Small Wars Journal

Special Ops and the Future of American Foreign Policy

Sat, 09/08/2012 - 8:30am

In this Center for National Policy video, SWJ friends Dave Maxwell, Fernando Lujan, Sean Naylor, and Ryan Evans talk special ops and foreign policy.

From the toppling of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan to the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, special operations have taken on a new prominence in American foreign policy in the 21st Century. It appears that America's reliance on special operations forces will only increase in the coming decade. Major Fernando Lujan, Colonel David Maxwell (ret.), Sean Naylor and moderator CNP Research Fellow Ryan Evans discussed the political and strategic implications.



Fri, 03/24/2023 - 11:56am

The statement is discussing the increasing importance of special operations forces in American foreign policy in the 21st century. It highlights major events, such as the toppling of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, where special operations forces played a crucial role and also use site there. The discussion suggests that this reliance on special operations forces is likely to continue in the future, and a panel of experts, including Major Fernando Lujan, Colonel David Maxwell (ret.), Sean Naylor, and moderator CNP Research Fellow Ryan Evans, analyzed the political and strategic implications of this trend.

All three guest speakers made relevant contributions to an important topic. While acknowledging the differences between the SOF tribes and the need for each, they didn't let it degenerate into a conflict between the tribes, but they did point out in various ways direct action centric dominance within the SOF community can be detrimental to our interests, especially when we're looking at SOF a policy tool in the post 9/11 era.

Dave did a great job of contrasting Special Warfare with surgical strike and helped make the case that we need a counter UW capability in addition to a UW capability. Based on his other comments I think he made the case that not all SOF need to be highly agile, some SOF need to be to regionally focused quietly doing the nation's work behind the scenes by developing relationships and gaining understanding. As Bob pointed out below, we're not a nation of assasains. Direct action should always be a supporting tool; never the strategy itself.However, when we need that the tool we better have it. We need both, but we still haven't found out how to best blend those capabilities yet.

MAJ Lujan provided telling examples of why small is beautiful when it comes to advising and hopefully we're moving in that direction. A surge may be needed for combat operations, but it is almost always the wrong approach when it comes to assisting the host nation with "their" security challenges. He also addressed important issues related to our personnel system that we're all too aware of, and lightly touched upon organization shortfalls that stiffle even the best operators. Unfortunately he ran out of time and wasn't able to expand on that topic.

Sean made a good case from a reporter's optic on the lack of SOCOM's transparency, but personally I come from the school where I think we're too transparent as it is. He also made some points on the JSOC mafia having the most influence in SOCOM, and that the American people should at least have some more visibility on the type of SOF they want through informed discussion (which means more access to reporters). Since we have about the lowest percentage of voters of any democracy I doubt our citizens would have much influence on the outcome of how SOF will be designed, but he still surfaces an important topic based on the growing importance of SOF to national security it would be helpful if people understood it is much more than dramatic raids.


Sat, 09/08/2012 - 10:57pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Major Lujan represents the very belated realization that COIN and allied capability building is a long term (>1 tour) affair. It is culturally anathema to the current US military structure. Victory is not a 5 year affair. If you are very successful, 20 years is good going.
How do you create institutional knowledge and relationships when churn is the default setting?

Robert C. Jones

Sat, 09/08/2012 - 10:24am

"Two Thumbs up" for Dave Maxwell's comments!

For too long we have focused on labeling our threats by the tactics they employ, rather than by an understanding of their purpose for action.

We have overblown the role of ideology in insurgency as being the basis for such purpose, and it has led to an excessive focus on counterterrorism and counterideology operations.

Many populaces around the world are rightfully restless. Expectations of governance are evolving far faster than many governments are either willing or able to accomodate. The better we understand these populaces and the critical perceptions that move them to action directly, or to simply lend support to organizations such as AQ, the better we will be at turning the corner on those irregular and unconventional threats to our national interests.

We do indeed have an amazing ability to strike directly at those who act out, but we have let lag our ability to understand and influence the populaces those malign actors emerge from. Shifting from a "counterterrorism" focus to a "counter-unconventional warfare" focus is, IMO, the best way to reframe this problem. We have build "CT" into every corner of government. It is not healthy. We are not a nation of assassins. By bringing CT into a larger, more comprehensive context of counter-UW we be begin to return to a national azimuth closer to the one our founding fathers originally plotted.

Nice job.