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Joint Special Operations University Press Publications



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.


Political Strategy in Unconventional Warfare: Opportunities Lost in Eastern Syria and Preparing for the Future by Carole A. O’Leary and Nicholas A. Heras

Framed by more than three decades of anthropological research experience working in Syria and surrounding Middle Eastern countries, and experience working with both U.S. development and military entities, Dr. O’Leary and Mr. Heras offer a sociocultural and political analysis valuable for deployed SOF. They contend that the political strategy necessary for sustainable strategic effect in the unconventional warfare (UW) component of the counterterrorism operation against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was subordinated to the operational level imperative to cultivate a viable proxy force. The authors offer SOF a way to conceptualize strategic political analysis for UW efforts using Syria as a recent case study, but also provide a glimmer of hope for consolidating the gains made there in support of national policy.


Advancing SOF Cultural Engagement: The Malinowski Model for a Qualitative Approach by Robert R. Greene Sands and Darby Arakelian

In Advancing SOF Cultural Engagement: The Malinowski Model for a Qualitative Approach, Robert Greene Sands and Darby Arakelian propose a special operations relevant model for engaging populations, illuminating their worldviews and values, appreciating their interests, and translating significant social, cultural, and political information into operational analysis. Their objectives are to introduce the core concepts, the base vocabulary, and the foundational skills in anthropology and sociology necessary for improving the human aspects core competency. While Greene Sands and Arakelian do not expect SOF to become anthropologists, they assert that Malinowski’s population-centric research methods are desperately needed to make sense of contemporary human aspects of military operations.

Occasional Paper

Structural Violence and Relative Deprivation: Precursors to Collective Political Violence in Sierra Leone by Earl Conteh-Morgan

In this new occasional paper, Dr. Conteh-Morgan examines how the combination of structural violence and relative deprivation are associated with, and were predictors of, civil strife in Sierra Leone between 1991 and 2002. He focuses his analysis on one key question: In what ways did structural violence deepen insecurities and intensify relative deprivation in Sierra Leone and contribute to civil war? The author provides an in-depth explanation of the concept of structural violence and how it underscores the realities of human misery associated with inequality and disability. He then describes how the negative effects of structural violence of state institutions in many developing countries can lead to feelings of relative deprivation in individuals and groups in society. Dr. Conteh-Morgan then argues that Sierra Leone was plagued by structural violence and it was this condition that then contributed to a sense of relative deprivation among the population which in turn sparked the civil war that lasted from 1991 to 2002. This study provides the SOF practitioner with an in-depth analysis of how internal and external structural problems intensified political grievances, increased deprivations and widespread misery, and eventually led to the implosion of Sierra Leone into full scale civil war.


Property Rights and Social Justice as an Indicator of Stability: The SOF Nexus by Bill Mandrick.

The role of economics in the generation and mitigation of grievances is well documented and understood. Likewise, the reliance on economic documents forms the basis for credible economic systems worldwide. For the Special Operations Forces (SOF) professional, however, the issues of property rights, economic development, and the generation of wealth are more nuanced and central to the successful completion of SOF missions in failing and failed states. As Colonel Bill Mandrick demonstrates in this monograph, a nation-state's failure to have in place a system for the equitable access to and the sharing of economic activity is a guarantor of grievances, anger, and instability. So too is the failure to enforce an existing system of property rights and economic opportunity. He argues that an awareness of the economic records of a nation-state provides useful insights into its stability and can provide important intelligence to expand SOF situational awareness and support SOF mission planning.

Occasional Paper

Reconceptualizing Radicalized Groups and Their Messages by Paul Lieber and Yael Lieber

In this new JSOU Press occasional paper Dr. Paul Lieber and Dr. Yael Lieber explore alternative approaches for Special Operations Forces (SOF) to engage with radicalized groups through comprehensive engagement in the narrative space to defeat the effects of ISIS in the psychological and sociological aspects of the human domain. Rethinking this problem from a joint social psychology—notably realistic conflict theory (RCT)—and social network analysis approach can yield unprecedented insights on the inner workings of radicalized groups and their penchant for political violence. The authors explore conflict theory through the lens of the Robbers' Cave experiment conducted by Muzafer Sherif. The authors posit that in general, radicalization, and hopefully de-radicalization, may be said to follow a similar process whereby groups that are culturally, religiously, and/or racially diverse perceive each other as in competition for scarce resources such as employment, housing, education, and benefits--in-groups and out-groups. This paper continues with an analysis of the roles that are essential to promulgating and sustaining message influence within an in-group social network—group communication norms. Within these pages are tremendous insights, relevant to the SOF community, on ways to rethink counter-radicalization efforts.


IS and Cultural Genocide: Antiquities Trafficking in the Terrorist State by Russell D. Howard, Marc D. Elliott, and Jonathan R. Prohov

In this monograph, the authors offer compelling research that reminds government and military officials of the moral, legal, and ethical dimensions of protecting cultural antiquities from looting and illegal trafficking. Internationally, states generally agree on the importance of protecting antiquities, art, and cultural property not only for their historical and artistic importance, but also because such property holds economic, political, and social value for nations and their peoples. Protection is in the common interest because items or sites are linked to the common heritage of mankind. The authors make the point that a principle of international law asserts that cultural or natural elements of humanity’s common heritage should be protected from exploitation and held in trust for future generations. The conflicts in Afghanistan, and especially in Iraq and Syria, coupled with the rise of the Islamic State (IS), have brought renewed attention to the plight of cultural heritage in the Middle East and throughout the world.


Cultural Intelligence for Special Forces Personnel by Russell D. Howard, Greta Hanson, and Carly Laywell


In a 2009 JSOU Press monograph reflecting on the education requirements for Special Operations Forces (SOF) personnel, Brigadier General Russ Howard (U.S. Army, retired) identified “cultural competency” as critical to SOF professional development. He returns to this theme with researchers Greta Hanson and Carly Laywell by answering this question: Why can some people act effectively in new cultures or among people with unfamiliar backgrounds while others, even highly respected people within their own group, stumble in those same situations? The research team asserts that cultural intelligence (CQ) makes the difference and describes a proficiency that goes beyond simply being intelligent, emotionally mature, or having good general social skills. Their message to SOF is that a person with high CQ, whether cultivated or innate, can understand and master situations, persevere, and do the right thing.


Assessing Special Operations Forces Language, Region, and Culture Needs: Leveraging Digital and LRC Learning ot Reroute the "Roadmap" from Human Terrain to Human Domain by Robert R. Greene Sands


Dr. Greene Sands’ Assessing Special Operations Forces Language, Region, and Culture Needs uses his vast experience and knowledge of this subject and draws from the existing Department of Defense Defense Language Transformation Roadmap (DLRT), recent lessons learned, and historical beginnings to outline the importance to the U.S. military, especially the Special Operations Forces (SOF) community. The past decade of counterinsurgency operations has challenged the U.S. military personnel in their ability to carry out a variety of missions involving culturally complex situations and interactions. Success in such operations often depends on difficult linguistic and interpersonal skill-based competencies and abilities. Dr. Sands emphasizes the utility of language skills, along with regional and cultural knowledge and cross-cultural competence, in engaging populations across sometimes uncompromising cultural divides. This monograph provides key lessons learned as U.S. Special Operations Command determines the way ahead for LRC education and training to better prepare the future SOF operator to meet the challenges of operating in complex environments and meet the command’s priority to continue to build relationships.


Strategic Culture by Russell D. Howard

In this monograph, Brigadier General (retired) Russ Howard presents a substitute for traditional International Relations Theory by asserting that strategic culture analysis of states and non-state actors or groups is a better predictor of behavior. Specifically, General Howard posits that studying and understanding the strategic cultures of threatening states and non-state actors might be a more useful mechanism for analyzing potential adversaries’ proclivity to using force to further their strategic security objectives.  The author delves into the strategic cultures of The United States, China, Iran, North Korea, and al-Qaeda before analyzing commonalities among them. This founda­tion allows General Howard to then develop and provide actionable policy guidelines to contextualize an end state which strategic cultural analysis can provide.  This strategic culture analysis can be beneficial to all echelons, from the SOF operator in a village who must understand and work within the strategic culture of the operational environment, to the policymakers who must decide National Strategy.


Iran: Illusion, Reality, and Interests by Roby C. Barrett

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran has perhaps been the United States’ most intractable foreign policy issue. Dr. Roby Barrett provides a deep analysis of Iran’s motivations and finds that they are not the result of irrational messianic religious thought, but rather are based on a rational worldview developed over centuries of history. Looking back over the course of history Barrett argues that a strong sense of victimization and humiliation, rooted in Persia’s loss of its historical preeminence in the Gulf, shapes the Iranian psyche. He suggests that their president holds little actual power. The Iranian constitution vests the highest political and religious authority in the supreme leader; this includes the power to declare war and dismiss the president. As such the United States must be prepared to deal with the paradigm of an entire regime, not just the president. 


Strategic Culture and Strategic Studies: An Alternative Framework for Assessing al-Queda and the Global Jihad Movement by Richard H. Shultz

More than a decade after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States by al-Qaeda and a year after the death of Osama bin Laden, Dr. Richard Shultz offers an innovative analysis of that organiza-tion’s strategic culture.  His analysis upends the conventional wisdom that only nation-states can have a strategic culture, an internal process through which issues of strategic significance and intent are discussed, debated, refined, and executed. 


Cultural and Linguistic Skills Acquisition for Special Forces: Necessity, Acceleration, and Potential Alternatives by Russ Howard

Brigadier General (Ret) Russ Howard articulates the need for SOF to develop language and cultural skills capabilities that reflect the wider range of locales and ethnic groups in which SOF engage while carrying out their diverse missions. General Howard outlines various definitions of culture and highlights the relationship between cultural understanding and the ability to predict behavior on the ground--an invaluable asset for a SOF operator. Drawing on his experience leading the Special Forces Language School, General Howard explores the relationship between learning a language and culture, highlighting the implications for SOF. As USSOCOM and SOF rebalance the force for a posture of persistent presence in complex operating environments, this monograph is an important contribution to the discussion of how language and cultural skills capabilities should be defined, prioritized, and developed. 


Cross-Cultural Competence and Small Groups: Why SOF are the way SOF are by Jessica Glicken Turnley

In this two-part work, Dr. Turnley addresses first the relationship between cultural competency and language, closing the first section with a look at how cross-cultural competency is measured and assessed. The discussion addresses the ability to operate cross-culturally--long been touted as one of the hallmarks of SOF general and Army Special Forces (SF) in particular--and explores if and how the various service special operations components select and assess candidates for their ability to operate cross-culturally. Among other things, this will consider the unequal distribution of this competency across the SOF service components. The second part of this monograph addresses current interest in developing and transmitting knowledge about human terrain within the Department of Defense. As culture and its importance as a component of successful warfighting has risen significantly, the defense community as a whole has embraced the tenants of irregular warfare. This section further addresses whether there is a difference between the ways in which the General Purpose Force (GPF) and SOF develop and use cultural knowledge and considers whether an increased focus on irregular warfare forced GPF to adopt a skill set long at work within SOF, or if SOF retain either a special type of knowledge or a special way to apply knowledge more broadly held.

The Bali Paradox: An Examination of Jemaah Islamiyah 1992 - 2002

Counterterrorism (CT) policy is like a game of chess.  It often evolves as the result of a terrorist act or campaign.  The objective of an effective CT policy is to identify and address the conditions that lead a terrorist group to act.  It requires all facets  of political, military, intelligence, and law enforcement planning to identify the root causes before a common thread binds these causes into a definable terrorist group.  The history of Indonesia is defined by struggle: the struggle for independence from Dutch colonial rule, the struggle to establish the Islamic State of Indonesia, the struggle for self determination by the people of Indonesia from an authoritarian regime.  These all play significant roles in the psyche of the population.  
 This paper is simply an academic analysis of the strategic and operational environment in Indonesia prior to the Bali bombings.  It is organized into five chapters that focus on the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).  The overall intent of the first chapter is twofold.  First, it aims to academically examine the origins of JI in terms of the antecedent conditions that,  collectively, led to its creation and decision to conduct terrorist activities.  Second, it hopes to identify the actors that helped to bond the antecedents together.