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Joint Special Operations University Press Publications



Special Operations Forces Transformation in the Future Operating Environment by Dr. Peter McCabe

In this edited volume, the authors pose solutions to Special Operations Forces’ (SOF) future challenges. Looking to the national defense strategy, this volume describes the role of competition in the future and the three ways SOF can compete, deter, and win. SOF must maintain their edge, and their transformation needs to be addressed at the individual, organizational, and institutional levels. This volume takes risk into consideration while addressing SOF transformation in three key areas: SOF roles and missions, culture, and great power competition. Both U.S. and Canadian SOF perspectives are outlined in this volume, and each chapter urges readers to consider how SOF might better compete short of armed conflict.


The Fourth Age of SOF: The Use and Utility of Special Operations Forces in a New Age by Will Irwin and Dr. Isaiah "Ike" Wilson III


The Fourth Age of SOF: The Use and Utility of Special Operations Forces in a New Age is a sweeping monograph that chronicles the history of modern Special Operations Forces (SOF) and insightfully describes their new challenges. The authors have compiled an excellent, concise history of SOF’s three earlier ages: 1941–1960, 1961–1979, and 1980–2020, setting the stage for projecting SOF’s Fourth-Age roles in the emerging era of strategic competition. The early years were not easy, but with determination and perseverance, the SOF community prevailed, and four decades of remarkable and unprecedented SOF achievements resulted. As they begin their Fourth Age, SOF will again be challenged.


On Competition: Adapting to the Contemporary Environment  

We find ourselves at the start of a new era characterized by long-term strategic competition with revisionist powers. It is clear that we need to think hard about what competition is and what Special Operations Forces (SOF) require to address it. In On Competition: Adapting to the Contemporary Strategic Environment, we explore what competition means and outline a practical approach, bridging theory with practice. Competition is a consistent, natural occurrence across the history of human civilization. In the current and future security environment, states such as China, Russia, and Iran and non-state actors alike have new tools that allow them to pursue their interests in ways that undermine the existing international order and institutions.


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.


The Enemy is Us: How Allied and U.S. Strategy in Yemen Contributes to AQAP’s Survival by Norman Cigar

In this monograph, Dr. Norman Cigar provides Special Operations Forces (SOF) commanders and planners with an overview of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) operational framework and presence in the area. He analyzes the strategic and operational issues that confront policymakers in responding to the threat posed by AQAP within Yemen’s challenging social, political, and physical environment. This monograph presents the far-reaching implications for SOF, from recognizing the nuances of Yemen’s tribal-based human terrain to understanding key relationships, rivalries, and competition between AQAP and other Yemeni players. AQAP will likely continue to represent a threat to U.S. interests and regional stability for the foreseeable future.

Occasional Paper

Preserving Sovereignty in a Borderless World by Charles W. Ricks

In this paper, Mr. Charles Ricks explores the post-Cold War geopolitical environment--one that has evolved into a dynamic, churning environment in which flows of populations, transnational crime, violent extremism, and threats from open-source networks and the global commons have affected both the domestic and international environments. The reemergence of national identities and grievances long buried within the relative stability of the decades following World War II, along with mass migrations, has presented political leaders with serious challenges to their governance and, in many cases, sovereignty. The fact is that the distinctions between domestic governance and international engagement have blurred because the events in places like the Middle East, Africa, Central and South America regularly have direct effects on governance issues faced by American political leaders--from villages and towns to the federal level. It is within this context that the cultural acumen and expertise SOF possess may be an important source of knowledge for both military and civilian leaders looking for ways to anticipate, not simply react to, these emerging events.

Russian Hybrid Warfare

Russian Hybrid Warfare, by Victoria Barber, Andrew Koch, and Kaitlyn Neuberger

Note: This is a Capstone project prepared for USSOCOM by graduate students in the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

The purpose of the research project was to provide a comprehensive review of the emerging threat of hybrid warfare, with a particular focus on the use of hybrid tactics by Russia against those states that were part of the former Soviet Union and contain what Moscow describes as having "near-abroad" Russian populations. The objective of the study was to examine the extent to which hybrid warfare represents the future of interstate conflict and the ramifications of Russian hybrid warfare against these states for NATO, the U.S. government, and particularly USSOCOM. The authors present three historical cases and one fictional, but plausible, scenario, which will be of benefit to wargame events. The authors provide a thorough review of the threat of hybrid warfare and conclude with nine specific recommendations for Special Operations Forces and USSOCOM.


The Asia Pivot: Implications for U.S. Special Operations Forces by Russell D. Howard and John P. Duvall, Jr.


In this compelling new monograph by Retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Russ Howard and U.S. Marine Corps Major John Duvall, Jr., the authors leverage their vast experiences and knowledge of the region to explore the Obama Administration’s Asia Pivot strategy, announced in 2011, and its impact on Special Operations. The authors begin by defining this vast region. They then look at the U.S. strategic goals, evaluate the threats, and provide an analysis of the progress of where America is today along with the importance and impact on special operations. This monograph is the culmination of two years of analysis of the “pivot to Asia” by the authors. It provides a starting point for all SOF to gain a better understanding of this vast region and the future role SOF could play to counter the threats to our national interests.

Occasional Paper

Sun Tzu and Machiavelli in Syria: Attacking Alliances by Richard Rubright

The purpose of this short work is to contextualize the ongoing conflict in Syria through the combined lens of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli, juxtaposed to the normative trend the West has followed ever so ineffectually since the conflict began in Syria. This work is an alternative view of the conflict that should be read as a cautionary tale concerning our lack of proficiency in strategy. It is broken down into three distinct parts. The first part contextualizes the conflict and the actors involved, to include the proxies. The second part lays out the strategic principles of Sun Tzu as pertaining to the conflict to provide a strategic framework with which the reader may make sense of the conflict's complex nature.  The final part focuses on U.S. action keeping in mind Machiavelli within the Syrian conflict as informed by Sun Tzu's strategic principles. Dr. Rubright is a senior faculty member at the Joint Special Operations University and teaches in the fields of special operations, strategy, and counterinsurgency. 

2014 Essay Contest Winner

The Use of Special Operations Forces in Support of American Strategic Security Strategies by Cory M. Peterson, Colonel

We are pleased to present this winning essay from the 2014 contest. Each year, JSOU partners with the Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC) Chapter of the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) to sponsor an annual essay contest. The first-place winner is recognized each year at the NDIA SO/LIC Symposium held in February and also awarded a $1,000 cash prize. The competition is open to resident and nonresident students attending Professional Military Education (PME) institutions and has produced outstanding works on special operations issues. This essay provides an insight on what a recent PME graduate sees as a priority national security issue affecting special operations. The JSOU intent is that the essays from this annual competition will benefit our readers professionally and encourage future PME students to write on special operations issues. 


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.


Hybrid Warfare by Timothy McCulloh and Richard Johnson

Major McCulloh and Major Johnson wrote this monograph on Hybrid Warfare while they were students at the School of Advanced Military Studies, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  Written in two parts, their individual approaches complement each other by providing a synergistic combination of both an overarching theory as well as an operational perspective.  While the idea of hybrid warfare is not new, the authors together provide a clarity and utility which presents a relevant contextual narrative of the space between conventional conflicts and realm of irregular warfare.  Major McCulloh’s contribution in the first section lays the theoretical basis to bring a definition of Hybrid Warfare into focus while addressing the pertinent question of its historical origin.  Major Johnson’s section uses historical examples and case studies to form a basis for approaching hybrid threats through a lens of U.S. oriented operational art. The authors contribute to the understanding of warfare as a spectrum of conflict rather than a dichotomy of black and white alternatives.


Smart Power and U.S. National Strategy by Francisco Wong-Diaz

The publication of Dr. Wong-Diaz’s monograph coincides with the major strategic reassessment of U.S. national security interests and future military posture taking place at the national level.  The strategic environment of today requires astute statecraft to formulate and execute grand strategy--strategy that effectively blends all forms of power and uses them smartly.  Though there is no consensus on what constitutes smart use of U.S. power, the concept of “smart power” is a dominant theme in policy circles.  Smart power, however defined, is directly relevant to the SOF community. With a smaller footprint than conventional forces, SOF are both a cost effective and less visible instrument of national power.  SOF are expected to combine both hard and soft power approaches instinctively to achieve strategic level effects.  Using case studies from around the world, Dr. Wong-Diaz expertly draws the links between the strategic level projection of power by states and their consequences on the ground. 

Scoring the Long War

Scoring the Long War 2009 Essay

The score for the Long War can look very different depending on which scorecard is used. Emphasis is currently placed on historically-based, quantifiable, state-versus-state measures which attempt to correlate what we are doing with how we are doing. But the current fight against al-Qaeda is not a state-versus-state war and requires a different metrics that more accurately depict who is winning and who is losing. 


Is Leaving the Middle East a Viable Option? by Thomas H. Henriksen

Dr. Thomas H. Henriksen in this publication provides a perspective on the challenging question, "Is Leaving the Middle East a Viable Option?" He lays out a convincing argument that historical involvement within the region based on commercial ties, the need to secure stable international oil supplies (for the U.S. as well as its allies), and engagement in the internecine Israeli-Arab conflict all remain critical security issues for the United States. He captures in a few pages volumes of information on the Middle East as he crafts and weaves the history of United States' involvement from 1783 to the present, highlighting the key policy-making decisions concerning the Middle East. The historical review provides the novice reader new understanding of the Middle East and the knowledgeable reader an excellent overview. 


Educating for Strategic Thinking in the SOF Community: Considerations and a Proposal by Harry R. Yarger

The image of tactical "snake eaters" and individual and small unit tactical focus appear to be in direct contrast to the increasing stra-tegic role of SOF senior leaders and staff members. Equally important, increasingly SOF will be placed in situations where poor tactical decisions can have significant negative strategic consequences or the fleeting opportunity for positive strategic effect is revealed. How well are SOF personnel prepared for these roles and how best can the SOF "operator" acquire strategic awareness and appreciation and develop strategic thinking abilities for his level? The objective of this monograph is to examine the issue of "strategic thinking" in SOF-what is the future need and how should the community develop and better inculcate strategic thinking in its members. 


One Valley at a Time by Adrian T. Bogart III

The 2004 counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan was historic. Service personnel of general purpose, special operations, coalition, and irregular forces worked in unison to defeat the insurgency in a country stricken by war. Their unwavering trust, cooperation, close integration, collaborative planning, and nested execution were in many cases, textbook. In recognition of their professional effort, this case study captures many of the lessons learned in their planning and operations. Success in Afghanistan also came from the determination of millions of Afghans who were supported by these gallant sailors, soldiers, Marines, and airmen. 


Blogs and Military Information Strategy by James Kinniburg and Dorothy Denning

A blog is a journal available on the Web that comes in many forms of potential influence: political, online diary, video, spam, mobile (Internet postings from a mobile phone, etc.), or travel, among others. The authors offer a balanced critique of the positive and negative aspects of blogging, and then offer the opportunities of this trend for influence operations. 


The Changing Nature of Warfare, the Factors Mediating Future Conflict, and Implications for SOF by John B. Alexander

This paper challenges the prevailing sentiment regarding the nature of war. Designed to generate discussion on topics where little or none has been acceptable, it pushes the envelope of traditional political and military science thinking. It argues that the nature of war has changed at a fundamental level-that of definition. Further, information technology is so pervasive and interpenetrating that its impact cannot be relegated to mere alteration in the techniques by which war is prosecuted. Rather, information technology facilitates new social structures, exacerbates competing hierarchical beliefs, and, combined with other factors, enhances the ability of powerful nations, or other philosophical organizations, to impose their will on adversaries. 


Dividing Our Enemies by Thomas H. Henriken

Henriksen's paper invites the SOF reader to revisit established doctrine for Foreign Internal Defense and Internal Defense and Development along with the complex issues about how to divide and conquer. It is likely that the intelligence needed for exploiting the differences among our enemies will result from these on-the-ground operations. And while lacking the glamour of direct action missions, the effects of special operations teams on the ground conducting unconventional warfare, psychological operations, and civil military operations are absolutely central to achieving an end-state of realizing democratic and viable governments. These are the special operations ways and means that can lead to successfully "leveraging inherent human fault lines to counter terrorism", as Henriksen writes. SOF warriors will agree that having our enemies eliminate each other offers advantages over slug-it-out methodologies.