Fighting in the Gray Zone: A Strategy to Close the Preemption Gap

  • September 01, 2004
  • CMDR Joanne M Fish, LTC Samuel F McCraw, COL Christopher J Reddish

The 2002 National Security Strategy (NSS) identified the proliferation, privatization, and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by terrorist groups and rogue states as the critical nontraditional threat of the 21st century. We argue preemption is ill-suited for disrupting the converged threat of terrorists and rogue states pursuing WMD. We propose that a forcible counterproliferation (FCP) strategy is most effective for fighting in the "gray zone." Three questions are examined: 1) How has the threat environment changed since the end of the Cold War?2) If there is a new threat environment, what is the appropriate military strategy for that threat? and 3) How can the United States justify a new strategy to domestic critics and gain international support? We posit the gray zone as the hazy area on the conceptual threat continuum between classically defined imminent threat and our convergent threat. Available military strategies do not address this zone very well. To determine the most effective military strategy for using force in the gray zone, four strategies are evaluated: self-defense, preemption, prevention, and forcible counterproliferation. We conclude that FCP, unlike prevention, potentially initiates action against a converged threat early enough to provide an acceptable likelihood of success, while allowing other instruments of power sufficient opportunity to defuse the situation. Success of FCP pivots on the administration's ability to affect four critical requirements: 1) garner international and domestic support for the strategy, 2) change international norms to allow force against converged threats, 3) adopt three sets of trigger points to ascertain when a nation has abrogated its sovereignty, thereby broaching the possibility of applying force under an FCP strategy, and 4) achieve international consensus regarding the criteria for abrogated sovereignty which would then legitimize military intervention against uncooperative states. Recommendations offered are: 1) the National Security Council must update the NSS by including the concept of converged threat and the strategy of FCP; 2) the administration should build international and domestic receptivity to FCP; and 3) the Department of Defense should resource the strategy of forcible counterproliferation through a variety of programs, explained in detail in the paper, which both support and challenge the assumptions of Transformation.