'Grey zone warfare' emerged as a key strategic global challenges in 2014. Russian operations in Ukraine, which were not part of any declared or easily recognisable form of warfare, confounded academics, pundits, politicians and Western armed forces. This and other conflicts in the 'grey zone' somewhere between war and peace were then described by a host of 'proto-concepts': 'new wars', low-intensity conflicts, operations other than war, fourth-generation warfare, hybrid warfare, and, indeed, 'grey zone warfare', whose one common denominator was that warfare had changed. Gone were the days of 'modern warfare', the domain of uniformed men fighting pitched battles to achieve decisive victories. Replacing them was 'post-modern' fluidity and diffusion, an erosion of traditional distinctions between war and peace, protracted struggles for 'hearts and minds', an almost limitless spectrum of violence, and a large toolbox ranging from proxy militias to cyber warfare with the wide-ranging objective of destabilising adversaries.
This project, however, is founded on the notion that history is rife with conflicts that have more in common with 'Ukraine' - or, indeed, 'Afghanistan' - than with the supposed norm of 19th and 20th-century regular, i.e. European, warfare. Our network innovates by positing that grey zone warfare is the most suitable analytical term to capture the key element connecting both 'post-modern' and other forms of conflict outside the Eurocentric 19th and 20th-century norm: organised violence existing between the states of declared interstate war and peace. A global, longue durée historical approach allows us to include in our analyses of grey zone warfare a diverse range of cases, ranging from sieges in medieval Europe to the Sino-Japanese proxy war over Korea in the 19th century.
Yet, grey zone warfare is an essentially contested concept, lacking clearly defined parameters. We thus aim to provide conceptual clarity by studying various forms of warfare that do not fit the European norm of state-based conflict, and to create a typology of 'grey zone warfare'. In drawing on representative historical case studies, we will identify their underlying dimensions, create and discuss categories for classification, measure and sort them, map variations, and, ultimately, provide important conceptual building blocs.
Global in scope and collaborative in nature, this project will create a network of scholars from a variety of disciplines - ranging from History to IR to Security Studies - to collaborate, compare and contrast different cases in order to jointly create a typology of grey zone warfare. The results will then be analysed and assessed in comparison to current relevant military strategies and doctrines, with the aim of critiquing and/or adding to those based on relevant historical examples. This will add important new ideas and data to both current scholarly approaches to grey zone warfare, the curricula of military academies, doctrinal manuals, policy on both the tactical, operational and strategic levels, and increase public understanding of the complexities of the grey zone phenomenon.
In order to accomplish these aims, we will organise two workshops, a round-table and a briefing session. The first workshop focuses on developing a typology of grey zone warfare on the basis of historical case studies. During the second workshop academics and practitioners will together test the historically informed typology against contemporary case studies. During the round-table we will test and promote the applicability of the typology of grey zone warfare and case studies for current and future military strategies, doctrines, and operations, as well as foreign and defence policy more generally. Finally, we will organise an online briefing session, aimed at a wide audience of journalists, NGO representatives, and other interested parties, to present our findings and discuss their relevance and implications.