Special Operations Beyond War and Peace

04.17.15 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

“Power and influence are now diffusing to a range of actors, both state and non-state, who have not traditionally wielded it,” said Gen. Joseph L. Votel, Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), last month.

Under these circumstances, “Traditional approaches to deterrence are increasingly inadequate,” he said. “Adversaries [seek] to maximize their coercive influence while limiting their risk of serious retribution. They are becoming adept at avoiding crossing thresholds that would clearly justify the use of conventional military force.”

“The diffusion of power is decreasing the ability of any state, acting alone, to control outcomes unilaterally.”

The comparative advantage of U.S. Special Operations Forces, Gen. Votel told Congress in his 2015 SOCOM posture statement on March 18, “is built upon three pillars: 1) persistent engagement, 2) enabling partners, and 3) discreet action.”

“Our success in this environment will be determined by our ability to adequately navigate conflicts that fall outside of the traditional peace-or-war construct,” he said.

U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) consist of over 69,000 operators and support personnel deployed to more than 80 countries around the world, the SOCOM posture statement said (compared to “over 75 countries” in last year’s statement). They include Army Special Forces, Navy SEALs, Air Commandos, Rangers, Night Stalker helicopter crews, Marine Raiders, and others.

A newly updated report from the Congressional Research Service discusses the SOF command structure and the FY 2016 US SOCOM budget request.  See U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress, April 9, 2015.