Grey zone statecraft: Dynamics of 21st century liberal and authoritarian states

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André Ken Jakobsson


University of Copenhagen


DKK 1,459,000




Reintegration Fellowships


The project studies how liberal and authoritarian states engage in conflictual statecraft below the threshold of conventional war. This dynamic is defining for 21st century world order as great power rivalry is increasing between these two state types. In contemporary international politics, they engage in grey zone statecraft that lies below actual war in intensity of conflict, yet above peaceful state relations. Hostile cyber and influence measures are essential in this. The project will analyze how, why and to which degree state type determines the ability to engage in grey zone conflict. The project is thus driven by the puzzle of offensive and defensive measures and countermeasures, and how this defines the competition between the main major powers America, Russia, and China.


The liberal world order based on sovereign states, international law and free global trade is at risk of being undermined by grey zone conflict and methods of hybrid war. The Russian annexation of Crimea and the Gerasimov-doctrine taken together with the Chinese island building in the South China Sea and its global Belt and Road trade initiative is challenging the established order. It is thus imperative for liberal democratic states to understand this new and evolving way of conflict, for as general Joseph Dunford, chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in 2017: "We're already behind in adapting to the changed character of war today in so many ways". Gaining ability to compete in the grey zone of ambiguities and covert hostile action is to safeguard free societies.


The project will refine and develop the grey zone concept by studying official national strategic and doctrine documents, as well as grey zone practices and techniques as recorded in open source intelligence reports. Analyzing the three main grey zone competitors, America, Russia and China, through a comparative case study will result in policy relevant advice on how both measures and countermeasures of the grey zone can benefit the Western liberal state in the pursuit of a stable world order. This includes conducting a historical sociological analysis of the American, Russian and Chinese states based on comparisons of political systems and empirical developments of interstate relations to assess their grey zone capabilities and vulnerabilities.

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