Special Operations and Diplomacy: A Unique Nexus by Steven Kashkett, The Foreign Service Journal
For most of us in the Foreign Service, one of the most striking developments in the 16 years since the 9/11 terror attacks has been a dramatic increase in synergy between the Department of State and the U.S. military. Coordination of our military and diplomatic activities overseas has become a guiding principle.
The shared role of the military and State Department civilians in managing the prolonged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the broadening of U.S. military operations across a variety of foreign areas, and the growing ascendancy of the military in foreign policy decision-making have all contributed to the realization that State and Defense must work together more effectively. Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of special operations.
Embedded State foreign policy advisers (POLADs) are now assigned throughout the special operations community within the U.S. military. This diplomatic presence extends not just to the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) based at MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida, which oversees all special operations forces (SOF) worldwide, but also to the headquarters of each of the functional component special operations commands for the four branches of the military and to the theater special operations commands in each region of the world. At the same time, SOCOM has assigned its own dedicated SOF liaison officers to the State Department and more than two dozen U.S. embassies.
The convergence of interest between diplomacy and special operations can best be explained by understanding the unique— and often publicly misconstrued—activities that SOF elements undertake abroad…