At the same time the world is less inclined to go to war, weak governments are failing and the tools of warfare are far cheaper and accessible to both states and nonstate actors. This confluence of forces is enabling our adversaries to find sanctuary in weakly governed spaces where they can leverage technology to increasingly challenge us in a “gray zone” between what we have considered peaceful interstate political competition and open war. Perhaps the single most important characteristic of contemporary gray zone conflicts is that they will occur among human populations living under varying levels of effective governance and security.Given this reality, we must revisit our understanding of the security environment and ask difficult questions about the efficacy of our current approaches. Further, the concept of winning must be fundamentally re-examined in the context of a future environment in which conventional wars will be supplanted by population-centric conflicts and asymmetric challenges to U.S. power.The tensions in the current strategic environment are visible if one cares to look. The U.N. discusses a new “responsibility to protect” doctrine at the same time that a self-described anti-monopolist nonprofit organization offers free plans for 3-D printed weapons over the Internet. The International Criminal Court asserts its authority over heads of state at the same time Hezbollah fields unmanned aerial vehicles against its neighbor. The list of nations that cannot extend their sovereign power to their own borders grows continuously. The old paradigm that governed how nations thought about war and peace—namely, that they were two distinct forms of interstate relations—no longer addresses the complexities of the current security environment.As first-world powers find their ability to use conventional military force constrained, individuals and groups not burdened by the responsibilities of statehood are finding themselves in a position to challenge an international order in effect since 1648. The fracturing of the Westphalian framework of sovereign nation-states and an emergence of what author Steven Metz calls neo-feudalism will force a fundamental review of how the U.S. interacts with the world around it.Russia Challenging NATOIn some ways, the gray zone is not new; it has always been there. The nature of gray zone challenges, however, is changing. Vladimir Putin’s Russia offers a potent example of a nation-state gray zone challenge. Though much is made of recent Russian actions in Crimea and Ukraine, Russia has been deftly modulating its challenge to NATO’s influence in Eastern Europe as far back as its interventions in Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It is clear that Putin seeks to weaken or even fracture the NATO alliance without triggering an Article 5 response (an attack against one is an attack against all).While Putin’s Russia is a familiar nation-state gray zone challenge with historic precedent, the newer nonstate variants of tech-enabled, social media-savvy extremist groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaida present a very 21st-century dimension to this problem. These opponents recognize no international boundaries and viscerally reject any form of belief, law or custom different than their own.Nations such as Russia, Iran and China understand the internationally imposed constraints on the use of both their own military power and that of the U.S., and they adjust their operational approaches accordingly. The newer borderless enemies have a far more uncertain risk calculus. Perhaps most importantly, these organizations take root in the vacuum of failed governance. Thus, the only means to resist them lies in the indigenous populations who live under their brutal oppression. It is these indigenous populations that we must partner with in the gray zone struggle.Human Domain of WarfareIn large-scale, state-on-state conflicts—the types of industrial-age wars our military was primarily designed to fight—victory was determined by who could most efficiently and effectively destroy the other’s military forces in the land, air and maritime domains, and compel them to surrender or come to acceptable terms. The forces that are driving conflict among human populations require a new model—a human domain model—for how we think about, organize for and train forces to compete in this human-centric environment. Though we must maintain an unmatched capability to defend the nation with conventional combined arms, the growing gray zone conflicts require new concepts and solutions. Cultural understanding, nuanced historical knowledge, local relationships, foreign-language skills and other population-centric competencies are now required to win in this space.Today’s gray zone adversaries prefer to practice war among the people, as it gives them a significant advantage against a first-world military like that of the U.S. and our allies. Throughout the past years of conflict, our military and interagencies have learned hard lessons regarding the value of the human network. The ability to affect the population, or a segment of it, is critical as we continue to be challenged by entities that are not organized hierarchically, do not follow a doctrinal order of battle, and do not fight according to our rules. These adversaries have strained our models of warfare, highlighting the difficulty of applying our tool set in ways and means that are politically suitable and acceptable. Given this misalignment of our current approaches and the emerging operating environment, it should go without saying that the military and nonmilitary capabilities applied to these types of operations must be different than those we have arrayed against past threats.Building on growing appreciation of the gray zone and the fundamentally human nature of these challenges, the joint force is developing a concept for human aspects of military operations along with a joint concept for integrated campaigning (JCIC). The human aspects concept will describe how the joint force understands and influences the perceptions and behavior of people to enhance stability, prevent conflict and, when necessary, fight and win. The JCIC intends to operationalize the Joint Chiefs of Staff capstone concept of globally integrated operations through a more comprehensive approach to campaigning that recognizes our adversaries’ “traditional, irregular and hybrid strategies.”These are certainly important and worthwhile endeavors. If we consider that the vast majority of gray zone problems will reside outside theaters of active armed conflict, are the JCIC and human aspect concepts too DoD-centric? More specifically, will human aspect concepts be sufficient to drive the necessary changes required for our military—acting in concert with our unified action partners—to fight and win in modern, population-centric gray zone conflicts?These are important questions with real consequences. The price of applying the wrong ways and means in a conflict is high. As Dominic Tierney, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, notes, it took 21 days to capture Baghdad in 2003 and 3,174 days to leave, with questionable results.Building the Land Power NetworkTectonic forces of technological and societal change have created what one could refer to as an emerging land commons. The large swaths of the world that suffer from failing governance, resource competition, hyperurbanization and ethno-religious violence cannot be ignored by the nations of the world with the means to impact them. To do so is simply to cede these places to undesirable actors, and the people living there to their fate.Considering the decreasing acceptability of committing ourselves to large-footprint, protracted military commitments, a different approach is clearly required. We must envision a smaller, more culturally astute, agile and globally engaged land force. It must be made up of general purpose as well as special operations forces, interagency elements and indigenous partners. We need a global land power network in order to reassure allies, build partner capacity, and impose a very real cost calculus on adversaries that would challenge us in this new competitive space short of war.The future operating environment will demand from us a holistic approach whereby strategic influence or coercion—with measured use of kinetic force—is applied by, with and through key individuals, groups or even entire populations. When the need for military operations does emerge, we must retain the options of unilateral action or letting our indigenous partners, perhaps with appropriately configured DoD/interagency small teams in support, handle that aspect of the struggle. The skills and capabilities of the partnership applied across the gray zone will give this land power network a truly strategic quality.Redefining the WinIn his 2015 National Security Strategy, President Barack Obama makes several important assertions:– We possess a military whose might, technology and geostrategic reach is unrivaled in human history.– We are stronger when we mobilize collective action.– Many of the security problems the U.S. faces do not lend themselves to quick and easy fixes.– A smart national security strategy does not rely solely on military power.– The challenges we face require strategic patience and persistence.The president’s observations reinforce the recognition that the future environment will be challenging in new ways and require different approaches. Most importantly, they hint that “winning” will look different than it did in the past.We must revisit our concept of “the win” in struggles that will be defined more by ambiguity than certainty. These struggles will not present with acute crisis symptoms, but rather a gradual ratcheting up of tensions and instability, often with adversary intentions that are opaque at best. The one common factor, however, is that the solutions to most, if not all, gray zone challenges will be indigenous. We must get comfortable developing and employing not only indigenous maneuver but indigenous intelligence, fires, protection and any other warfighting function that our partners can do for themselves. The people who live in these places must have a stake in solving their problems, and solutions sometimes cannot have a U.S. face.What will success in these gray zone conflicts look like? Our success will be largely defined by our indigenous allies and coalition partners realizing their own acceptable political outcomes. Success may be defined in terms of retaining decision space or simply denying an adversary a decisive positional advantage. Successful culmination of these gray zone conflicts will not occur ceremoniously on the deck of a battleship, but may pass with little indication that a conflict ever existed.Regardless, we can no longer afford to cede this space to our enemies. We must refine our thinking about the nature of the future operating environment and what it will demand from our Army. Our unmatched ability to fight and win against any adversary and respond to contingencies must be retained. That is our true asymmetry against adversaries. We must, however, consider their asymmetry against us—their ability to negate our conventional strengths and wage conflict among populations, short of the threshold of war. The Army’s ability to build, maintain and employ a global land power network to compete in the gray zone is pivotal to our future success.