Author Biography

Major Jahara W. Matisek is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Political Science Department at Northwestern University, and will teach in the Military & Strategic Studies department at the United States Air Force Academy upon completion of his doctoral program. A version of this "Grey Deterrence" paper won the U.S. Strategic Command 2016 General Larry D. Welch Deterrence Writing Award.



Subject Area Keywords

Asymmetric warfare, Civil war and internal conflict, Foreign policy, Military affairs, Security studies, Small wars and insurgencies


This article addresses the concept of ‘gray wars’ as it relates to contemporary conflicts and the limits of American conventional deterrence and compellence. It more clearly defines the concept of gray wars for the current era and contrasts Cold War versus post-Cold War gray zone conflicts exposing the limits of current approaches. Finally, the article advocates for a new concept – “gray deterrence” – identifying strategies that can be used by the United States to confront ‘gray’ actors in a way that adheres to international laws and norms, but seeks to shape and influence the cost-benefit analysis of ‘gray’ actor behavior.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Air Force, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.


I would like to thank Ian Hurd and Will Reno for mentoring me on this paper, and for the extensive feedback they provided me. I am also indebted to the Military and Strategic Studies department at the U.S. Air Force Academy for sponsoring my doctoral studies.