While the U.S. has been battling terrorists, a new “generation” of gray zone warfare has been manifesting in all the shades between technical peace and the declaration of war between states. In this hybrid battlespace (cyber, political, social or otherwise), the state operates in the shadows and embraces strategic influence to gain leverage against another state. Non-state actors (e.g. terrorists) find room to play on this field as well. U.S. Special Operations Command is adjusting accordingly in what may prove to be yet another melding of U.S. intelligence and military prowess.
In a recent article for The Washington Times, Carlo Munoz noted the major strategic shift in our nation’s defense from an asymmetric state vs. non-state actor “War on Terror” back to the more traditional (post-Westphalian at least) war between states. At the operational and tactical levels, however, it is looking a lot different this time around, no matter if Russia wants to lambast the Trump administration’s dismissal of the INF. Namely, U.S. Special Operations Command is drafting new guidance in fighting “near-peer” powers like China and Russia. Much of the new direction has to do with Special Operations Forces embracing Cold War-reminiscent unconventional warfare (such as information and influence ops).
Specifically, this effort seems to not only adapt to the Gerasimov Doctrine (verdict is still out on whether real or not) but combine it with the insight of special operations’ unconventional warfare bona fides honed in the past two (and more) decades. Though in stark contrast to Cold War psy-ops (“a 45-year-long Gray Zone struggle”) where such strategic influence operations were the specialty of the U.S. Public Information Agency and the intelligence community, influence and force will wear the same uniform. And U.S. Special Operations Forces are poised to operate on an entirely different (and more lethal) level than Putin’s “little green men” or aspiring Islamic States.