, ‘grey zone’ has often been used interchangeably with other concepts, inviting imprecision and confusion. Examples include ‘hybrid threats’[4], ‘sub-threshold operations’[5], ‘measures short of war’[6], or ‘liminal warfare.[7] The final of these terms emphasises how hostile state actors try to probe at several different limits: first, the detection threshold, at which coercive activities are first identified by the target state(s); second, the attribution threshold, at which the sponsor of those activities is first suspected, but is not yet proven or publicly exposed; and, finally, the response threshold, at which the defender takes action in retaliation and the crisis potentially escalates to full-blown conflict.[8]

Figure 1 Stretching of thresholds along the continuum of interstate competition and conflict

A close-up of a screen

Description automatically generated

Source: Black et al. (2023), adapted from US Joint Chiefs of Staff (2019).

  1.                Importantly, it should be noted that the ‘grey zone’, like ‘hybrid warfare’, is a Western framing of how the UK, US and EU/NATO perceive coercive activities by their adversaries. The term does not actually feature in – let alone drive – most Russian, Chinese, Iranian, or North Korean doctrine. Each of those actors instead applies the lens of their own cultural inheritance, language, and military concepts. Some of these ideas stretch back to the days of Bolshevism and Mao, if not long before, and help articulate the contribution that a coercive and ambiguous combination of military and non-military levers can make across the continuum of continuous competition and conflict.[9] 
  2.                Slightly modifying the definition provided in the terms of reference for this Committee inquiry, then, the grey zone can be understood as those coercive activities by a hostile state actor that ‘fall below [and seek to blur, exploit, or move] perceived thresholds for military action and [cut] across the areas of responsibility of different parts of the government [to frustrate efforts by the target state(s) to organise a coherent response]’.[10]

Question 1: How well are the UK’s Armed Forces configured to operate effectively in the grey zone for defensive and, where appropriate, offensive operations? For example, are grey zone threats adequately factored across the DLODs, such as suitable doctrine, training, and equipment?

  1.                The UK Armed Forces have unique capabilities of use against grey zone threats, primarily through supporting deterrence, understanding, attribution, and resilience; however, given the importance of non-military levers in the grey zone, Defence is still working to enhance its collaboration with partners across government (PAGs) and more widely (allies, NGOs, private sector actors, etc.) to maximise the UK’s ability to compete in the grey zone.[11] As deterrence requires clear political signalling and strategic communications, Defence’s activities must be carefully calibrated and coordinated, both to achieve their intended effects and to ensure these support wider whole-of-government efforts to secure strategic advantage.[12]
  2.                To answer this question, it is important to recognise that ‘grey zone’ and ‘conventional’ conflict are not a mutually exclusive binary, but rather exist on a spectrum. As outlined in previous paragraphs, both Western and non-Western concepts and doctrine acknowledge a continuum of conflict, even if the former camp focuses more on thresholds (reflecting the emphasis placed by democratic nations on adhering to international law and respecting associated norms of permissible behaviour, unlike revisionist actors such as Russia, China, and Iran). The figure below lays out some of the activities and levers across this spectrum.[13]

Figure 2 Examples of the spectrum of grey zone threats

A diagram of a diagram

Description automatically generated with medium confidence

Source: Mazarr (2015). Note: this is not intended as an exhaustive typology of threats and tactics.

  1.            As such, many of the Defence capabilities relevant to grey zone threats are also useful in other contexts. For example, Defence contributes to governmental awareness and understanding of such threats through use of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets and analytical functions that could also be used for targeting hostile forces in a conventional warfighting scenario; it similarly deploys a mix of ground, air, maritime, cyber/electromagnetic (EM) and space assets to deter hostile actors from grey zone operations, to reassure allies under threat from such coercive activities, and to help build the capacity of other partners to resist efforts at infiltration, manipulation, or subversion.[14] The fact that assets can serve a range of use cases both above and below the threshold of open conflict brings welcome flexibility. But it also compounds the chronic challenges of prioritising finite bandwidth and resources that face the UK as a stretched medium power with global commitments and ambitions.[15]
  2.            To this end, Defence’s concept, capability, and force development processes, as well as its approaches to management of live operations and commitments, account for a range of different scenarios when determining requirements and how best to allocate effort. These include not only worst-case, i.e., NATO Article 5-type warfighting scenarios, but also Defence’s ability to deter or defeat hostile activities in the grey zone before, during, or after any major crisis or conflict. Certain capabilities or bespoke elements of doctrine, training, etc., are consequently geared more toward operations in the grey zone than to open conflict, reflecting differing assumptions about the threat environment and the rules of engagement in place. For example, some equipment or tactics may be useful in covert, comparatively low-intensity operations but would offer limited survivability or endurance in a warfighting scenario. Certain organisational structures similarly house expertise especially relevant to the grey zone; prominent examples include 77 Brigade, with its specialism in information operations, or the new Army Special Operations Brigade, built around the Ranger Regiment, both within 6th (United Kingdom) Division.[16] Overall, though, mission-specificity in equipment or force design is more exception than norm, given the costs and risks associated with optimising for one threat rather than more general applicability. Differences between preparations for grey zone and above-threshold operations often therefore lie more in the ‘ways’ envisaged than the ‘means’ to be employed. While this flexibility has its advantages, there is a persistent risk of a gap between the MOD’s rhetoric and its concrete action on grey zone threats, given the competing demands placed on finite resources.[17]
  3.            To drive greater coherence to its prioritisation and use of finite resources for grey zone operations, Defence has in recent years embraced a persistent ‘campaigning mindset’. Conscious of the complex threats faced, the Integrated Operating Concept (IOpC) and associated recent investments and initiatives have emphasised the need for Defence to better integrate across domains, across the joint force, and with allies, partners, PAGs and industry; to enhance understanding of the strategic and operating environment, especially in the face of hostile efforts to shape narratives and the information environment through grey zone activities; to cohere and think more holistically about the political signals communicated and strategic effects generated by day-to-day activities (e.g., training, exercises, etc.); and to see all of the above as part of a continuous ‘campaign’ to compete with, influence, and deter hostile state actors below the threshold of open conflict.[18] 
  4.            Deterrence is a major focus for Defence in the grey zone. Deterrence can be achieved either by punishment or denial; the UK’s focus has historically been on the former, though this is shifting.[19] The credibility of deterrence by punishment as a strategy lies in the adversary’s perception of the UK’s will and ability to impose punitive costs if provoked. To this end, it involves taking political steps to firm up the thresholds at which point retaliatory actions will be taken in response to hostile grey zone activities, and demonstrating the practical capacity and capabilities needed to ‘punish’, whether symmetrically (e.g., through retaliatory grey zone activities) or by other means (e.g., sanctions, or escalation to armed conflict).[20] This approach has historically been Defence’s focus, particularly as it coincides with its primary mission of warfighting; the capabilities required to conduct warfighting are also often the same capabilities that could be used to ‘punish’ an adversary for behaviours in the grey zone (e.g., by deploying special forces, cyber-attacks, drones or missiles for a punitive strike on an adversary’s proxy). Much guidance and doctrine therefore exists, reinforced by the new focus on bespoke campaigns for influencing individual hostile state actors.
  5.            Since the seizure of Crimea in 2014 and other Russian provocations such as the Salisbury poisonings, Defence has stepped up efforts to reinforce the credibility of this deterrence posture against grey zone threats, seeking to solidify political thresholds and counter hostile efforts to exploit seams and delays in the consensus-based decision making of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).[21] Minilateral frameworks such as the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) have emerged as a way to lower the threshold and timelines for NATO members to respond to ambiguous grey zone threats (and thereby their ability to punish).[22] To this end, JEF exercises have also focused on grey zone scenarios; for example, the JEF HQ’s deployment to Iceland for Ex ASGARD 23 simulated possible sub-threshold threats to undersea cables.[23]
  6.            To demonstrate its capacity, as well as its will to act, Defence has also sought to bolster conventional capabilities and invest in multi-domain integration. Defence has, inter alia, increased its niche capabilities in the more novel operating domains, including through creation of the National Cyber Force and a UK Space Command; expedited the procurement of a Multi-Role Ocean Surveillance Ship (MROSS), RFA Proteus, and the rollout of automation and new technologies in response to subsea threats; invested further in its special forces and sought to free up their capacity to focus on hostile state threats by shifting certain tasks, such as capacity building of partner nations, onto conventional forces; expanded the global network of defence attachés, basing and access to support more persistent engagement; and expanded Defence’s use of data, and artificial intelligence to enhance its understanding of adversary activities, including in the information environment.[24] Such areas of UK Armed Forces capability continue to be highly relevant to the UK’s approach to grey zone activities. Like its other NATO Allies, the UK also continues to take steps to boost the readiness of conventional forces and rebuild munitions stockpiles in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, and, though its support to Ukraine, to impose punitive costs on the Kremlin for its acts of aggression.[25]
  7.            Alongside this longstanding strategy of deterrence by punishment, Defence has recently paid increasing attention to deterrence by denial when it comes to grey zone threats: that is, lowering the impact that grey zone activities have on the UK (or its allies) and thereby increasing the costs and risks that an adversary must incur to cause damage. The term ‘societal resilience’ has emerged as an umbrella term that covers many of these activities: the Defence Command Paper explicitly discusses the need for ‘developing the UK’s approach to resilience…..[to] strengthen the UK’s deterrence by denial’.[26] This is not an effort for Defence alone: the new National Resilience Strategy and UK Government Resilience Framework further set out cross-governmental approaches for enhancing collective resilience, aided also by a National Risk Register, the new National Preparedness Commission and some of the transferable lessons emerging from non-state-based risks and hazards such as the COVID-19 pandemic or climate change. While the Framework recognises that the armed forces ‘play a vital supporting role to the civil authorities in resilience’, including through provision of Military Aid to Civil Authorities (MACA), it is clear that this is in concert with, and often led by, PAGs.[27]
  8.            Defence continues to work to balance the need to support resilience in its widest sense with its narrower primary objective of warfighting. This speaks to the importance of assigning responsibilities to government departments who can do a task most effectively, rather than implicitly assuming that it falls on Defence to step in as ‘risk managers of last resort’ when hostile grey zone activities have an acute impact on UK society and its functions.[28] One area where Defence will need to continue to play an indispensable role is deterrence by punishment: this requires not only unique capabilities that only Defence possesses, but also the building and demonstration of conventional capabilities that can also be used for Defence’s primary mission set of warfighting. However, deterrence by denial requires a wide variety of different activities that may or may not be in line with Defence’s main strengths or ‘value added’.[29] To this end, the answer to Question 3 will speak more to the importance of dividing responsibilities – and resource – across government to ensure the most effective response to cross-cutting grey zone threats.

Question 2: How well does MOD work with allies and other friendly states to counter grey zone threats, and is UK Defence perceived to be a leader on the subject?

  1.            The MOD, and the UK Government more broadly, work closely with a number of countries to counter grey zone threats. This includes not only traditional allies, such as other NATO members, but also countries with which the UK shares newer bi- or multilateral partnerships, often reflecting the increasing focus on strategic competition with Russia and China in Africa and the Indo-Pacific. Due to its global activities and access to certain niche capabilities (e.g., highly respected special forces and cyber expertise, and extensive international participation in UK-led training or professional military education courses), the UK can be seen as a leader in some respects. However, other countries are also recognised for their superior experience, expertise, and capacity in specific areas, such as Total Defence approaches to bolstering resilience and mobilising society against grey zone threats.[30]
  2.            The UK has a long track record of leveraging its global network of alliances and partnerships to counter hostile activities in the grey zone, such as the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) as discussed in the response to Question 1, as well as NATO, the Five Eyes intelligence sharing arrangement, and others.[31] In addition to providing allies with UK capabilities, the UK has also been able to leverage these relationships to offset the capabilities or capacity that it lacks, enabling more efficient distribution of resource through pooling and sharing across partner nations.[32] The UK also frequently hosts or engages in multi-lateral exercises, sometimes including an explicit grey zone component.[33] Training and exercising alongside allies serves both to provide reassurance and improve interoperability, and to deliver a deterrent effect against adversaries, as per the new persistent campaigning approach.[34]
  3.            The UK also provides capacity building to countries being threatened in the grey zone. Perhaps most notably, this includes providing one of the more extensive packages of training, equipment, and other military support to Ukraine, both before and after the Russian invasion of February 2022.[35] (See answer to Question 5 below for more discussion.) The creation of the new Ranger Regiment has sought to further help free up UK capacity for overseas capacity building.[36]
  4.            Besides training initiatives and overseas deployments by UK forces, Defence also contributes to collaborative programmes aimed at sharing threat assessments and bolstering understanding of grey zone threat vectors and response options. The UK has also been an active participant in the Hybrid COE in Helsinki, contributing staff and funding, and the Multinational Capability Development Campaign (MCDC) on Hybrid Threats, as well as supporting the relevant NATO Centres of Excellence, i.e., the Strategic Communications COE in Riga, the Cooperative Cyber Defence COE in Tallinn, and the Energy Security COE in Lithuania.[37]
  5.            The UK has also played a leadership role in trying to codify responsible state behaviour and to publicly attribute and call out actions that fall short of this standard, particularly in novel domains that are often exploited for grey zone activities. In cyber/EM, for example, Defence has worked with PAGs, particularly in the intelligence community, to help shape norms around applying international law and ethical behaviour in cyberspace.[38] It has also worked to attribute cyber-attacks, a key element of being able to effectively deter such attacks.[39] The MOD has similarly supported the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)’s efforts to lead a United Nations initiative to define responsible behaviours in space and reduce state threats to space systems, as manifest in the work of the United Nations Open-Ended Working Group (UN OEWG) on this topic since February 2022.[40] More widely, the UK has demonstrated a willingness and ability to de-classify and publicise intelligence pertaining to hostile grey zone activities. This had significant impact around the Novichok poisonings by suspected Russia agents in Salisbury[41]; in the unprecedent joint public briefings by the heads of MI5 and the FBI over state threats from China[42], and in the advance warning given by the UK and U.S. of Russian intentions to stage ‘false flag’ attacks in Ukraine.[43]
  6.            As a result of these efforts, the UK is viewed as a proactive and leading player in many areas, including cyber and intelligence; however, there are other countries whose leadership roles in this area are also recognised. Countries traditionally recognised for their resilience are often those on the frontline of a clear and present threat, which can act as a cohering force across society. Within Europe, for example, the Nordic and Baltic countries are often seen as leaders in design and implementation of a ‘Total Defence’ approach: this involves the whole of government, as well as the broader population, in preparation and designated response to overt or grey zone threats. Such nations have specialist legal frameworks, civil defence and preparedness agencies, hardened physical infrastructure, stockpiles, extensive private sector involvement, and whole-of-society exercises to enable them to better resist coercion, attack, or other shocks. Outside of Europe, countries such as Israel, Singapore and South Korea are also frequently recognised for their resilience; others, including Australia, have made boosting it a priority in recent years.[44]
  7.            Overall, the UK more broadly, and Defence in particular, is a key member of a community of like-minded allies and partners who work to counter grey zone threats. The UK has demonstrated leadership in some areas, stepping up its efforts in recent years, though gaps remain between ambition and action given other competing pressures on finite resources.[45] While it is neither possible nor desirable to replicate all elements of other nations’ approaches in the UK context (e.g., given differing threat perceptions, domestic politics, and civil-military relations – resulting, for example, in a very different debate on conscription), there are nonetheless still areas where other countries can provide valuable lessons to the UK.[46]

Question 3: Responding to grey zone threats requires effective cross-departmental and inter-governmental coordination, involving private sector and other sub-state organisations. Where does responsibility lie across government for the UK’s grey zone strategy, planning and coordination activity, and how does Defence fit in?

  1.            Government policy and prior RAND research both recognise that grey zone threats require a whole-of-government approach. This is essential to share awareness and understanding of threats; enhance governmental preparedness and societal resilience; bolster the credibility of any deterrence posture (whether deterrence by punishment or denial); and counter hostile states’ efforts to exploit the thresholds and seams within UK decision making to their advantage. This entails sharing responsibility across Defence and different PAGs, with departments leading in those areas where they have the remit, expertise and policy levers. Defence brings a unique range of capabilities; however, these may often best be brought to bear through existing mechanisms such as Military Aid to Civil Authorities (MACA) requests, rather than requiring Defence to take a formal leadership role. Regardless of the mechanisms used, collaborative education, training, and planning are key in rehearsing and refining approaches, especially given differences between military command and control (C2) and civilian agencies’ ways of working.[47]
  2.            As discussed in the response to Question 1, the term ‘resilience’ has emerged as a shorthand in policymaking to discuss the need to enhance a country’s ability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from a range of threats, including grey-zone attacks. RAND research for the UK MOD, and Australian and US DODs, has outlined the different ways in which countries approach the challenge of integrating efforts across government.[48] In addition, it has identified that responses will require increased coordination ‘across multiple actors and stakeholders, including with allies, partners, other government departments and agencies, industry’ and NGOs. Examples of ‘Total Defence’ approaches from countries including Finland, Sweden, and the Baltic States are often raised as an example of best practices in this area.[49]
  3.            Coordinated whole-of-government approach and response to threats have emerged as an essential component of responding to grey zone threats, both through these international examples, as well as the UK’s own experience.[50] Because grey zone activities tend to involve a mix of DIME levers of power, it makes it difficult to assign responsibilities to specific departments or agencies; therefore it is crucial that, across governmental organisations, there are clearly delineated roles, responsibilities, and lines of communication (including at classified levels).[51] Additionally, joint planning, crisis simulations, and exercises to stress-test integration and response efforts across government and wider society are all critical. This sort of activity drives improved understanding of who is responsible in what context and exposes frictions in cooperative working or shortfalls in response options, enabling refinement not only of the response plans themselves, but also of the underlying mechanisms for C2.[52]
  4.            RAND research has shown that Defence plays a crucial role in preparing for and responding to grey zone threats.[53] A large part of Defence’s role is due to the unique capabilities it possesses, not least in the areas of sophisticated C2 networks and ISR capabilities; a global presence and capacity for power projection (including special forces, conventional forces, and associated logistics and mobility assets); the ability to operate in novel and challenging domains (cyber/EM, space, and subsea); the expertise in capacity building; and the unique legal status associated with employing personnel under terms of ‘unlimited liability’, able to use lethal force in pursuit of policy goals.[54] However, when collaborating with PAGs, it is nonetheless essential to not assume that Defence will take a leadership when other departments or private sector actors may be equally invested and at times more capable, and/or less divisive with some audiences (especially if operating in the UK, given the obvious sensitivities around civil-military relations in a democracy).[55]
  5.          Existing concepts of MACA and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) provide a strong starting point for Defence to understand its contributions to wider government efforts in combating the cross-cutting challenge of grey zone threats.[56] Defence has already demonstrated evolving thinking about its position in wider governmental efforts to counter such threats, as in the 2021 Defence Command Paper and its 2023 Refresh, or the IOpC and other joint concepts.[57] That said, there will always be an open question about whether the UK Government has gotten fully right the division of roles, responsibilities and resourcing, given the fast-changing and complex threats it faces out to 2030+.[58]
  6.          While Defence plays a crucial part in responses to grey zone threats, national security bureaucracies at all levels thus need to ensure effective cross-dependence and intergovernmental coordination.  This requires clearly identifying – and resourcing – areas of responsibility and risk ownership, which extends to civil-military defence coordination.[59] However, despite significant efforts to institute first ‘Fusion Doctrine’, then an ‘integrated approach’, and some improvements and learning, there is still a way to go. Formal development of truly integrated planning approaches is still lacking at the strategic (government) level, where in the absence of a single cross-government planning process different departmental objectives tend to result in ad-hoc approaches.[60] Additionally, there is still a lack of collaborative training, exercising and professional education at scale to ensure a common understanding and build relationships that can facilitate cooperation in the event of an grey zone attack, despite several initiatives since the Integrated Review to address this.[61]
  7.            To measure and understand coordination and cooperation, it is also important that the UK government as a whole be clear about what its goals are with regard to adversaries’ grey zone activities. There is an ongoing debate about the extent to which countries should seek to shut down grey zone activities entirely (assuming this is even possible), weighed against the costs of doing so, which may be prohibitive. Additionally, some have argued that grey zone activities act as a ‘safety valve’, enabling the West’s adversaries to seek to advance their policy objectives through activities short of war.[62] Should grey zone activities become unavailable as a potential means for furthering policy goals, adversaries might be more inclined to pursue overt means, including conventional warfare, which comes at a significant cost of its own. Departments across government therefore need to align not only on how but also when, where and why to respond to grey zone threats. This is vital to ensure not only a coherent government strategy, but also careful signalling, perception, and escalation management to shape competition dynamics with each of the UK’s adversaries.[63]
  8.            To enable an integrated approach, government as a whole needs to work to develop stronger working relations across Whitehall, as well as the integration of public and private sector efforts, playing to the strengths and expertise of the different actors.[64] Within this framework, there needs to be a clear and empowered coordinating function, a set of agreed priorities and non-military and/or military responses, as well as the necessary relationships to build long-term resilience, and mechanisms for regularly stress-testing and refining all of the above.[65] Documents such as the National Resilience Framework play a key role in beginning to address these challenges; however, there is still more to be done.[66] By viewing the range of grey zone challenges as ‘a coherent and integrated set’ to which an overall strategic concept is required to guide responses, the government will be better prepared to address future threats and opportunities as they arise.[67] 

Question 4: What challenges and opportunities do different forms of government face in the grey zone, and how specifically can liberal democracies operate there effectively?

  1.         Grey zone activity and threats are significant challenges to governments regardless of a country’s form of governance; however, their effects can vary depending on the governmental institutions and societal structures in place. For example, key areas in which liberal democracies may be uniquely vulnerable to grey zone tactics include: limited ability to compel action (from the populace, different levels of government, or businesses); reliance on popular legitimacy; and tensions regarding essential freedoms. However, liberal democracies also possess a number of advantages in confronting grey zone activities. It is necessary that democracies recognise both their strengths and weaknesses to strengthen national resilience and carry out their central role of protecting citizens and promoting the nation’s interests and values.[68]
  2.            Democratic governments rely on consensus, which hampers their ability to compel a single set of objectives and dictate actions. Democratic processes often result in disagreement, not only about how to pursue given policy objectives, but even what they should be and how they are prioritised. This frequent lack of cross-governmental coherence, and the lack of public understanding or unity, is often therefore at the centre of adversaries’ grey zone tactics, both in providing ready-made fissures for information campaigns to exploit and hampering any efforts to respond.[69] The divisions within the political class are often then reflected in the general population, which can hamper governments’ ability to mobilise citizens.[70]
  3.         Given their emphasis on open and free speech and their reliance on popular legitimacy, liberal democracies are particularly vulnerable to the threats posed by mis- and disinformation. Hostile propaganda and information operations have also fed the broader trend of ‘truth decay’ observed in democratic states, whereby popular distrust in reputable information emanating from public institutions and media has been increasing.[71] Malign influence campaigns and other adversarial efforts therefore erode societal trust in established institutions by instilling confusion and distrust in their target audiences, making them more susceptible to coercion, subversion, or false narratives.[72]
  4.         In their efforts to mitigate the impact of disinformation, democracies also face a unique tension between the importance of preserving essential freedoms and the methods needed to a need to control the spread of malign or subversive information flows. Recent RAND work on disinformation, for example, reveals that this often manifests as a government’s inability or unwillingness to control public discourse, for fear of violating core democratic tenets such as freedom of the press.[73] However, this disadvantages democracies in comparison with non-democratic counterparts who control their domestic information space to a much greater degree, blocking individual access to certain types of information and penalising dissent.[74] Democracies must instead work with and educate their populations to establish expectations around a ‘healthy’ information environment, offer guidelines for acceptable conduct, and identify misinformation.[75]
  5.            The importance of essential freedoms further results in a discomfort around democratic governments, and particularly their militaries, conducting operations in the grey zone themselves. One key example of this is information operations, where the democratisation of the information environment and increasing opportunities for civil society to gain insight into government and military conduct may undermine public acceptance of offensive grey zone activities. As one RAND report states, influence operations are often perceived as ‘morally controversial because of their potential effect on a target’s autonomy’ which in many ways is the ‘main value to be protected by law in a liberal democracy’.[76] In addition, there are often norms in many democratic countries that prevent the involvement of Defence in domestic tasks such as policing or support for addressing influence operations, even when they might be best equipped to do so.[77] Offensive cyber and military information operations are both areas which remain particularly controversial, as are the use of special forces, remote and targeted killings (e.g., by drones), and private sector contractors or other proxy groups (e.g., militia) to go on the offensive in the grey zone.[78]
  6.            However, democracies have significant advantages to draw on when considering or responding to grey zone activities: previous RAND work has identified a robust civil society, strong institutions, and a vibrant private sector as key areas of strength.[79] The combination of a robust civil society and strong governmental institutions limits the number of single points of failure that grey zone activities can target: should one area or key actor be incapacitated, others can both formally and informally take their place.[80] Additionally, the technologies that can both safeguard key areas of national interest and enable grey zone activities, such as digital infrastructure, are produced by a vibrant and entrepreneurial private sector generating scientific and technological innovation.[81] This private sector also generates a dynamism that strengthens the national ability to recover from attacks on its financial well-being, and which enables a free-market economy such as the UK to punch above its weight economically, culturally, and in terms of global soft power.[82] These and other traits offer liberal democracies unique strengths in facing adversaries’ activities in the grey zone, as well as conducting their own operations.
  7.            Democratic governments therefore have a unique set of both strengths and weaknesses with regard to the grey zone. While they face a unique challenge in carefully balancing the different options available to them to counter grey zone threats, they also have characteristics that enable greater resilience to grey zone activities. However, it is important to note that adversary grey zone tactics are often particularly tailored to target the unique weaknesses of liberal democracies; it is therefore critical to not only be aware of them but protect and strengthen those aspects of liberal democratic societies that enhance resilience to grey zone attacks. Conversely, authoritarian regimes have their own set of vulnerabilities (e.g., a lack of challenge to strategic decision making, a lack of innovation or market forces, and brittle domestic or international support) to be exploited if desired.

Question 5: Does the full-scale military invasion of Ukraine in 2022 indicate a failure of Russia over the past decade to achieve its aims through the use of grey zone activities, or simply a rebalancing of conventional and unconventional capabilities?

  1.          There is ongoing debate as to whether the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 represents a failure of Russia to achieve its objectives below the threshold of open conflict. Some argue the shift to large-scale conventional fighting in Ukraine indicates, at least in part, the Kremlin’s dissatisfaction with Russia’s ability to achieve its strategic objectives in the grey zone.[83] However, others perceive both grey zone activities and conventional operations as part of a larger ‘hybrid’ campaign, pointing to Russia’s continued use of grey zone tactics as an indication that the two are part of a unified effort. In either case, the enduring use of grey zone tactics against both Ukraine and the wider West since 2014, with an escalation since 2022, compel the UK and its allies to continue to confront Russia’s activities as part of an integrated revisionist strategy.[84]
  2.            Many experts argue that the February 2022 invasion was the intended culmination of a longer ‘unconventional campaign’ waged against Ukraine as a ‘shaping operation’.[85] It could be argued that Russia’s grey zone tactics had partial success in allowing it to invade Ukraine without triggering a full-scale military response from the West, even if Western unity behind lower-level responses, i.e., sanctions and aid to Ukraine, subsequently surprised the Kremlin. This speaks to a more holistic understanding of strategic competition that encompasses all DIME levers, and based on the presumption that conflict will often be preceded by contests playing out in the grey zone to weaken adversary capability. Russian military literature also explicitly identifies the use of conventional force as one of several components in support of their objectives, rejecting the neat Western distinctions between ‘war’ and ‘peace’ in favour of a conceptualisation of the escalating war in Ukraine as part of a wider struggle for global supremacy with the Western powers.[86]
  3.            More importantly, grey zone efforts also continue to support the Russian war effort alongside conventional methods in Ukraine, as well as working to further Russian objectives more broadly. Since February 2022, Russian tactics have included nuclear sabre-rattling, cyber-attacks, hostile information operations, alleged election interference, thinly veiled military threats against NATO and EU members, and the weaponisation of energy, food and fertiliser supplies, and migration, sparking a global economic crisis and massive spikes in the cost of living.[87] Any strategy for countering Russia must therefore encompass not only support to Ukraine’s warfighting capacity but also measures for addressing Russia’s broader campaign of coercion and subversion against Kyiv’s supporters. Here, RAND research reflects an expectation that ‘the ability to concurrently prosecute (and counter) kinetic and non-kinetic forms of warfare is expected to become the norm’.[88] In other words, the UK and its allies will likely benefit from enhancing their ability to conceptualise and coordinate conventional and grey zone activities as both being part of an integrated whole.
  4.          Despite the strong arguments for both sides of the debate, ultimately the important point is that Russia continues to use both types of tactics, therefore requiring its adversaries to do the same. While Russia has currently focused on the use of full-scale conventional military force in Ukraine, it also continues to demonstrate a heavy reliance on grey zone tactics, both in Ukraine and outside.[89] The UK and like-minded nations have no choice but to continue to combat Russia in both the grey zone, as well as preparing to deter and confront them in the more conventional (or nuclear) space. At the same time, Russia has not only suffered significant losses of military equipment and personnel on the battlefields of Ukraine, but also squandered much of what limited political capital and economic clout it had on the global stage. Some of Russia’s capabilities to prosecute grey zone activities have thus also been degraded by the Kremlin’s strategic error in underestimating and invading Ukraine; the UK and other Western powers now have an opportunity to implement measures to reduce their long-term exposure to Russian blackmail in energy markets, to Kremlin propaganda, and to other forms of subversion or coercion targeting their democratic societies.[90] 


Ajili, Hadi and Mahsa Rouhi. 2019. ‘Iran’s Military Strategy’. Survival, 61:6, 139–152. As of 3 November 2023: https://doi.org/10.1080/00396338.2019.1688575 

Attorney General’s Office. 2018. ‘Speech: Cyber and International Law in the 21st Century.’ Gov.uk, 23 May. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/cyber-and-international-law-in-the-21st-century.

Bartles, Charles. 2016. ‘Getting Gerasimov Right’. Military Review. January–February. As of 3 November 2023: https://community.apan.org/cfs-file/__key/docpreview-s/00-00-00-11-18/20151229-Bartles-_2D00_-Getting-Gerasimov-Right.pdf

Beckett, Conrad. 2021. ‘Ready to Respond: What is the JEF?’ Blog: Strategic Command, 11 May. As of 3 November 2023: https://stratcommand.blog.gov.uk/2021/05/11/ready-to-respond-what-is-the-jef/

Black, James. 2022. ‘Considering Responsible Behaviours as Part of Managing Threats to Space Systems’. Wilton Park Working Paper. 17 May. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/external_publications/EP68919.html

Black, James, Stephen J. Flanagan, Gene Germanovich, Ruth Harris, David A. Ochmanek, Marina Favaro, Katerina Galai & Emily Ryen Gloinson. 2020. Enhancing deterrence and defence on NATO's northern flank: Allied perspectives on strategic options for Norway. Santa Monica, Calif: RAND Corporation. RR-4381-NMOD. As of 25 October 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR4381.html

Black, James, Richard Flint, Ruth Harris, Katerina Galai, Pauline Paille, Fiona Quimbre, and Jessica Plumridge. 2021. Understanding the Value of Defence: Towards a Defence Value Proposition for the UK. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA529-1.html

Black, James, Alice Lynch, Kristian Gustafson, David Blagden, Pauline Paille, and Fiona Quimbre. 2022. Multi-Domain Integration in Defence: Conceptual Approaches and Lessons from Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation. RR-A528-1. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA528-1.html

Black, James, Diana Dascalu, Megan Hughes, Benedict Wilkinson, Maeve Ryan, Ahron Bregman, Peter Carlyon, Jennifer Cheung, Lawrence Freedman, Rebecca Lucas, Alessio Patalano, Patrick Porter, Fiona Quimbre, Sam Stockwell and Mann Virdee. 2023. Strategic Advantage in a Competitive Age: Definitions, Dynamics and Implications. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA1959-1.html

Blanc, Alexis A, Alyssa Demus, Sandra Kay Evans, Michelle Grise’, Mark Hvizda, Marta Keep, Natasha Lander & Krystyna Marcinek, ed. Rachel Ostrow. 2023. The Russian General Staff: Understanding the Military’s Decision-making Role in a “Besieged Fortress”. Santa Monica, Calif: RAND Corporation. RR-A1233-7. As of 25 October 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA1233-7.html

Boston, Scott and Dara Massicot. 2017. The Russian War of Warfare: A Primer. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE231.html

Bowen, Andrew. 2020. ‘Russian Armed Forces: Military Doctrine and Strategy’. Congressional Research Service, 20 August. As of 25 October 2023: https://sgp.fas.org/crs/row/IF11625.pdf

Braw, Elizabeth. 2021. ‘Countering Aggression in the Gray Zone’. PRISM, 9, 3. As of 3 November 2023: https://ndupress.ndu.edu/Media/News/News-Article-View/Article/2846403/countering-aggression-in-the-gray-zone/

British Army. 2022. ‘Action-packed first year for Ranger regiment.’ As of 3 November 2023: https://www.army.mod.uk/news-and-events/news/2022/11/ranger-regiment-one-year-on/

———. n.d. ‘6th (United Kingdom) Division’. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.army.mod.uk/who-we-are/formations-divisions-brigades/6th-united-kingdom-division/

Burke, Edmund J., Kristen Gunness, Cortez A. Cooper III, and Mark Cozad. 2020. People’s Liberation Army Operational Concepts. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation. RR-1394-1. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA394-1.html 

Cabinet Office. 2022. The UK Government Resilience Framework. Gov.uk. As of 3 November 2023: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1131163/UKG_Resilience_Framework_FINAL_v2.pdf

———. 2023. ‘Integrated Review Refresh 2023: Responding to a More Contested and Volatile World’. Gov.uk. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/integrated-review-refresh-2023-responding-to-a-more-contested-and-volatile-world

Caves, Ben, Rebecca Lucas, Livia Dewaele, Julia Muravska, Chris Wragg, Tom Spence, Zudik Hernandez, Anna Knack, and James Black. 2021. Enhancing Defence’s Contribution to Societal Resilience in the UK: Lessons from international approaches. Santa Monica, Calif: RAND Corporation. RR-A1113-1. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA1113-1.html.

Centre for Historical Analysis and Conflict Research (CHACR). 2020. ‘Threshold, Sub-Threshold… We Have Been Here Before or “New Wine in Old Bottles”’, CHACR Historical Insights Series, April. As of 3 November 2023: https://chacr.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/HAP-Briefing-Threshold-1.pdf

Cohen, Raphael. S. 2022. ‘Has the War in Ukraine Damaged Russia’s Gray Zone Capabilities?’ RAND Commentary. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/blog/2022/06/has-the-war-in-ukraine-damaged-russias-gray-zone-capabilities.html

Connable, Ben, Jason Campbell, and Dan Madden. 2016. Stretching and Exploiting Thresholds for High-Order War: How Russia, China and Iran are Eroding American Influence Using Time-Tested Measures Short of War. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1003.html

Defence Committee. 2023. ‘Inquiry: Defence in the Grey Zone’. Parliament.uk. As of 3 November 2023: https://committees.parliament.uk/work/7937/defence-in-the-grey-zone/

Dewaele, Livia and Rebecca Lucas. 2022. ‘Policymaking to Support Resilience in Democratic Countries- An Examination of Sweden, Israel, and Australia. European Journal of Futures Research, 10(13). As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/external_publications/EP69076.html

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. 2018. ‘Evidence of Russia’s Involvement in Salisbury Attack’. Gov.uk. 6 September. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/you-dont-recruit-an-arsonist-to-put-out-a-fire-you-especially-dont-do-that-when-the-fire-is-one-they-caused

Giannopoulos, Georgios, Hanna Smith, and Marianthi Theocharidou. 2021. ‘The Landscape of Hybrid Threats: A Conceptual Model’. European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.hybridcoe.fi/publications/the-landscape-of-hybrid-threats-a-conceptual-model/

Hellman, Maria, and Charlotte Wagnsson. 2017. ‘How can European states respond to Russian information warfare? An analytical framework’. European Security, 26(2). As of 3 November 2023: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09662839.2017.1294162

HM Government. 2020. ‘Press release: UK push for landmark UN resolution to agree responsible behaviour in space.’ Gov.uk, 26 August. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-push-for-landmark-un-resolution-to-agree-responsible-behaviour-in-space

———. 2022. UK Defence Doctrine (JDP 0-01). Ministry of Defence. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-defence-doctrine-jdp-0-01

Hoffman, Frank. 2007. Conflict in the 21st Century: The Rise of Hybrid War. Arlington, VA: Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.

Hybrid Centre of Excellence. N.d. ‘About Us’. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.hybridcoe.fi/about-us/

Kaushal, Sidharth. 2022. ‘All Strategies Short of War: Getting the Most Out of the Grey Zone’. Modern War Institute. 28 February. As of 3 November 2023: https://mwi.westpoint.edu/all-strategies-short-of-war-getting-the-most-out-of-the-gray-zone/

Kelly, Terrence, Quentin Hodgson, and Sarah Lovell. 2023. How Will Technology Shape, and be Shaped BY, Policy Choices in the Coming Decades? A Research Agenda from the Technology Futures Policy Summit. Santa Monica, Calif: RAND Corporation. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/conf_proceedings/CFA2224-1.html

Kersanskas, Vytautas. 2020. Deterrence: Proposing a more strategic approach to countering hybrid threats. Hybrid CoE Paper 2, European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, March. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.hybridcoe.fi/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Deterrence_public.pdf 

Kilcullen, David. 2020. The Dragons and the Snakes: How the rest learned to fight the west. London: C. Hurst & Co Publishers Limited.

Kofman, Michael, Katya Migacheva, Brian Nichiporuk, Andrew Radin, Olesya Tkacheva, and Jenny Oberholtzer. 2017. Lessons from Russia’s Operations in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1498.html

Kong, Weilong, and Tim Marler. 2022. ‘Ukraine’s Lessons for the Future of Hybrid Warfare.’ The RAND Blog. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/blog/2022/11/ukraines-lessons-for-the-future-of-hybrid-warfare.html.

Larson, Eric, Richard Darilek, Daniel Gibran, Brian Nichiporuk, Amy Richardson, Lowell Schwartz, and Cathryn Quantic Thurston. 2009. Foundations of Effective Influence Operations- A Framework for Enhancing Army Capabilities. Santa Monica, Calif: RAND Corporation. MG-654-A. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG654.html

Le Gargasson, Clara and James Black. 2023. ‘Reflecting on One Year of War: The Role of Non-Military Levers.’ Center for Maritime Strategy, 23 February. As of 3 November 2023: https://centerformaritimestrategy.org/publications/reflecting-on-one-year-of-war-the-role-of-non-military-levers/

Lin, Bonny, Cristina Garafola, Bruce McClintock, Jonah Blank, Jeffrey Hornung, Karen Schwindt, Jennifer Moroney, Paul Orner, Dennis Boorman, Sarah Denton, and Jason Chambers. 2022. A New Framework for Understanding and Countering China’s Gray Zone Tactics. Santa Monica, Calif: RAND Corporation. RB-A594-1. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RBA594-1.html

Lucas, Rebecca. 2023. ‘It’s Time to Take Societal Resilience Seriously’. The RAND Blog. 15 September. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/commentary/2023/09/its-time-to-take-societal-resilience-seriously.html

Matthews, Miriam, Alyssa Demus, Elina Treyger, Marek Posard, Hilary Reininger, and Christopher Paul. 2021. Understanding and Defending Against Russia’s Malign and Subversive Information Efforts in Europe. Santa Monica, Calif: RAND Corporation. RR-3160-EUCOM. As of 25 October 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR3160.html

Mazarr, Michael J. 2015. ‘Mastering the Gray Zone: Understanding a Changing Era of Conflict.’ US Army War College Press. As of 3 November 2023: https://press.armywarcollege.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1427&context=monographs

———. 2022. The Societal Foundation of National Competitiveness. Santa Monica, Calif: RAND Corporation. RR-A499-1. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA499-1.html

Mazarr, Michael, Jonah Blank, Samuel Charap, Benjamin Harris, Timothy Heath, Niklas Helwig, Jeffrey Hornung, Lyle Morris, Ashley Rhoades, Ariane Tabatabai, and Sean Zeigler. 2022. Understanding the Emerging Era of International Competition Through the Eyes of Others. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2726z1.html

MCDC. 2017. ‘MCDC Countering Hybrid Warfare Project: Understanding Hybrid Warfare.’ Multinational Capability Development Campaign, January. As of 3 November 2023: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5a8228a540f0b62305b92caa/dar_mcdc_hybrid_warfare.pdf

———. 2019. ‘Deterrence by Punishment as a way of Countering Hybrid Threats.’ Multinational Capability Development Campaign, March. As of 3 November 2023: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5c7d01abe5274a3b858207fc/20190304-MCDC_CHW_Information_note_-_Deterrence_by_Punishment.pdf

McInnis, J. Matthew. 2017. ‘Iranian Concepts of Warfare: Understanding Teheran’s Evolving Military Doctrines’. American Enterprise Institute. February. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.aei.org/research-products/report/iranian-concepts-of-warfare-understandingtehrans-evolving-military-doctrines/

Mills, Claire. ‘Research Briefing: Military assistance to Ukraine since the Russian invasion.’ House of Commons Library, 4 October. As of 3 November: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-9477/

Ministry of Defence. 2017. ‘Multinational Capability Development Campaign (MCDC).’ Gov.uk.  As of 3 November 2023: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/multinational-capability-development-campaign-mcdc

———. 2020. ‘Integrated Operating Concept’. Gov.uk. As of 3 November 2023:

———. 2021. Defence Command Paper 2021: Defence in a Competitive Age. Gov.uk. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/defence-in-a-competitive-age

———. 2023. Defence Command Paper Refresh 2023: Defence’s Response to a More Contested and Volatile World. Gov.uk. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/defence-command-paper-2023-defences-response-to-a-more-contested-and-volatile-world

Ministry of Defence and UK Strategic Command. 2023. ‘Joint Expeditionary Force Completes Landmark Deployment from UK to Iceland’. Gov.uk. 30 June. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/joint-expeditionary-force-completes-landmark-deployment-from-uk-to-iceland

Ministry of Defence, UK Strategic Command, and General Sir Jim Hockenhull. 2022. ‘How Open-Source Intelligence has Shaped the Russia-Ukraine War’. Gov.uk. 9 December. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/how-open-source-intelligence-has-shaped-the-russia-ukraine-war

Monaghan, Sean. 2021. ‘The Joint Expeditionary Force: Towards a Stronger and More Capable European Defence?’ Center for Strategic and International Studies Commentary, 12 October. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.csis.org/analysis/joint-expeditionary-force-toward-stronger-and-more-capable-european-defense

Morris, Lyle J., Mike Mazarr, Jeffrey Hornung, Stephanie Pezard, Anika Binnendijk, and Marta Kepe. 2019. Gaining Competitive Advantage in the Gray Zone Response Options for Coercive Aggression Below the Threshold of Major War. Santa Monica, Calif: RAND Corporation. . RR-2942-OSD. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2942.html

National Cyber Force. 2023. ‘Guidance: Responsible Cyber Power in Practice.’ Gov.uk, 4 April. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/responsible-cyber-power-in-practice/responsible-cyber-power-in-practice-html

NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence. N.d. ‘About Us’. As of 3 November 2023: https://ccdcoe.org/about-us/

NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence. N.d. ‘About Us’. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.enseccoe.org/en/about/6

NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence. N.d. ‘About Us’. As of 3 November 2023: https://stratcomcoe.org/about_us/steering-committee/7

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). 2022. ‘Readiness Action Plan’. 1 September. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_119353.htm

———. 2023. ‘Countering Hybrid Threats’. 18 August. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_156338.htm

Nicholson, Joanne, Peter Dortmans, Marigold Black, Marta Kepe, Sarah Grand-Clement, Erik Silfversten, James Black, Theodora Ogden, Livia Dewaele, and Pau Alonso Garcia-Bode. 2021. Defence Mobilisation Planning Comparative Study: An Examination of Overseas Planning. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA1179-1.html

Nicholson, Joanne, Mike Brennan, Peter Dortmans, Roger Lough, Jade Yeung, Scott Savitz, Brendan Toland, Victoria Smith, Isabelle Winston, Luke Huxtable, Rebecca Lucas, Theodora Ogden, Livia Dewaele, James Black, and Benedict Wilkinson. 2022. Supporting a Royal Australian Navy Modelling and Simulation Strategy- A Strategy-to-Task Framework. Santa Monica, Calif: RAND Corporation. RR-A1849-1. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA1849-1.html

Paul, Christopher. 2016. ‘Enhancing US Efforts to Inform, Influence, and Persuade’. The US Army War College Quarterly: Parameters. As of 3 November 2023: https://press.armywarcollege.edu/parameters/vol46/iss3/10/

Paul, Christopher, and Miriam Matthews. 2016. The Russian “Firehose of falsehood” Propaganda Model: Why it Might Work and Options to Counter It. Santa Monica, Calif: RAND Corporation. PE-198-OSD. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE198.html

Paul, Christopher, Colin P. Clarke, Michael Schwille, Jakub P. Hlavka, Michael A. Brown, Steven S. Davenport, Isaac R. Porsche III and Joel Harding. 2018. Lessons from Others for Future US Army Operations in and through the Information Environment: Case Studies. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation. RR-1925/2-A. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1925z2.html 

Paul, Christopher, William Marcellino, Michael Skerker, Jeremy Davis and Bradley Strawser. 2023. Planning Ethical Influence Operations- A Framework for Defense Information Professionals. Santa Monica, Calif: RAND Corporation. RR-A1969-1. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA1969-1.html

Paul, Christopher, Michael Schwille, Michael Vasseur, Elizabeth Bartels, and Ryan Bauer. 2022. The Role of Information in U.S. Concepts for Strategic Competition. Santa Monica, Calif: RAND Corporation. RR-A1256-1. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA1256-1.html

Pettyjohn, Stacie, and Becca Wasser. 2019. Competing in the Gray Zone- Russian Tactics and Western Responses. Santa Monica, Calif: RAND Corporation. RR-2791-A. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2791.html

RAND Corporation. ‘Countering Truth Decay- A RAND Initiative to Restore the Role of Facts and Analysis in Public Life’. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/research/projects/truth-decay.html

Rauta, Vladimir, and Sean Monaghan. 2021. ‘Global Britain in the Grey Zone: Between Stagecraft and Statecraft’, Contemporary Security Policy, 42, 4. As of 3 November 2023: https://doi.org/10.1080/13523260.2021.1980984

Retter, Lucia, Anna Knack, Zudik Hernandez, Ruth Harris, Ben Caves, Martin Robson, and Neil Adger. 2021. Crisis Response in a Changing Climate: Implications of Climate Change for UK Defence Logistics in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) and Military Aid to the Civil Authorities (MACA) Operations. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation. RR-A1024-1. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA1024-1.html

Reynolds, Nick. 2020. ‘Performing Information Manoeuvre Through Persistent Engagement’. RUSI. As of 3 November 2023: https://static.rusi.org/20200611_reynolds_final_web.pdf

Royal Navy. N.d. Exercise Joint Warrior.’ As of 3 November 2023: https://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/operations/united-kingdom/exercise-joint-warrior

Schwartz, Felicia, and Demetri Sevastopulo. 2022. ‘“A Real Stroke of Genius”: US Leads Efforts to Publicise Ukraine Intelligence’. Financial Times, 6 April. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.ft.com/content/9b3bc8c0-d511-4eec-9cbd-5a4f432f6909

Security Service (MI5). 2022. ‘Joint Address by MI5 and FBI Heads’. 6 July. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.mi5.gov.uk/news/speech-by-mi5-and-fbi

Tasic, Mirko. 2019. ‘Exploring North Korea’s Asymmetric Military Strategy’. Naval War College Review, 72:4, 53–72. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/26775519

United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. 2022. ‘Open-Ended Working Group on Reducing Space Threats’. As of 3 November 2023: https://meetings.unoda.org/open-ended-working-group-on-reducing-space-threats-2022 o

US Joint Chiefs of Staff. 2019. ‘Competition Continuum’. Joint Doctrine Note 1-19. As of 3 Novemebr 2023: https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/jdn_jg/jdn1_19.pdf

van der Meulen, Nicole, Eun A Jo, and Stefan Soesanto. 2015. Cybersecurity in the European Union and Beyond: Exploring the Threats and Policy Responses. European Parliament. As of 3 November 2023https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1354.html

Watling, Jack, Oleksandr Danylyuk, and Nick Reynolds. 2023. ‘Preliminary Lessons from Russia’s Unconventional Operations During the Russo-Ukrainian War, February 2022-February 2023.’ RUSI. As of 3 November 2023: https://rusi.org/explore-our-research/publications/special-resources/preliminary-lessons-russias-unconventional-operations-during-russo-ukrainian-war-february-2022

Watts, Stephen, Bryan Frederick, Nathan Chandler, Mark Toukan, Christian Curriden, Erik Mueller, Edward Geist, Ariane Tabatabai, Sara Plana, Brandon Corbin, and Jeffrey Martini. 2023. Proxy Warfare in Strategic Competition: Military Implications. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA307-3.html

Williams, Heather, and Caitlin McCulloch. 2023. ‘Truth Decay and National Security.’ The RAND Blog. As of 26 October 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/commentary/2023/08/truth-decay-and-national-security.html

Wolford, Zsofia, Bryden Spurling, and James Black. 2023. ‘Written Evidence Submitted by RAND Europe: SSTG0016 Prepared for the House of Commons Liaison Sub-Committee on Scrutiny of Strategic Thinking in Government’. As of 3 November 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/external_publications/EP70274.html




7th November 2023



[1] Defence Committee (2023).

[2] Le Gargasson & Black (2023).

[3] Giannopoulos, et al. (2021)

[4] MCDC (2017); MCDC (2019).

[5] CHACR (2020).

[6] Connable, et al. (2016).

[7] Kilcullen (2020).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Hoffman (2007); Bartles (2016); Boston & Massicot (2017); McInnis (2017); Paul et al. (2018); Ajili & Rouhi (2019); Tasic (2019); Burke, et al. (2020); Black, Lynch, et al. (2022); Mazarr, Blank, et al. (2022).

[10] Defence Committee (2023).

[11] The challenges of coordinating cross-government activities with regard to grey zone activities are discussed at greater length in the response to Question 3.

[12] Kersanskas (2020).

[13] Mazarr (2015); Black, et al. (2022).

[14] Ministry of Defence (2023).

[15] Wolford, et al. (2023).

[16] British Army (n.d.).

[17] Rauta & Monaghan (2021).

[18] Ministry of Defence (2020).

[19] MCDC (2019); Ministry of Defence (2023). Note: the traditional focus on deterrence by punishment has applied to nuclear and conventional military threats as well, not merely grey zone ones.

[20] MCDC (2019).

[21] Rauta & Monaghan (2021).

[22] Beckett (2021); Monaghan (2021).

[23] Ministry of Defence and UK Strategic Command (2023).

[24] Ministry of Defence (2020), (2021), (2023); National Cyber Force (2023).

[25] North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (2022).

[26] Ministry of Defence (2023); Cf. Caves, et al. (2022).

[27] Cabinet Office (2022). For more information about Defence’s role in societal resilience, see Caves et al. (2022).

[28] For more on the need to assign responsibilities to different government departments, see Question 3.

[29] Black et al. (2021).

[30] Nicholson et al. (2021); Caves et al. (2022).

[31] Black et al. (2020); Mueller et al. (2015).

[32] Mueller (2015).

[33] Royal Navy (n.d.).

[34] Beckett (2021); Monaghan (2021).

[35] Mills (2023

[36] British Army (2022)

[37] Ministry of Defence (2017); Rauta & Monaghan (2021); NATO (2023); Hybrid COE (n.d.); NATO StratCom COE (n.d.); NATO CCD COE (n.d.); NATO Energy Security COE (n.d.).

[38] Attorney General’s Office (2018).

[39] National Cyber Force (2023).

[40] HM Government (2020); Black (2022); UNODA (2022).

[41] FCDO (2018).

[42] The Security Service (MI5) (2022).

[43] Ministry of Defence, Strategic Command & General Sir Jim Hockenhull (2022); Schwartz & Sevastopulo (2022).

[44] Nicholson et al. (2021); Caves et al. (2022).

[45] Rauta & Monaghan (2021).

[46] Caves et al. (2022); Lucas (2023).

[47] To this end, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) within the MOD asked RAND Europe to help produce guidance for integrated working by UK Armed Forces personnel in cross-governmental settings. Cf. Lovelock et al. (2023).

[48] Caves et al. (2022); Nicholson et al. (2022).

[49] For more case studies of different approaches to societal resilience, see Caves et al. (2022).

[50] Pettyjohn & Wasser (2019).

[51] Black et al. (2020).

[52] Braw (2021).

[53] Caves et al. (2022).

[54] Pettyjohn & Wasser (2019); Caves et al. (2022).

[55] Caves et al. (2022).

[56] Retter et al. (2021).

[57] Ministry of Defence (2020); Ministry of Defence (2021); Ministry of Defence (2023).

[58] As an example, the UK Armed Forces are under increasing pressure not only to step up efforts to counter grey zone threats at home and abroad. They also face a simultaneous need to rearm and prepare for potential peer-to-peer warfighting (e.g., if Russia’s war in Ukraine were to spill over into a broader NATO Article 5 scenario, if China were to invade Taiwan, or if the brewing Israel-Palestine conflict were lead to a wider Middle Eastern confrontation); to invest in planning and capabilities needed to secure the UK Homeland and Overseas Territories against mounting threats of direct attack (e.g., by missiles, drones, cyber etc.); and to handle a growing frequency and intensity of MACA or HADR tasks such as responding to pandemics, strikes, terrorism, extreme weather, and climate change. In this context, it may make sense to identify some tasks that could be reassigned to a civilian agency – whether new or existing – to relieve pressure on military budgets and operations. Conversely, there are areas of policy where other government departments hold formal responsibility but lack the military’s levers to ensure delivery of HMG’s goals (one example being the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology’s lead on securing subsea telecommunications cables and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero’s lead on securing subsea energy cables, even though most of the specialist capabilities – and thus costs – lie with the Navy). Arguably, then, Defence is currently required – whether implicitly or explicitly – to underwrite risk for many other parts of government but lacks the formal lead and thus the mandate or funding needed to execute all tasks to the desired level.

[59] Morris et al. (2019).

[60] Caves (2021).

[61] For example, improved provision of training and education in statecraft through the College for National Security, an IR2021 commitment, or establishment of a new open-source intelligence hub for government, supporting the sharing of information and insights and the work of the National Situation Centre. Cf. Cabinet Office (2023).

[62] Mazarr (2015).

[63] Kaushal (2022); Black et al. (2023).

[64] Pettyjohn & Wasser (2019); Dewaele & Lucas (2022).

[65] Morris et al. (2019)

[66] HMG (2022).

[67] Morris et al. (2019).

[68] Dewaele & Lucas (2022).

[69] Cohen et al. (2020).

[70] Paul (2016).

[71] Williams & McCulloch (2023).

[72] Cohen et al. (2020).

[73] Hellman & Wagnsson (2017); Cohen, et al. (2020).

[74] Kelly et al. (2023).

[75] Paul et al. (2023).

[76] Paul et al. (2023).

[77] Caves et al. (2021).

[78] Reynolds (2020)

[79] Mazarr (2022).

[80] Caves, et al. (2021).

[81] Black et al. (2023).

[82] Mazarr (2022).

[83] Cohen (2022); Watts et al. (2023).

[84] Kofman et al. (2017).

[85] Watling et al. (2023).

[86] Bowen (2020).

[87] Le Gargasson & Black (2023).

[88] Nicholson, et al. (2022).

[89] Kong & Marler (2022).

[90] Cohen (2022); Le Gargasson & Black (2023).