Military Assistance in Support of Negotiations, Defense Security Sector Reforms and Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Processes

Military Assistance in Support of Negotiations, Defense Security Sector Reforms and Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Processes

Andreas Hedenstrom and Marius Kristiansen

Executive Summary

This article presents potential Military Assistance (MA) concepts of operations in support of specific security policy objectives, and it proposes feasible new concepts in MA operations for future NATO Special Operations Forces (SOF). Several of these ideas are explored, mainly through the lens of Norwegian security concerns. The article addresses how Norway, by executing military assistance operations in support of negotiations; defense security sector reforms (DSSRs); and disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration processes (DDRs), can enhance the strategic utility of NATO SOF and Norway’s strategic utility within the NATO alliance, while still supporting specific Norwegian national strategic security objectives.

Special Operations Forces (SOF) and the use of these forces have historically been, currently are, and in the future will most likely be a subject of discussion in both military and civilian circles. Most people who participate in this discussion seem to agree upon at least two points when it comes to SOF. First, SOF is a military tool used by decision-makers and is intended to produce strategic effects; and second, SOF is intended to conduct missions which conventional forces are not trained, equipped, or organized. In combination with an ever-changing and complex security environment, this is what represents SOF’s strategic effectiveness and what makes these forces a relevant and interesting tool for the military, politicians, and civilians.

The NATO alliance is currently under stress in terms of both finances, due to funding shortages, and security, due to potential adversaries. NATO has expressed a requirement for NATO SOF to step up and produce effects within the domain of MA—which is one of NATO SOF’s three core doctrinal tasks—in order to enhance the alliance’s strategic utility. Since the nations within NATO have differing definitions and interpretations of SOF, varying national strategic interests, and diverse capabilities, it is challenging to produce a comprehensive set of MA capabilities and to execute operations in the whole spectrum of what MA might represent. One way toward a more satisfying solution compared to what we have today is to designate specific nations’ SOF to take on specific MA tasks and generate specific MA capabilities on behalf of NATO. By doing so, a specific nation’s strategic utility and the NATO alliance’s strategic utility will both be enhanced. Making this happen demands that the military, politicians, and relevant civilian entities cooperate and communicate in a more integrated manner than historically has been the case.

With better cooperation and communication, it is likely that SOF leadership can both contribute to fulfilling NATO’s security objectives and educate and encourage decision-makers on the smart use of SOF. In addition, it is likely that the civilian side might be able to produce a better understanding and appreciation for the complexity of the current “big picture” to the military. It will be key for both the military, politicans and other civilians to support each other to gain a better understanding of strategic national objectives and national strategic niche-capabilities and expertise, and to have a realistic understanding of the limitations by the use of SOF and how different nations’ SOF potential is best used from a NATO perspective.

Based on an analysis from a Norwegian perspective, this article outlines different Norwegian strategic objectives, several Norwegian strategic niches, and some specific history that should all be considered when Norway´s relevance in future NATO SOF MA operations is evaluated. This analysis shows that Norwegian SOF is a good fit for several tasks for NATO. By using Norwegian SOF in MA operations in support of negotiations, DSSRs, and DDRs, it is possible to enhance both Norwegian and NATO strategic utility.

For Norway to produce an effective concept of operations for the suggested course of action, Norway must prioritize it. Norwegian SOF must adjust its doctrine, review its organizational setup, establish relevant training and educational programs, and potentially make some changes in its selection and Human Resource Management-system (HRM). Also important is that NATO acknowledges that this type of MA-operation is one of the capabilities Norway is contributing with on behalf of NATO. This is because NATO, as a coalition and alliance consisting of members with different security interests, military capabilities, and strategic niches, cannot expect or demand “everything always from everyone.”


It is no secret that special operations forces (SOF) and the use of these forces historically has been, currently is, and in the future most likely will continue to be a hot topic of discussion. Academics, military officers, and other representatives from the international security community have put forward theories and principles for how to use SOF (Gray, 2015; Hammersmark, 2010; Johansen, 2015; Kiras, 2006; McRaven, 1996, 2004; Robinson, 2013; Rothstein, 2007; Spulak, 2009; Tucker & Lamb, 2007; Simons 2004, 2012, 2017; Westberg, 2016).

Norwegian officer John Inge Hammersmark (2010) summed up the overarching debate on SOF quite elegantly when he stated, “The field special operations forces may be challenging to deal with since there is actually no generally accepted definition of what special operations are" (p. 10). Nevertheless, at least two principles do seem to be universal, these are: that SOF is a military tool used by decision-makers and intended to produce strategic effects; and, that SOF is intended to solve missions that conventional forces are not trained, equipped or organized to solve. This is what makes SOF strategically effective (McRaven, 2004). The commander of the Norwegian Special Operations Command (NORSOCOM), Rear Admiral Nils Johan Holte, expressed this explicitly in his speech to Oslo Militaere Samfunn (“Oslo Military Community”) shortly after he was appointed commander for the newly stood up NORSOCOM in 2014 when he stated that "SOF is according to doctrine strategic forces, intended to produce strategic effects", and "SOF is all in all not like conventional forces, SOF shall solve missions that conventional forces are not equipped or trained to solve." (Oslo Militaere Samfunn, 2014).

Even so, national strategic interests differ from country to country because different nations focus on producing different capabilities within their respective militaries, including SOF. As a result, SOF from different nations has different capabilities and specialties. If, from a NATO perspective, the different capabilities are not complementary, NATO could face a severe challenge in the future. Potentially, NATO as a whole will not be able to address the challenges the future presents to the alliance at the given time.

This is important to be aware of, because, according to Frank G. Hoffman (2009), the current security environment is more complex than that of the past. Today’s militaries encounter asymmetric conflicts of unconventional, irregular, hybrid, and sometimes, conventional character. The complexity that the environment represents makes it challenging, and potentially impossible, to see the whole picture, to understand which effects different actions will lead to, and to coordinate and command the needed efforts in a relevant manner (Simons 2017). Nevertheless, this is not to say that we should not try. McChrystal, Collins, Silverman, and Fussell (2015) described a model in their book Team of Teams that lays out how to meet these challenges in the current and the future environment by establishing a Team of Teams. But since the security environment changes so quickly, many nations find it impossible to prepare for all complex contingencies.

Due to differing understanding of definitions of SOF, varying strategic national interests, and differing capabilities within SOF in NATO, nations can enhance their strategic utility by using SOF in new and innovative ways to accommodate the ever-changing security environment. If used correctly, it is possible for small nations to “punch above their own weight” in the international arena by using SOF. As Anna Simons (2017) put it, if a nation “capitalize[s] on its core strengths and unique capabilities” (p. 183), it can “make itself indispensably useful to its global SOF, and NATO partners." (p. 183).

NATO Special Operations Headquarters (NSHQ) has described a requirement for more cost-effective military assistance (MA) operations directed at key strategic objectives (Domrose, 2015; Webb, 2015). NATO SOF and the Global Special Operations Forces Network (GSN) at large acknowledge that different actors can complement each other and can help to collectively address the total challenge the security environment represents (Webb, 2015). The expansion of SOF reach and utility, which these trusted networks could represent for small states, is important (Kristoffersen, 2015). One reason for this is that the GSN can provide the policy level with an alternative security cooperation forum that would have access to information and resources that it would not have without being a member of this network (Kihl & Carling, 2015).

SOF leadership can both contribute to fulfill NATO’s security objectives and educate and encourage decision-makers on the smart use of SOF. One way to do this is to “recommend operations in support of policy, and influence policy by identifying opportunities in sync with vital security interests,” also called “policy by concept of operations” (Berg-Knutsen & Roberts, 2015, p. 71). The aim of this article is to develop MA concepts of operations in support of security policy objectives and propose feasible new concepts for future NATO SOF MA operations.

Several of these ideas are explored through the lens of Norwegian security concerns, and Norway as a contributor to NATO. (The descriptions of the courses of action proposed here are limited to unclassified material, and should be regarded as “food for thought” rather than fully developed ideas.) The article addresses how Norway, by executing military assistance operations in support of negotiations, defense security sector reforms (DSSRs) and disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration processes (DDRs), can enhance the strategic utility of NATO SOF and Norway’s strategic utility within the NATO alliance, while still supporting specific Norwegian national strategic security objectives.                                                        

What is Military Assistance? - Different Opinions and Doctrinal Approaches

Since NATO currently consists of 29 different countries, there are differences in opinions on the best way to fulfill the different nations' wishes, requirements and commitments (NATO, 2017). Even though NATO has its own SOF doctrine, Allied Joint Doctrine for Special Operations (AJP-3.5), there are different interpretations of what it means (NATO, 2013). For example, Military Assistance (MA) is described and defined in a way that—by far—makes it the broadest doctrinal task that NATO SOF conducts. MA is defined as “a broad category of measures and activities that support and influence critical friendly assets through organizing training, advising, mentoring, or the conduct of combined operations. The range of MA includes, but is not limited to, capability building of friendly security forces, engagement with local, regional, and national leadership or organizations, and civic actions supporting and influencing the local population. SOF conduct MA within their field of expertise” (NATO, 2013, 2-1).

From our point of view, MA represents the doctrinal task that is most open to interpretation. The other doctrinal tasks, special reconnaissance (SR)[i] and direct action (DA),[ii] are, from our point of view, more concrete, but different interpretations still exist. When it comes to MA, there are numerous ways to conduct these types operations. That being said, for an MA operation to be effective, the advising SOF must be competent within a specific field of expertise. As Hickey and Davison (1965) put it in The American Military Advisor and His Foreign Counterpart: The Case of Vietnam, “the first qualification for anyone serving in an intercultural context is professional competence; linguistic and social skills do not make up for lack of professional and technical know-how” (p. 73).

Often, competencies within SR and DA are what are demanded in order to be an effective advisor, but that will not cover all aspects of what MA can involve if one thinks innovatively and 'outside the box' (Kristiansen & Hedenstrom, 2016). But, we believe to be able to think intentionally and intelligently 'outside the box', it is important that you know what is 'inside the box'. That is why nurturing other fields of expertise, in combination with specific national strategic objectives, might open up opportunities for new types of MA operations directed toward other areas of the security sector compared to historical MA operations.

Strategic National Objectives - Norway

National strategies involve some kind of strategic national objectives, even though some of these interests may not appear as strategic outside of the specific nation involved. From our point of view, and based on what can be gleaned from stated Norwegian policy, Norway does not have a particularly clear individual strategy that states strategic national objectives and involves large parts of the world. Sometimes this represents a challenge for Norwegian policy-makers, military, and decision-makers, while on other occasions it represents opportunity.

Norwegian foreign policy and security policy (along that of with Norway’s allies) are currently in flux. (The U.S. military is striving for its Pacific shift; Russia is trying to weaken NATO at several fronts; Donald Trump is still president of the U.S.A; and, the European Union (EU) project is more fragile than ever. ) Indeed, in these turbulent times, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2016) has launched Project Veivalg (“Path”) to produce what will be only the third government white paper on Norwegian foreign policy in 28 years. Obviously, Norwegian foreign policy has been characterized by continuity, but given events in Europe and beyond, modifications are expected in the near future.

However, three possible national strategic objectives may emerge, when considered from a historical perspective. The two first objectives might be said to be of critical importance, since these are not likely to change in the foreseeable future for obvious geographic and geopolitical reasons.

First, deterrence of Russia is an objective of national strategic interest. This has led to a clear trend of focusing more on national tasks for the Norwegian military, and especially for NORSOF, over the last decade. According to the 2015 Expert Commission on Norwegian Security and Defence Policy, “Russia will remain the defining factor of Norwegian defense planning in the foreseeable future.” (p.5) Beadle and Diesen (2015) likewise argued that Norway will have to take greater responsibility for deterring outside aggression. “This is not a result of fundamental changes in the relationship with Russia, or because the world is likely to become less peaceful. It is mainly caused by growing uncertainty surrounding allied support to Norway in the most likely crisis scenarios” (Beadle & Diesen, p. 4). 

Second, maintaining a good and reassuring relationship with Russia is another objective of national strategic interest. Historically, Norway’s relations with Russia have consisted of a delicate balance of deterrence through NATO membership and reassurance through self-imposed military and nuclear restraints, diplomacy, and cooperation whenever possible. Reassurance might be described as Norway’s strategic niche because, before the Baltic countries became members of NATO, Norway was the only NATO country that bordered Russia. General Philip Breedlove (former Supreme Allied Commander Europe [SACEUR]) described Norway’s strategic role this way: “In NATO, we see Norway’s leadership in the way it handles relations with Russia. Norway has a long history of working with Russia in the border areas. You have experiences that we can learn from in NATO” (Langved, 2016).

Third, maintaining a good relationship with international institutions and collective security organizations is an objective in itself. Fulfilling this objective, which mainly involves being a good ally, results in a political demand to support international institutions, like the United Nations (UN), and collective security organizations, such as NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), with expeditionary military capabilities. One outcome affecting the Norwegian military, and especially NORSOF, is an increased demand for different types of MA operations. In 2016, then-U.S. president Barack Obama and NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg described an increased requirement for building local military capacity in the frontline states facing Russia, and in Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, and North Africa, to name just a few (White House, 2016). As Beadle and Diesen (2015) argued, the relevance of using Norwegian military means abroad in a globalized world will increase, regardless of changes in the threats at home. This is not likely to change in the near future, and politicians may be tempted to use NORSOF as an investment in political credibility and status abroad, while addressing threats together with NATO at the threat’s place of origin.

The three different national objectives described above represent different challenges if they are to be fulfilled. In combination with the Norwegian military’s current financial situation, it will be crucial for NORSOF to focus on developing capabilities that produce synergy and represent unique niche capabilities in NATO to avoid future imbalance and overstretching.

NORSOF Expertise, Norwegian Strategic Niches

As pointed out earlier, NATO SOF doctrine prescribes that “SOF conducts MA within their field of expertise.” Defining this field of expertise is, therefore, important for NORSOF in order to identify which Norwegian fields of expertise are aligned with Norwegian security interests and national objectives. This is important because NORSOF MA capability should, as we see it, be used in the future to increase Norwegian strategic net results. The best way to accomplish this is to provide NATO SOF or the GSN with something that no one else can provide. Is that possible for Norway, given its SOF’s expertise?

As of now, NORSOF’s expertise is closely linked to the unique Norwegian environment: think arctic conditions, winter, littorals, and mountainous terrain, as well as Norway’s large merchant fleet, and gas and oil platforms (Berg-Knutsen & Roberts, 2015, pp. 28–29). This expertise is relevant for conducting operations on Norwegian territory and can be classified as a niche capability for NATO. No other SOF is likely to be able to exploit the Norwegian environment as NORSOF, even though other SOF will be capable of operating in the specific environment.

In addition, NORSOF has 30 years of experience providing maritime and other CT support to the national police. When conducting these tasks, NORSOF operates under police mandate and rules of engagement (ROE), and NORSOF personnel are used to working in a joint environment. This represents an expertise not displayed by most SOF. This specific expertise has been evident while NORSOF established, mentored, and assisted a national police counterterrorism unit, the crisis response unit (CRU), in Afghanistan. The same expertise has been on display in NORSOF’s advising of Latvian and Lithuanian SOF and during the counterpiracy Operation Atalanta off the Somali coast, where NORSOF is conducted maritime MA with the Seychelles coast guard (“EU NAVFOR Somalia,” n.d.).

These examples show that the experience required to conduct NORSOF national CT missions in support of the police provides NORSOF with a solid foundation of military expertise that has proved especially relevant in MA operations. But is this expertise unique in NATO SOF, or within the GSN? Is it a niche capability? The answer is most likely no. It is not fair towards our allies to argue that this is entirely true.

Something else considered to be a Norwegian niche is the Norwegian Human Resource Management (HRM) system. This system makes it possible for the Norwegian military, and NORSOF, to keep non-commissioned officers and officers on active duty until they are 60 years old. This means that a Norwegian military career can stretch out for as long as 38 years (Berg-Knutsen & Roberts, 2015, p. 47). As pointed out in Strategic Design NORSOF 2025, this fact makes it necessary for NORSOF to plan how to use its personnel with a lifelong perspective (Berg-Knutsen & Roberts, 2015, pp. 46–47). Norway has conscription of all members of its population, male and female (Regjeringen, 2014). This conscription model, in combination with the fact that the Norwegian military does not need everyone to serve in order to fill its organization, works as a first line of selection for NORSOF. Since NORSOF selects from a pool of individuals that already have been selected for conscription, the quality of the personnel within NORSOF is high and makes it possible for NORSOF to stand up different career tracks for different types of personnel if NORSOF wants to. The HRM model, as proposed in Strategic Design NORSOF 2025 and depicted in Figures 1 and 2, covers three different tracks—Warrior Diplomat, Subject Matter Expert, and Command—and the proposed model of a networked community of experts working within NORSOF specifically with Military Assistance, as described in a recent capstone project covering NORSOF Military Assistance capability development, may represent a niche if NORSOF puts efforts into establishing them (Berg-Knutsen & Roberts, 2015, pp. 51–55; Kristiansen & Hedenstrom, 2016, pp. 88–89, 91–96). 

Figure 1: Potential NORSOF Career Tracks (Berg-Knutsen & Roberts, 2015, p. 51.

Figure 2: Potential NORSOF Career Tracks (Berg-Knutsen & Roberts, 2015, pp. 54)

Can Norway as a nation also represent a niche in itself in future MA operations? If so, can NORSOF exploit it in order to produce unique effects on behalf of NATO by doing MA operations? We believe so.

It is often argued that small-state Norway “punches above its weight” in international affairs, especially with regards to conflict resolution. What has made Norway useful and important to the great powers after the Cold War has been its policy of involvement (Carvalho & Lie, 2014, p. 62). Norwegian involvement in a series of negotiation processes is what has given the country stature, standing, and access beyond its size. Since 1993, Norway has been involved in conflict negotiations in South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Somalia, the Philippines, Israel/Palestine, Nepal, Myanmar, Guatemala, Colombia, Afghanistan, and Libya (Norwegian Government, 2013; Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2016).

As pointed out by Haaverstad (2011), Norway has also had substantial success with defense security sector reform (DSSR) projects when the Department of Defense (DOD) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs have worked closely together. For instance, Norway conducted two DSSR projects in the West Balkans, one in Serbia and one in Montenegro. Both were said to enhance stability and development in the Western Balkans, a key Norwegian policy objective at the time (Haaverstad, 2011, p. 5). Norway has also led the interagency establishment of the Joint Training and Evaluation Center (JTEC) in Georgia, which is one of the most important measures taken lately to qualify Georgia for a potential NATO membership (NATO, 2015).

Indeed, Norway is well suited to pursue these types of operations, but should NORSOF focus on these roles? Our conclusion is yes. Arguably, Norway is better positioned than any other country to create strategic effects in conflicts between or within small states, by utilizing diplomatic networks and Norway’s reputation. Norway is a “superpower” when it comes to conflict resolution, with well-developed diplomacy, reputation, financial resources, patience, endurance, and a network for this activity (Hanssen-Bauer, 2005, p. 4). In combination with a small, flexible, well-educated, well-trained, well-equipped, and strategic-thinking NORSOF, which consists of specially selected operators and officers who potentially have lifelong careers within SOF, as described in the Strategic Design NORSOF 2025 and depicted in Figure 3, Norway can represent an important and unique niche capability for NATO and the GSN (Berg-Knutsen & Roberts, 2015, pp. 46–47). This role is in line with what the strategic design study, Strategic Design NORSOF 2025, mentions as relevant roles for NORSOF in the future (see Figure 3; Berg-Knutsen & Roberts, 2015, p. 32).

Figure 3: The Future NORSOF Operator (Berg-Knutsen & Roberts, 2015, p. 43)

Enhancing Norwegian Strategic Utility Within NATO by Exploiting Norwegian Niche Capabilities and Still Fulfill Norway’s Strategic National Objectives

Even though all three Norwegian strategic national objectives, as they are outlined in this article, might be affected by the course of action (COA) presented below, there is no doubt that the COA is directed toward the third strategic national objective, to have a good relationship with international institutions and collective security organizations.

In order to fulfill this particular objective, we propose using NORSOF actively by doing MA in support of negotiations, DSSRs, and DDRs. By doing so, Norwegian strategic utility within NATO will be enhanced. A traditional notion of MA is that it is normally associated with training, mentoring, and assistance of military or police-like organizations or groups. This COA widens the spectrum of who may receive MA to include negotiators and intelligence agencies. This is not something completely new; in reality, this proposed COA represents a renewed, enhanced, and more intentional Norwegian focus on interagency support to negotiations, DSSRs, and DDRs.

Since the security environment is constantly changing, and since the level of experience with this type of operation is limited, it is challenging to paint a picture of how far a COA involving NORSOF in support of negotiation, DSSRs, and DDRs could reach and what effects could be expected. That is why, before the COA is outlined briefly, we lay out some history of how the Norwegian government has worked as negotiators in the past and how the Norwegian military has worked to support these types of activities. The intent is to give an idea of how far this proposed COA might reach.  

Strategic Context - Norway as Negotiator.

As stated earlier, Norway is often described as a “superpower” when it comes to conflict resolution; Norway has a well-developed diplomacy, a reputation for neutrality, and the financial resources, patience, endurance, and network for this activity (Hanssen-Bauer, 2005). Since 1993, Norway has been involved in more than 20 peace processes or attempts to reconcile groups in conflict (Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2016). 

In 1999, Norway was invited by Sri Lankan authorities and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to act as a facilitator for negotiations between the parties. Norway was asked to bring the parties to the table and assist with negotiations and communication between them, as well as with the outside world. The parties agreed to a cease-fire in 2002, but it broke down, and there was a bloody end to the conflict in 2009 (Sørbø, Goodhand, Klem, Nissen, & Selbervik, 2011). 
One of the more tangible successes in Norwegian peace diplomacy was the peace agreement in Guatemala in 1996, which was reached after years of negotiations. It came in the wake of the groundbreaking Oslo Agreement peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians three years earlier. Despite the later collapse of the Oslo Agreement, this was a diplomatic triumph in the Middle East that was perceived as a strategic victory for a small nation.

The 2005 peace agreement in Sudan confirmed Norway’s reputation as a small superpower in peace. The cooperation with the United States was especially close. A favorable side effect was that Norwegian “soft power” opened doors for Norwegian politicians into the “hard power” in Washington. In the case of Afghanistan, Norway established contacts with Taliban leadership in 2007 and worked actively to influence internal processes in Washington until 2011, when the United States for the first time called for negotiations with the Taliban (Godal et al., 2016). Norway mediated contact between the parties and conducted high-level meetings with the Taliban leadership in Pakistan, Oslo, and Doha, Qatar (Godal et al., 2016).

In the case of Libya, Norwegian diplomats were involved in secret negotiations with Muammar al-Gadhafi’s son from 2010. Allegedly, representatives of the rebels and Saif Gadhafi met about 30 times in Tunisia, Istanbul, Paris, and Oslo without reaching an agreement before Operation Unified Protector reached its most intense phase in 2011 (Lysberg, 2016).

Norway has also been involved in the peace and reconciliation efforts in Colombia for decades. Norway is the official facilitator, along with Cuba, for the ongoing peace process between the Colombian government and FARC-EP. Negotiations were launched in Oslo in October 2012, and the talks have since taken place in Oslo and Havana (Royal Norwegian Embassy in Manila, n.d.). This resulted in a peace agreement between FARC and the Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, signed in June 2016 (UN News Center, 2016). A number of hostages have been released during this process, often with direct Norwegian involvement (Regjeringen 2013; 2015).

Norwegian authorities believe negotiations are worth the effort and risk; of the 61 conflicts that ended the last 35 years, 77% did so through a peace agreement, and 16.4% through the military victory of one of the parties (Fisas, 2016, p. 9). The culture of negotiation is a reality, and Norway is a major part of it. However, as Helgesen (2007) argued, Norway struggles to square the circle of being a loyal military team player, helping to demonstrate a united international front against terrorism, and at the same time wanting to support negotiated solutions to conflicts where one side is identified as a terrorist organization.

Strategic Context—The Norwegian Military Working in Support of Negotiations and DDRs.

During the negotiations on Sri Lanka, Norwegian military experts helped work out the military technicalities of de-escalation, advanced positions, and front lines (Sørbø et al., 2011, p. 36). In the Balkans, NORSOF acted as liaisons and advisors between the peacekeeping force and the former warring parties. The concept was called “Joint Commission Observers” (JCO) and was founded by General Sir Michael Rose. NORSOF established contact between hard-to-reach decision-makers from both parties and mediated contact, often preventing episodes that could have turned into open conflict (Melien, 2012, p. 318). Other SOF roles in the Balkans were to assess the disposition and strengths of specific forces, often through direct liaison with warring commanders, and locating and marking suitable drop zones for UN food drops (Oliver, 2005). NORSOF also have organizational experience from DDR processes, both in the Balkans and in Afghanistan. One example of a disarmament operation was Operation Essential Harvest in Macedonia in 2001, in which NORSOF contributed to the allied collection of over 50,000 weapons (Bakkeli, 2013).

Concept of Operations for MA in Support of Negotiations, DSSRs, and DDRs

The concept of this type of MA operation is based on the following argument: the NORSOF community is positioned in the middle of this seeming contradiction between (military) counterterrorism and (civilian) negotiations, and thus, potentially may help bridging it. NORSOF have capabilities that may support one or both of these lines of effort. One way of conceptualizing SOF is between Intelligence and State, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: SOF Bridges to Other Agencies (Simons, 2012)

In the Norwegian context, the Norwegian Intelligence Service provides full spectrum intelligence support to the Norwegian government, including support for negotiations (Godal et al., 2016, p. 138). The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs engages in overt and clandestine diplomacy and negotiations, and development and aid through government and non-government organizations. SOF’s role, in contrast, is to deal with the armed “Others”—whether foreign militaries (e.g., Foreign Internal Defense (FID)) or supported groups (e.g., Unconventional Warfare (UW)), or anti-state/system actors like terrorists (e.g., SR/DA). All of these are important actors in negotiations, DSSRs or DDRs.

COA Outline

In this interagency COA, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the supported agency; the Norwegian Intelligence Service and NORSOF are supporting agencies. Through the interagency liaison network in Oslo and at select embassies, NORSOF MA experts are providing MA to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Norwegian Intelligence Service in support of specific negotiation efforts.

NORSOF can increase the reach and capability of the negotiating teams through their contacts in the GSN. The GSN offers alternative access to critical information (especially Host Nation Information [HNI] and Friendly Forces Information Requirements [FFIR]). The GSN offers a global, physical, and potentially clandestine SOF infrastructure that may be used for negotiation purposes, and SOF resources that enable physical access to hostile, denied, or politically sensitive areas. NORSOF provide MA expertise to negotiating teams, especially with regards to assessments on what is feasible and possible to achieve through traditional DDR processes, in which MA is a critical component.

In “Second-Generation DDR,” NORSOF supports activities that can be implemented when the preconditions for traditional DDR are not in place (UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, 2010). This includes the establishment of liaison between parties in semi/non-permissible environments, quickly securing activity and infrastructure important for the negotiating efforts, and supporting local negotiations programs using an evidence-based approach, much like recent SOF efforts in Afghanistan (UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, 2010).

During negotiated cease-fires, NORSOF may assist in assessing the disposition of specific forces (e.g., strengths, deployments, and moral). NORSOF may contribute to relative certainty, which is the intent of SR (Westberg, 2016, p. 27). NORSOF may also establish liaison with local commanders to ensure the mapping process can be completed. NORSOF may locate and mark suitable drop zones for food/medical drops, ensuring that the much-needed aid reaches the right people, in order to establish trust during negotiations. NORSOF also has a “Role 2+” hospital platoon that may be inserted by airdrop, both the infrastructure and the surgeons (Ege, 2012). This may be used as a high-end confidence-building measure to support cease-fires and establish trust during negotiations. NORSOF may increase the Hostage Rescue Operation (HRO) readiness and forward-deploy HRO capabilities during high-risk negotiations. NORSOF may also support the build-up of Escape & Evasion (E&E) networks for civilian actors engaged in the negotiation efforts, and provide relevant E&E training in Norway.

If the end result of a peace agreement is that one or more of the opposing actors engages in some kind of Security Sector Reform (SSR), NORSOF may assume traditional MA roles, directed at several levels of the advised/mentored/partnered organization, also known as vertical implementation of MA (Kristiansen & Hedenstrom, 2016, pp. 30–31).

Conclusion - Recommendations and Implications


NATO’s requirement for new, more cost-effective military assistance (MA) operations directed at key strategic objectives, as described by Webb (2015), can be met by using different nations’ SOF deliberately to conduct specific MA operations within the field of expertise of that particular nation’s SOF. This will potentially lead to enhance strategic utility of NATO SOF, and the strategic utility of the particular nation’s SOF will also increase.


SOF leadership should emphasize educating and encouraging decision-makers on the smart use of SOF. Presenting different and new concept of operations—which is in line with existing vital security issues and concerns—with the intention of making these concepts part of national policy is one way to do it. At least from a NATO perspective, the total number of fields of SOF expertise will represent a more comprehensive collection of capabilities than NATO possesses today. A future analysis of NATO SOF MA capabilities might show that some capabilities are lacking because some fields of expertise are not covered. If this becomes the case, it is then possible for NATO to incentivize nations to acquire these capabilities on behalf of NATO. From our point of view, security interests, national strategic objectives, and potential national niches should be considered when new capabilities are to be generated.

In this regard, Norway is an example of a nation that could offer a unique capability to NATO within MA. Norway’s security concerns, strategic objectives, national niches, and potential for interagency cooperation show us that Norway could be a good fit for conducting MA operations in support of negotiations, DSSRs, and DDRs on behalf of NATO. By doing this, Norway will still “punch above its weight” and keep its reputation of being an effective negotiator and conflict-solver in the international arena, while several elements of the Norwegian interagency system—including NORSOF—would experience an enhanced level of strategic utility, and most important, NATO’s total strategic utility will be enhanced.

To make this possible, NORSOF must prioritize it. As suggested by Kristiansen and Hedenstrom (2016), NORSOF must adjust its doctrine, review its organizational setup, establish relevant training and educational programs, and potentially make some changes in its selection and HRM-system (pp. 81–99). Building a network of MA practitioners throughout NORSOF will be key, because it is not likely that NORSOF will grow too much in size.

Also important to make this possible is that NATO acknowledges that this is one of the capabilities Norway is contributing with. NATO cannot demand “everything always from everyone.” An approach like this should force decision-makers to appreciate the opportunities, but also realize the limitations, that lie within SOF.


NATO is a coalition. And within a coalition, objectives differ, interests differ, capabilities differ, and political wills differ. These facts represent some challenges. The pattern of politicians committing troops to operations by numbers, without giving the military either a concrete mission or a chance to analyze whether the number of troops committed will represent a relevant military solution in a strategic context, must end. The tradition of military officers hiding behind the Clausewitzian trinity, while blaming politicians for badly constructed policies, the lack of appreciation of strategy as the bridge between the military and policy, as described by Gray (1999), and the intense focus on using a direct approach whenever the opportunity shows itself must also end. Politicians and decision-makers need to pay attention to what military officers are saying, and military officers need to appreciate the complex challenges the security environment actually represents. Understanding how to build and execute relevant strategies is an important element of this. Obviously, this needs to happen simultaneously.

Nevertheless, we do believe the fastest way ahead toward a relevant solution to this challenge is embracing McChrystal’s model of Team of Teams. Doing so will most likely lead to better education of military officers on how to communicate with decision-makers and politicians, in order to build the trust needed for politicians and decision-makers to actually ask the right questions of the military, request the right analyses, and give the military relevant and achievable missions. As of now, when a military officer enters the military strategic leadership, he or she has most likely worked in completely different environments from other individuals from other organizations and agencies that the officer will encounter. This is something to be aware of. To be honest, the traditional shaping of military officers is not the best fit for producing diplomats or people who are able to communicate like one. And on the other side, civilians are not usually shaped in order to understand how military officers view the world and communicate. SOF represent something different, something flexible and an entity that may overcome these challenges, on behalf of the interagency team at large.


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End Notes

[i] SR as defined in NATO (2013): “SR is conducted by SOF to support the collection of a commander's Priority Intelligence Requirements (PIRs) by employing unique capabilities or Joint Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (JISR) assets. As part of the Allied theatre INTEL collection process, SR provides specific, well-defined, and possibly time-sensitive information of strategic or operational significance. It may complement other collection methods where constraints are imposed by weather, terrain-masking, hostile countermeasures, or other systems’ availability. SR places persistent ‘eyes on target’ in hostile, denied, or politically sensitive territory. SOF can provide timely information by using their judgment and initiative in a way that technical JISR cannot. SOF may conduct these tasks separately, supported by, in conjunction with, or in support of other component commands. They may use advanced reconnaissance and surveillance techniques, JISR assets and equipment, and collection methods, sometimes augmented by the employment of indigenous assets.”

[ii] DA as defined in NATO (2013): “DA is a precise offensive operation conducted by SOF which is limited in scope and duration in order to seize, destroy, disrupt, capture, exploit, recover, or damage high value or high pay-off targets. DA differs from conventional offensive actions in the level of risk, techniques employed, and the degree of precision utilized to create a specific effect, and usually incorporates a planned withdrawal from the immediate objective area. DA is focused on specific, well-defined targets of strategic and operational significance, or in the conduct of decisive tactical operations. SOF may conduct DA independently, with support from conventional forces, or in support of conventional forces. Activities within DA can include: raids, Ambushes, Assaults, Terminal Guidance Operations, Recovery Operations, Precision Destruction Operations, and Opposed boarding operations” (p. 2-3).


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