Colouring in the Grey Zone: Illumination and Deterrence: An Australian Case Study of Counter Interference Operations

Illumination and Deterrence: An Australian Case Study of Counter Interference Operations


  • Samuel White Australian Defence Force


Foreign State and non-State actors attempting to interfere in the domestic affairs of others is not a new phenomenon; nor, too, is the use of information as a resource, environment and weapon in warfare. However, historically there have been some buffer zones. 

This has all changed. Now, rather than simply writing a message on stone at popular watering holes, foreign interference operations (IOs) can leverage the ubiquity of the Internet in order to deliver personally tailored, micro-targeted messages to individuals in their homes.  The changing nature of warfare has led, formally and informally, to practitioners of the Profession of Arms to claim that grey zone operations unfairly exploit the gaps between peace and war, exploiting the vulnerabilities of Western democracy – free speech – in an unacceptable manner. 

This paper looks to explore this notion, and opines that rhetoric claiming conflicts fought in ‘the grey zone’ are somehow unacceptable fails to grapple with the basic concept of armed conflict and competition – to win. In order to demonstrate this point, it is first necessary to canvass what is meant by the concept of ‘grey zone’. To do so requires, axiomatically, covering ‘traditional’ legal frameworks of peace and war and exploring how this binary distinction has shaped legal thinking since Rome. It will then look to unpack the underlying logic in identifying something as being ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ exploitations in war, demonstrating that even through the Eurocentric lens of chivalry – a high water mark in the idea of unacceptable exploitation – the exploitation of traditional legal thresholds was more than acceptable. Finding that it is unsafe to maintain a moralistic stance to security threats, and that the current strategic framework is inappropriate, it then addresses what domestic remedies are available for the Australian Government to take, under the Australian Constitution.