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Future Land Warfare Collection 2021: A Grey Zone - or Just Irregular Warfare?

A Convergence in Strategic Approach

The 2020 Defence Strategic Update normalised ‘grey-zone activities’ in the lexicon, introducing them as a strategic driver shaping Australia’s strategic environment[1] and noting that Defence will expand its capability to respond to such threats.[2] This task will prove difficult without a clear understanding of what is meant by the term ‘grey zone’.

To address that question, I will start with an unusual analytic perspective. Professor Theo Farrell argued that Western militaries confronting insurgency in Afghanistan encountered Taliban military adaptation, interaction and integration that could be best understood through the business process re-engineering model of ‘organisational convergence’.[3] Farrell claimed that ‘competition and normative pressures leads over time to convergence within particular business and policy sectors, as optimal ways of organising and operating are learned and emulated’.[4]

I contend that a similar dynamic is becoming evident within what is currently described as the ‘grey zone’. It appears that a singular strategic model is emergent[5] and that, furthermore, this follows a well-trodden path of irregular warfare theory. Within this essay, I will chart a hundred years of strategic competition, demonstrating that different adversaries of the West engaged, observed, learned and adapted and, over time, arrived at a similar strategic model. This convergence underpins what we can discern in ‘grey-zone’ activities as an element of competition.

The approach that adversaries evolved, and successfully applied, contrasts starkly with the sequential, apolitical, firepower-focused and impatient American way of war.[6] The opponent’s method was, as we shall see, cumulative—that is, each phase builds upon the previous actions. This model is most neatly encapsulated by Mao Zedong’s theory of revolutionary war. This is a three-phased operational concept. Phase 1 is ‘organisation, consolidation, and preservation’; Phase 2 is progressive expansion; and Phase 3 is decision, or destruction of the enemy’.[7] Understanding historical convergence around a common model and applying it to contemporary challenges offers a basis for new thinking about the challenges facing today’s military strategists and joint force commanders. 

The Russian Revolution and Its Aftermath

In one of Lenin’s papers, Partisanskaya Voina (Partisan Warfare), published on 13 October 1906 in his newspaper Proletari,[8] insights into preceding ‘armed struggle’ activities are described in the context of weakening the state. ‘Armed struggle’ was differentiated from ‘armed uprising’. The former phase involved assassinations of ‘high officials and lower-ranking members of the police and army’, and ‘expropriations’ that sourced money for the purposes of the latter phase: uprising. In September 1906, the Moscow Bolshevik Party Committee issued a resolution in favour of partisan war ‘to liquidate the most active representatives of the government and to seize money and arms’.

Lenin evolved this doctrine into two key contributions to Marxist theories of revolutionary war against capitalism. The first was to conceive a ‘vanguard party’, composed of intellectual elites, which would set the conditions for and lead the revolution. When the Russian Revolution occurred in 1917, the Communists duly took the van, ruthlessly seized the existing power centres in the cities and then prevailed in the resultant civil war.

The second contribution was the notion of a ‘popular front’—a pragmatic coalition with other opponents of the capitalist regime. A popular front was about alliances and co-opting interests: ‘integrating “little wars” of the partisans with “big wars” of the regulars’.[9] The organisation created to fight capitalism worldwide, the Communist International (Comintern), operated as a ‘long arm’ of the Kremlin. Initially its focus was defensive as it infiltrated the White Russian émigré circles of Europe to discredit, disinform and disrupt remaining resistance to Bolshevik rule. Before long, however, the Comintern became an offensive foreign policy tool, in which the establishment of Community Party cells became a source of leverage:

In countries possessing few Russian speakers, they would encourage a revolt of the working classes and generate dissension within the ruling government. In countries containing significant Russian-speaking or multi-ethnic populations, they would foster a ‘fifth column’ to operate in support of Russia’s interests within the society. They actively exploited the gap between what the capitalist societies called ‘war’ and what they called ‘peace’.[10]

Crucially, calculation was the byword of the popular front strategy. While the ultimate aim was worldwide revolution, they would not foment it prematurely or risk provoking effective counter-revolutionary actions. Significantly, during the Spanish Civil War the Soviet Communists infiltrated Spanish Loyalist elements to effect control over the anti-Fascist armed forces.[11] Throughout the Cold War, such support was likewise carefully maintained at a low level that would support intelligence operations and enable ‘active measures’ of propaganda—while in contrast it was ramped up in the Third World.

German Blitzkrieg and the Birth of the British ‘Detonator’ Concept

German operational art had evolved during the interwar period, responding to the constraints imposed by the Treaty of Versailles and embracing unconventional approaches. During the Spanish Civil War assault on Madrid by four army columns, the concept of ‘fifth columnists’, working within the city, entered the military vernacular. The idea of such psychological disruption by unconventional forces was seemingly well incorporated into German operational concepts and was refined during military exercises with the Soviets over the 1930s. William Donovan, head of America’s Office of Strategic Services (OSS), quoted Hitler describing these lessons:

‘We need armies. But we shall not use them as in 1914. The place of artillery will in future be taken by revolutionary propaganda, to break down the enemy psychologically before the armies begin to function at all … Mental confusion, indecisiveness, panic, these are our weapons.’[12]

These concepts were then expertly employed to seize Austria and the Sudetenland[13] without fighting, and then integrated with Blitzkrieg in Poland,[14] Norway,[15] Belgium and France[16] in a manner that resonates with today’s view of ‘hybrid warfare’.

British perceptions of this German operational art would prove crucial. This understanding is best articulated in a letter from Dr Hugh Dalton, the Minister of Economic Warfare, to Lord Halifax of the Foreign Office on 2 July 1940:

We have got to organise movements in enemy-occupied territory comparable to the Sinn Fein movement in Ireland, to the Chinese Guerrillas now operating against Japan, to the Spanish Irregulars who played a notable part in Wellington’s campaign or—one might as well admit it—to the organisations which the Nazis themselves have developed so remarkably in almost every country in the world. This ‘democratic international’ must use many different methods …[17]

This conception had an impact beyond its manifestation in the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and was quickly adopted by Donovan and the US OSS. Donovan saw this model as forging ‘a new instrument of war’ in which:

the first stage would be ‘intelligence penetration’ … The next phase would be special operations, in the form of sabotage and subversion, followed by commando-like raids, guerrilla actions, and behind-the-lines resistance movements. All of this represented the softening-up process prior to invasion by friendly armed forces.[18]

In the SOE, this was termed the ‘detonator’ concept; where agents would form centres of resistance to ‘initiate’ popular uprisings across occupied Europe to resist German occupation.[19] In 1942, however, as the Operation Torch landings into North Africa took place, Allied strategy pivoted toward the employment of overwhelming force leveraging American industrial output. Nonetheless, support to guerrillas in centres of resistance in the Balkans, Italy, France and Denmark (among others) continued to tie down and disrupt Axis fighting power. 

The Chinese Communist Party and the Rise of Maoist Doctrine

Mao Zedong was by 1921 a member of the Shanghai Soviet, but failed miserably in the application of Russian theory towards an uprising by the industrial proletariat.[20] Influenced by Russian advisors,[21] his contribution to advance Communist strategic thinking was to flip the focus on the industrialised cities (which was ill-suited to China’s development at that time) to focus on the rural peasant. His concept is poignant and thus deserves quoting at length.

[In Phase 1] In effect, there is thus woven about each base a protective belt of sympathizers willing to supply food, recruits, and information, and to the extent possible, deny these to the enemy … In the second phase, acts of sabotage and terrorism multiply; collaborationist and ‘reactionary elements’ are liquidated. Attacks are made on vulnerable military and police outposts; weak columns are ambushed. The primary purpose of these operations is to procure arms, ammunition, and other essential material, particularly medical supplies and radios. As the growing guerrilla force becomes better equipped and its capabilities improve, attention is focused on rail and road communications.[22]

Mao described nuance in this model, arguing that these were ‘merging phases’ without a clear beginning or end.[23] Similarly, it was unequivocally political, emphasising building support and therefore never mistreating the peasants. Like the Soviets he was pragmatic in in this, making the initial rallying cry land reform rather than revolution. He also learned through adversity, not only during his prolonged conquest of China but also through his subsequent intervention in Korea. What emerged has been a Communist Party of China (CPC) characteristic of pragmatism with regard to mitigating the risk of armed conflict. A lesson taken from Chinese engagement in the Korean War, and the mass casualties incurred, was to avoid escalating into open conflict, but rather to achieve CPC objectives below the threshold of violence wherever possible. This was reinforced by the costs of China’s brief war with Vietnam in 1979 and is reflected in China’s emulation of Russia’s rapid de-escalation tactics in the years since.[24]

Giáp’s Evolution to ‘Revolutionary Warfare Doctrine’

In Vietnam, Võ Nguyên Giáp retained the three military stages of Maoist thinking. He built upon them, on advice provided by Chinese and Soviet military advisors, by adding three discrete political elements.[25] Action was required ‘among your own people’, ‘among the enemy military’ and, above all, ‘among the enemy’s people’. Arguably, victory came through persuading the latter, the US electorate, that they could not prevail. This doctrine devolved to the village level as a contest for control, where conventional warfare, guerrilla warfare and terrorism all coexisted. Resistance to analysis, or ‘complexity’, is inherent in the struggle for human allegiance and compliance within what we now call political or hybrid warfare. The conventional US military were left doctrinally challenged by their failure to understand the nature of the struggle for control—as shown visually in Figure 1.[26]

Map of South-East Asis displaying Government control at a point of time within the Vietnam War (Full government control, mixed control, full rebel control, Large government officials assassinated and citizen assassinations).


Figure 1: Government control at a point of time within the Vietnam War. Green means full government control, yellow means mixed control, and red means full rebel control. Large blue dots are for government officials assassinated, and small dots are for citizen assassinations.[27]

The American military response to Giáp’s strategy was to pivot away from the complexities inherent in this hybrid war and to instead orientate to the technological ‘Second Offset Strategy’, manifest in air-land battle.[28] As the American military again returned to leveraging its technological-industrial advantage, journalist Robert Taber reflected upon the American challenge in The War of the Flea.[29] The analogy is that the flea is too fast and small and can avoid the response of a slowly maddened dog that is frustrated in its attempts to counter the flea. Taber uniquely applied this imagery to explaining how in Maoist Phase 1 the subversive environment can generate a ‘climate of collapse’. When this environment is created, fragility results, which may lead to unexpected conflagration of discontent into protests, focoist rebellion or even revolution. Taber describes numerous cases of Cold War Communist adversaries escalating through Maoist Phase 2 or Phase 3, including China, Cyprus, Cuba and Indochina.

Vietnamese success was also noted in Latin America, spawning ‘the near-explosive growth of “new” insurgencies after 1970 in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Peru, and also the persistence and expansion of the Colombian insurgencies’.[30] Taber’s text describing this model is notable as it formed the basis of al-Qaeda instruction on guerrilla warfare in the 1980s and 1990s.

Salafi-Jihadist Strategic Theory

In 2013, Michael Ryan encouraged the academic community to look beyond Salafist vocabulary and symbology and to examine the strategy underneath. In Decoding Al-Qaeda’s Strategy, he presented the argument that al-Qaeda strategists subscribed to classic irregular warfare theory, which they termed, ‘Revolutionary Guerrilla Warfare’.[31]

The evidence of al-Qaeda absorbing lessons from operations against the West is strong. David Kilcullen in 2007 argued:

… the primary threat is terrorism-linked subversion … Islamic theology is a strictly secondary factor … the present threat is from a political ideology that cloaks itself in religion—cynically exploiting religious tolerance to prevent democracies acting against it.[32]

Kilcullen quotes The Method to Re-establish the Khilafah (2000) by members of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain, which calls for ‘a protracted revolutionary struggle developing from agitation/propaganda, through building a vanguard party, subversion and eventually armed insurrection against the state’. Kilcullen notes that this narrative argues:

… a classic insurrectionist approach to gaining power—initially through subversive means short of force, but eventually resulting in an armed revolutionary takeover of the state ... Indeed, passages in this booklet bear a more than passing resemblance to V.I. Lenin’s seminal pamphlet Chto Delat [What is to be done?].[33]

Al-Qaeda strategist Abd al-Aziz al-Muqrin assumed command of al-Qaeda’s Saudi Arabian insurgency until his death in 2004. Muqrin’s legacy is a manual of military doctrine, Dawrah al-Tanfidh Wa Harb al-‘Asabat (A Practical Course for Guerrilla War), which advances a three-phase model:[34]

  • Attrition (strategic defence)
  • Relative strategic equilibrium (policy of 1,000 cuts)
  • Military decision (final attack).

In 2005, another al-Qaeda strategist, Abu Bakr Naji, posted his book Idarah al-Tawahhush (The Administration of Savagery) to an online forum. This book expands on al-Muqrin by advocating three phases of ‘jihad in priority states’ that bear more than a passing resemblance to the Maoist model:

  • Causing ‘damage and exhaustion’ (al-nikayah wa al-inhak) to the ‘apostate’ country through terrorism and guerrilla warfare
  • Establishing the ‘administration of savagery’ in areas from which the central government has withdrawn its forces
  • Creating an Islamic state through a decisive battle or series of battles and transition from administration of savagery to a fully governed polity under al-Qaeda’s version of sharia.[35]

Finally, al-Qaeda strategist Abu Mus’ab al-Suri drew from the failed uprisings in Syria 1979–1982 and in Algeria 1993–1997 to reinforce this three-phase model of contestation in The Call to Global Islamic Resistance.[36] The Islamic State drew lessons from al-Suri’s writings, employing strategy invoking Maoist teachings after the American withdrawal of 2010.[37] Professor Craig Whiteside at the Naval Postgraduate School explicitly concludes that ISIS’s strategy for seizing control over a target population is fundamentally the application of classic insurgency doctrine.[38]

Russian ‘New Generation Warfare’

Russian military thinking has built upon lessons from the Comintern and the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, support for Communist partisans in the 1940s, and proxy support for various groups throughout the Cold War era. Recent arguments based on Russian adoption of ‘hybrid war’ concepts echo the familiar cumulative model with three main operational phases.[39] Mark Galeotti’s analysis of Russian political warfare draws attention to enduring aspects to this cumulative model of conflict, stating:

Russia’s supposed ‘new way of war’ can be considered simply a recognition of the age-old truth that the political has primacy over the kinetic—and that if one side can disrupt the others’ will and ability to resist, then the actual strength of their military forces becomes much less relevant, even if not necessarily redundant.[40]

In presenting this argument, Galeotti quotes the writing of Evgenii Messner, a tsarist officer who fought against the Bolsheviks and fled Russia in 1920, in Myatezh: imya tret’yey vsemirnoy (Subversion: The Name of the Third World War):

… ‘[f]uture war will not be fought on the front lines, but throughout the entire territories of both opponents, because behind the front lines, political, social, and economic fronts will appear; they will fight not on a two-dimensional plane, as in olden days, not in a three dimensional space, as has been the case since the birth of military aviation, but in a four-dimensional space, where the psyche of the combatant nations will serve as the fourth dimension.’[41]

This recognition of an evolved Russian application of classic Communist revolutionary theory was most recently made by David Ucko and Thomas Marks of the National Defense University. Ucko and Marks lament the new jargon of ‘hybrid war’ and ‘the grey zone’, presenting the images reproduced here in Figure 2 as a demonstration of the enduring utility of understanding the Maoist strategic framework.

A standard people’s war insurgency, mapped as lines of effort and campaigns

Figure 2 left: A standard people’s war insurgency, mapped as lines of effort and campaigns

Russia’s operational art in Ukraine, circa 2017, mapped as lines of effort and campaigns

Figure 2 right: Russia’s operational art in Ukraine, circa 2017, similarly mapped[42]


The convergent picture is one of a cumulative strategy, and it is this, in contrast to Western sequential strategies, that confounds understanding. Professor Ross Babbage describes contemporary grey zone activities as echeloned offensives ‘normally starting in places that are “empty”, peripheral, or perceived to be of limited importance by … rivals’.[43] This description is that of a cumulative strategy, in which the decisive effect is the tipping point that is generally not foreseeable or predictable. Autocratic actors are today employing cumulative strategies that have a basis in classic Maoist strategy and might be rationalised to today’s context as follows:

Phase 1: Organisation. The establishment of front organisations, coercion of rival actors, corruption of key officials, assassination of rival leaders—these actions are all typical of traditional Maoist warfare’s subversive phase. In the Information Age, a greater number of tools are now available with which to undermine an adversary and to establish clandestine networks.[44]

Phase 2: Progression. Progression to this phase sees sabotage, terrorism and militia actions, gradually building mass that reinforces the themes communicated in earlier phases. Such actions are exemplified today by Russia’s ‘Little Green Men’, China’s ‘Little Blue Men’ and Iran’s Shi’a militia groups.

Phase 3: Decision. It is only when an adversary is weakened, fractured, and distracted by subversive and proxy actions that conventional military forces pursue ‘salami slices’ of fait accompli seizures of objectives, before employing rapid de-escalatory tactics.

Western error lies in confusing the mechanism and the means. The means of asserting control over a population has changed over the past century, transitioning information effects from newspaper-based propaganda to radio, to television and now to internet-based social media. The mechanism remains the same.[45] This argument of convergent strategic thinking, demonstrated in this essay, is shown graphically in Figure 3 (Figure 3 as an accessible PDF).

Chart of wars, military theories and state actors on a timeline from the 1910's to the 2020s





Figure 3: Military strategic co-adaptation over the 20th century, marking major events from which respective parties learned from the military strategy of their adversaries

The implications of this convergence inform the framing of challenges posed in the 2020 Defence Strategic Update. The Communist Party of China remains ideologically anchored in Marxist ideology with continuity to Mao Zedong’s conceptions of the employment of violence.[46] Professor Babbage reinforces this conclusion, noting: ‘It is perhaps not surprising that Beijing’s planning for a future major war resembles a 21st-century version of Maoist strategy.’[47]

Today, Phase 1 ‘Organisation’ is evident in CPC activities that leverage ‘state-owned enterprises (SOEs), Chinese technology companies and partnerships with foreign partners … [through which] the CPC is building a massive and global data-collection ecosystem’.[48] The Cold War Communist cadre can now be replaced (or expanded on) through the algorithmic controls employed by applications such as WeChat and TikTok.[49] Infiltration continues, as research by Alex Joske into the CPC’s United Front highlights, with continuity from Lenin’s international front efforts to today.[50]

Following Stalin’s maxim, the CPC also demonstrate a willingness under a Phase 2 ‘Progression’ environment, to probe with the bayonet. This is demonstrable in the contemporary CPC’s coercive diplomacy[51] and its ‘salami slicing’ policy of employing militia elements with a suitable ambiguity of centralised control. Most prevalently, this is the case at sea, where elements of the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia safeguard the CPC’s maritime claims.[52] A state-owned fishing fleet further confuses the ability of the international community to ascribe state attribution—China’s ‘Little Blue Men’.

The primary implication of this convergence is that Western nations do not face either/or choices between responding to grey zone threats, terrorism, insurgency and major combat operations. These are points on the spectrum of conflict, through which adversaries of the West will escalate and de-escalate as required.


A year ago the Chief of the Defence Force, General Angus Campbell, delivered a speech to Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s ‘War in 2025’ conference that brought to the fore the terminology of political warfare—what some might argue is the first phase of the cumulative Maoist model.[53] This speech was a call to arms, in much the same manner as George Kennan’s famous telegram of 1946, the echoes of which resonate today:

Efforts will be made in such [Western] countries to disrupt national self-confidence, to hamstring measures of national defense, to increase social and industrial unrest, to stimulate all forms of disunity. All persons with grievances, whether economic or racial, will be urged to seek redress not in mediation and compromise, but in defiant violent struggle for destruction of other elements of society. Here poor will be set against rich, black against white, young against old, newcomers against established residents …[54]

Political warfare can be understood as a prerequisite for any form of armed force in a cumulative strategy. Upon successful attainment of political infiltration and subversion of the target, irregular actors are then employed in what has been termed hybrid warfare. The use of the term ‘grey zone’ to describe operations prior to hostilities tends to obscure rather than enlighten when not anchored in a hundred years of evolved theory, as presented in this essay. Strategists must not confuse with unnecessary terminology. We must recognise that the mechanism of creating advantage (i.e. the mechanism of subversion) remains the same; it is the means that evolve (e.g. from newspaper articles to social media posts). The lessons that will enhance the ADF’s ability to counter grey zone threats lie in history. We might therefore do well to pick up the dusty books of the Cold War era.

[1] Department of Defence, 2020, 2020 Defence Strategic Update (Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia), at

[2] Ibid., para 2.13.

[3] Theo Farrell, 2020, ‘Military Adaptation and Organisational Convergence in War: Insurgents and International Forces in Afghanistan’, Journal of Strategic Studies, (25 May 2020).

[4] Ibid, 1.

[5] This idea is also advanced by John Arqulla, 2018, ‘Perils of the Gray Zone: Paradigms Lost, Paradoxes Regained’, PRISM, 7. no. 3, 121: ‘[there is] a whole mountain range of studies of irregular warfare. In light of this existing literature, why is the gray zone concept needed?’

[6] Colin S Gray, 2005, ‘The American Way of War: Critique and Implications’, in Anthony D. McIvor (ed.) Rethinking the Principles of War (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press), 27–33; Jeffrey Record, 2006, The American Way of War: Cultural Barriers to Successful Counterinsurgency, Policy Analysis 577 (CATO Institute).

[7] Mao Tse-Tung, 1978, On Guerrilla Warfare, translated by Brig. Gen. Samuel B Griffith II (New York, NY: Anchor Press), 19.

[8] Published in English in Orbis (Foreign Policy Research Institute), Summer 1958.

[9] Walter D Jacobs, 1962, ‘Irregular Warfare and the Soviets,’ in Franklin Mark Osanka (ed), Modern Guerrilla Warfare: Fighting Communist Guerrilla Movements, 1941–1961 (New York, NY: Free Press Ltd), 63.

[10] Ross Babbage, 2020, ‘Ten Questionable Assumptions about Future War in the Indo-Pacific,’ Australian Journal of Defence and Strategic Studies, 2, no. 1, 28.

[11] R Dan Richardson, 1982, Comintern Army: The International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky).

[12] Col. William Donovan and Edgar Mowrer, 1941, Fifth Column Lessons for America (Washington, DC: American Council on Public Affairs), 6.

[13] ‘Part of Hitler’s strategy, through his Fifth Column, had been to encourage Slovak irredentists to stage demonstrations in favour of Slovakian independence from Czechoslovakia. When the Czechoslovakian government reacted, the Slovaks were pressurised into asking for German protection, and eventually, the Czechoslovakian government was bullied into accepting a German protectorate of their country. The German forces then rolled over the border in force and took possession of the Czech lands.’ (Brian Lett, 2016, SOE’s Mastermind: An Authorised Biography of Major General Sir Colin Gubbins (South Yorkshire: Pen and Sword Military), 98.)

[14] In Poland, the eventual casus belli for the German invasion involved a ‘false flag’ attack on a wireless station at Gleiwitz, orchestrated by the Germans, using prisoners from concentration camps. See MRD Foot, 1976, Resistance: European Resistance to the Nazis, 1940–1945 (London: Biteback Publishing Ltd), 3.

[15] Vidkun Quisling’s Fascist National Union party in Norway undermined the elected Norwegian government and informed German war preparations, before being rewarded with nominal control following the German occupation.

[16] Edmond Taylor, 1940, The Strategy of Terror—Europe’s Inner Front (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company).

[17] MRD Foot, 1984. SOE: The Special Operations Executive 1940–46 (London: British Broadcasting Corporation), 19.

[18] Alfred H Paddock Jr, 1982, US Army Special Warfare: Its Origins (Washington, DC: National Defense University Press), 6.

[19] David Stafford, 1975, ‘The Detonator Concept: British Strategy, SOE and European Resistance after the Fall of France’, Journal of Contemporary History 10, no. 2.

[20] WAC Adie, 1972, Chinese Strategic Thinking under Mao Tse-tung, Canberra Papers on Strategy and Defence, No. 13 (Canberra: Australian National University Press).

[21] Richardson, 1982.

[22] Mao, 1978, 18–19.

[23] Ibid., 20.

[24] Edward C O’Dowd, 2007, Chinese Military Strategy in the Third Indochina War (New York, NY: Routledge).

[25] Austin Carson, 2018, Secret Wars: Covert Conflict in International Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press); Merle Pribbenow, 2014, ‘The Soviet-Vietnamese Intelligence Relationship during the Vietnam War’, CWIHP Working Paper No. 73.

[26] Mark Moyar, 2006, Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954–1965 (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press).

[27] ‘Empirical Studies in Conflict: Vietnam’, Princeton University, at:

[28] This cultural challenge was discussed at length by Andrew Krepenevich, 1986, The Army and Vietnam (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press), among others.

[29] Robert Taber, 1970, War of the Flea: A Study of Guerrilla Warfare, Theory and Practice (New York, NY: The Citadel Press).

[30] Timothy Wickham-Crowley, 2014, ‘Two “Waves” of Guerrilla-Movement Organising in Latin America, 1956–1990’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 56, no. 1, 228.

[31] Michael WS Ryan, 2013, Decoding Al-Qaeda’s Strategy: The Deep Battle Against America (New York, NY: Columbia University Press). Nor is an irregular warfare framework limited to al-Qaeda. Michael WS Ryan, 2015, ISIS: The Terrorist Group That Would Be a State (Newport, RI: Center on Irregular Warfare and Armed Groups Case Studies, US Naval War College), 10, notes: ‘ISIS departed from al Qaeda’s strategy by taking advantage of its best thinking about jihadist lessons as codified by Abu Mus’ab al-Suri … ISIS has used a strategic plan for establishing an Islamic emirate, as presented in broad strikes by another al Qaeda strategist with the pseudonym Abu Bakr Naji.’

[32] David Kilcullen, 2007. ‘Subversion and Countersubversion in the Campaign against Terrorism in Europe’, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 30, no. 8, 647–8.

[33] Ibid., 657–8.

[34] Ryan, 2013, 136.

[35] Ibid., 140–168.

[36] Lessons from Jihad Waged by Muslim Brotherhood against Hafiz al-Assad 1976–1982, Combating Terrorism Center Harmony Program, AFGP-2002-600080 (full translation), at, accessed 7 July 2020.

[37] Hassan Hassan, 2018, Out of the Desert: ISIS’s Strategy for a Long War, Policy Paper 2018–8 (Washington, DC: Middle East Institute); Ryan, 2015; Nate Rosenblatt and David Kilcullen, 2019, ‘How Raqqa Became the Capital of ISIS: A Proxy Warfare Case Study’, New America.

[38] Craig Whiteside, 2016, ‘The Islamic State and the Return of Revolutionary Warfare’, Small Wars and Insurgencies, 27, no. 5, at

[39] Otto Fiala (ed.), 2019, Resistance Operating Concept (Stockholm: Swedish Defence University), 121–124. This description is as follows: ‘Preparatory phase (involving establishment of networks, fuelling of social tensions, strengthening of local separatist movements, a weakening of the target state through corruption and engagement with local organised criminal groups), Attack phase (involving the organisation of anti-government protests and riots, instigation of provocations and sabotage, commencement of a misinformation campaign, disrupt the target nation’s ability to communicate, disable armed forces and continuously block counterattack options of the targeted state), and a Stabilisation phase (organise a referendum about secession/independence, establish an open or covert military presence—with the possibility of an open invasion under the pretext of peacekeeping or crisis management).’

[40] Mark Galeotti, 2019, Russian Political War: Moving Beyond the Hybrid (New York, NY: Routledge Focus), 27.

[41] Ibid., 33.

[42] David H Ucko and Thomas A Marks, 2020, Crafting Strategy for Irregular Warfare: A Framework for Analysis and Action (Washington, DC: National Defense University Press), 27–28.

[43] Ross Babbage, 2019, Winning Without Fighting: Chinese and Russian Political Warfare Campaigns and How the West Can Prevail, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA); Ross Babbage, 2019, Stealing a March: Chinese Hybrid Warfare in the Indo-Pacific; Issues and Options for Allied Defense Planners, CSBA. Both at

[44] Strategist Lawrence Freedman draws attention to the fact that ‘there is nothing particularly new with either cyber or information campaigns—in the past they came under the heading of sabotage, subversion, and propaganda. They can now be implemented with great speed and reach.’ (Lawrence Freedman, 2020, ‘Who Wants to Be a Great Power?’, PRISM, 8, no. 4, 10.

[45] Jude Blanchette, 2020, ‘Strengthening the CCP’s “Ideological Work”’, translation of Huang Xianghuai, ‘Emphasising and Strengthening the Party’s Ideological Work’, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 13 August 2020, describes Maoist progression in the information domain: ‘At present, there exist three kinds of “zones” in the field of ideology and public opinion—red, black and grey. The red zones our main battlefront positions, which we must hold onto and never lose; the black zones consist mainly of negative things, which must be resolutely controlled, greatly compressing their territory, and gradually pushing them to change colour; and the grey zones must be fought over with great fanfare, accelerating their conversion into red zones, and preventing their metamorphosis into black zones.’ (page 14).

[46] Babbage, 2020; Blanchette, 2020.

[47] Babbage, 2020, 37–38.

[48] Dr Samantha Hoffman, 2019, Engineering Global Consent: The Chinese Communist Party’s Data-Driven Power Expansion, Policy Brief No. 21/2019, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 3.

[49] Fergus Ryan, Audrey Fritz and Daria Impiombato, 2020, TikTok and WeChat: Curating and Controlling Global Information Flows, Policy Brief No. 37/2020, Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Ryan et al. go on to note: ‘Internal Chinese Communist Party (CCP) committees at both companies [WeChat and TikTok] are in place to ensure that the party’s political goals are pursued alongside the companies’ commercial goals’ (page 2).

[50] Alex Joske, 2020, The Party Speaks for You: Foreign Interference and the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front System, Policy Brief No. 32/2020, Australian Strategic Policy Institute; Alex Joske, 2020, Hunting the Phoenix: The Chinese Communist Party’s Global Search for Technology and Talent, Policy Brief No. 35/2020, Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

[51] Fergus Hanson, Emilia Currey and Tracy Beattie, The Chinese Communist Party’s Coercive Diplomacy, Policy Brief No. 36/2020, Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

[52] Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2020, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2020, Annual Report to Congress.

[53] Brendan Nicholson, ‘ADF Chief: West Faces a New Threat from ‘Political Warfare’, The Strategist (ASPI), 14 June 2019, at:

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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