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Joint Special Operations University Press Publications


Iranian Proxy Groups in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen: A Principal-Agent Comparative Analysis by Diane M. Zorri, Houman A. Sadri, and David C. Ellis

Understanding how and why Iran uses proxy forces throughout the Middle East is vitally important for policymakers, military strategists, and operators. The lessons in this volume are not isolated to U.S. approaches toward Iranian use of proxies but have broader implications in great power competition. Russia and China have their own versions of proxies that also seek to compete with the U.S. short of armed conflict. Zorri, Sadri, and Ellis have provided the special operations community with a roadmap to responding to such activities when so many are struggling to find a solution.


Special Operations Forces Civil Affairs in Great Power Competition by Travis Clemens

This monograph explores one key element of the ability of SOF to compete below the level of armed conflict—civil affairs (CA). Although the counterterrorism fight has featured kinetic operations as the quintessential SOF strength, great power competition will likely see CA assume a more prominent role as the U.S. and its competitors seek broader influence across the Global South. Major Travis Clemens provides a terrific overview of how CA can contribute in new and highly valuable ways in seeking advantage in the context of great power competition. As the enterprise wrestles with adapting itself for the future, assessments from members of the force, such as this one, will become increasingly important.


Informal Governance as a Force Multiplier in Counterterrorism: Evidence for Burkina Faso by Margaret H. Ariotti and Kevin S. Fridy

Dr. Kevin Fridy and Dr. Molly Ariotti assert that a CT effect in Burkina Faso can be more fruitfully generated by incorporating the range of Burkinabè informal governance providers into joint, interagency, and partner operational concepts. Although joint doctrine correctly notes the host nation (HN) government must invite U.S. Special Operations Forces into the country, it errs in assuming that only the HN provides the population with governance. By differentiating between the concepts of government and governance, Fridy and Ariotti demonstrate how local political legitimacy can be enhanced—and the allure of violent extremist organizations diminished—by enhancing indigenous, informal governance structures. Although written from the perspective of CT, readers are encouraged to imagine how SOF could apply the insights in the context of great power competition as well.

Research Topics 2021

undefinedSpecial Operations Research Topics 2020 (Revised Edition for Academic Year 2021)

The JSOU Special Operations Research Topics 2020 publication, newly revised for academic year 2021 with 18 new topics, highlights a wide range of research topics collaboratively developed and prioritized by experts from across the Special Operations Forces (SOF) community. As with the previous versions of this publication, this list is tailored to address special operations priorities. The topics in these pages are intended to guide research projects for professional military education (PME) students, JSOU faculty, fellows and students, and others writing about special operations during this academic year. This research will provide a better understanding of the complex issues and opportunities affecting the strategic and operational planning needs of SOF.

Occasional Paper

undefined The Culture They Keep: The Role of Legal Professionals in Restoring Accountability and Legitimacy to SOF Culture by Jason DeSon

In this award winning paper, Lieutenant Colonel Jason DeSon looks at Special Operations Forces (SOF) culture and how the legal professionals within the USSOCOM can help restore an ordered value system.  He asks the question, “If a disordered value system is truly the source of the current ethical and cultural shortcomings of SOF—where individual and team considerations come before ethical standards—then what role, if any, does the legal professionals of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps supporting SOF have in enabling the commander to overcome those shortcomings and promote a culture of adherence to those high standards of ethical and professional conduct?”  Lt Col DeSon proposes a four-step process to help clarify the SOF culture problems and develop solutions.  This paper will be of benefit to SOF leaders as they reinforce the very highest ethical and professional standards within the special operations community.

Interagency Reference Guide (Fourth Edition)

undefinedSpecial Operations Forces Interagency Reference Guide, Fourth Edition, edited by Charles Ricks 

Mr. Charles Ricks, a Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) Senior Fellow, first compiled this guide over a decade ago and continues to provide updates and revisions so that it remains a valuable reference work for JSOU students, Special Operations Forces (SOF) staff officers, and partners within the interagency (IA) enterprise. This is now the fourth edition of this publication. This new edition recognizes the changing nature of the international security environment and the adaptive and evolutionary nature of the IA process. While counterterrorism and combating terrorism remain essential SOF activities, the IA concepts, principles, and processes discussed here apply similarly to the involvement of SOF across the entire competition continuum and to all SOF core activities. As noted by the fifth SOF Truth, “Most special operations require non-SOF support.” That reality continues to form the basis for this guide as it addresses SOF IA engagement across the entire international competition continuum.


Resistance Operating Concept (ROC)

undefinedResistance Operating Concept (ROC) by Otto C. Fiala with foreword by Major General Kirk Smith and Brigadier General Anders Löfberg

     (Note, this is a 10MB files so may take longer than expected to download).

The primary focus of the Resistance Operating Concept (ROC) is developing a nationally authorized, organized resistance capability prior to an invasion and full or partial occupation resulting in a loss of territory and sovereignty. Resistance, as a form of warfare, can be conceived as part of a layered, in-depth national defense. Toward this end, the ROC first seeks to delineate the concept of national resilience in a pre-crisis environment. Second, the ROC seeks to develop resistance requirements, and support planning and operations in the event that an adversary compromises or violates the sovereignty and independence of an allied or partner nation. The ROC attempts to demonstrate both the significance of national resilience and the criticality of maintaining legitimacy during the conduct of resistance operations during the struggle to restore and resume national sovereignty. This publication will serve as a cornerstone of knowledge for strategists, policymakers, researchers, academics, and practitioners involved in furthering resistance capabilities.


undefinedVillage Stability Operations and the Evolution of SOF Command and Control in Afghanistan: Implications for the Future of Irregular Warfare by William Knarr and Mark Nutsch

In this monograph Bill Knarr and Mark Nutsch recount how the Special Operations Forces (SOF) command and control evolved with all of the Village Stability Operations (VSO) dimensions culminating ultimately in the creation of the Special Operations Joint Task Force. With the 2018  National Defense Strategy calling for expanding the competition space below the level of armed conflict, VSO provides a timely and relevant  example of how SOF can contribute to this vision. Just like terrorism, great power competition will play out in countries with weak sociopolitical systems. The inherently political character and joint, interagency, international/multinational, and corporate nature of VSO can be replicated  in many parts of the world for sustainable strategic effect. This monograph develops the concepts for SOF on how to contribute more  effectively and efficiently to the counterterrorism fight, but readers would do well to think about VSO principles and command and control in the context of great power competition.


Decision-Making Considerations in Support to Resistance by Will Irwin with Foreword by Lieutenant General Kenneth E. Tovo

The intent of this monograph is to reveal to Special Operations Forces (SOF) leaders and planners the variety of considerations facing decision makers, the approaches used in strategic- and operational-level decision making, and how they can better inform and influence that process with regard to special warfare. This monograph is a companion volume to two earlier works: Support to Resistance: Strategic Purpose and Effectiveness, and How Civil Resistance Works (And Why It Matters To SOF). This third volume describes some of the factors that decision makers have faced when considering support to resistance (STR) as a foreign policy option. This monograph should shed some light on how national security officials in the past have arrived at certain conclusions or why, in some cases, presidents have directed actions that were especially risky or controversial.

Occasional Paper

Re-Evaluating Special Operations Forces-Led Counterterrorism Efforts by Barnett S. Koven

Dr. Koven, in this occasional paper, posits that kinetic counterterrorism (CT) actions undertaken by the state to kill, capture, or otherwise disrupt terrorist groups are ineffective in isolation. While kinetic actions may succeed in disrupting a specific plot or other activities in the immediate term, they have little long-term effect on the ability of terrorist groups to operate. This study, backed by data from Colombian CT efforts over several years, demonstrates that government CT activities leading to the capture, killing, or demobilization of terrorists are correlated with an increase in terrorist attacks following a government’s actions. Moreover, this study reasons that government actions also serve to diffuse terrorist attacks into surrounding municipalities. Although kinetic CT actions may appear effective insofar as terrorist violence in the immediate vicinity of the CT actions decreases, if terrorism is displaced to other areas, this is not truly indicative of success. Dr. Koven's research suggests that successful CT approaches will require carefully sequenced kinetic and non-kinetic approaches.

JSOU Quick Look: Strategic Communication

JSOU Quick Look: Strategic Communication

by Paul Lieber

The Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) Quick Look series is a research initiative intended to provide an overview of key topics and issues of interest to members of the USSOCOM enterprise. In this Quick Look on strategic communication by JSOU Resident Senior Fellow Dr. Paul Lieber, the author explains what strategic communication is, why it is useful, how it can be used to change behavior, and how organizations can develop existing communication into strategic communication. The author begins with two examples of China's strategic communication initiatives regarding their territorial claims in the South China Sea: one medium used was a recently produced children's movie while the other was U.S. broadcaster ESPN's television coverage of the National Basketball Association's exhibition games played in China in early 2020. Dr. Lieber concludes with eight steps required to reorient existing communication into true strategic communication.

JSOU Quick Look: Ethics

JSOU Quick Look: Ethics

by Kari Thyne and Joseph Long

The Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) Quick Look series is a research initiative intended to provide an overview of key topics and issues of interest to members of the USSOCOM enterprise. In this Quick Look on ethics by JSOU faculty members Dr. Kari Thyne and Dr. Joseph Long, the authors explore the non-binary aspect of ethical decision-making in Special Operations Forces (SOF) environments. They establish a common vocabulary for discussing ethics in SOF operations and propose a way to develop necessary and useful tools that close the gap between the expectation and reality of what SOF operators must do. The authors conclude by proposing six SOF ethical decision-making truths to provide an anchor for ethical decision-making within SOF units.