This has been the traditional niche and strength of SOF. Remember that Special Forces grew out of the Psychological Warfare office of the Army following World War II and there is a shared heritage with the CIA back to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and while people focus on the Guerrilla Warfare and Resistance aspects of the OSS a major focus was on political and psychological warfare and thus operations in the human domain.
Despite the benefits that come from skill in the psychological dimension of war, the American military has always been more comfortable with war’s physical dimension. In this respect, the archetypal U.S. general is Gen. Ulysses Grant, who relied on overwhelming material and human resources to grind down Gen. Robert E. Lee's Confederate army. This preference for the physical dimension is easy to understand: It plays to American strengths in industry and technology and avoids the extreme complexity of the psychological dimension, particularly when the U.S. military is ordered to operate in a foreign culture. Bullets, missiles and bombs need not take into account the values, ethics, preferences, beliefs, fears, prejudices, dreams and perceptions of those on the receiving end. From a distance, a target is a target. The only exception to this norm has been the U.S. Army's Special Operations Forces. While they are extremely skilled at surgical strikes and thus at home in the physical dimension of armed conflict, much of their work has traditionally been in the psychological dimension.
This is the context for understanding the creation of the Office of Strategic Landpower. It represents an effort within the U.S. military, actively led by the Special Operations Forces, to better integrate the psychological dimension of conflict into military thinking and planning, and to institutionalize lessons about what the military calls the "human domain," learned at great cost in Iraq and Afghanistan and now playing out on new battlegrounds in Yemen, Libya and elsewhere. While the exact mission of the new office is not yet clear -- it is, after all, in its initial stages -- the objective is to make the American military more effective at identifying and creating desired psychological effects in diverse cultural settings, and hence more strategically efficient. Phrased differently, the Office of Strategic Landpower will attempt to integrate the cross-cultural psychological skills of Special Operations Forces into the military’s land forces writ large.
Strategic Horizons: U.S. Army Prepares for Human Domain of War
Last week, Gen. Raymond Odierno, the U.S. Army chief of staff, announced that the Army, in conjunction with the Marine Corps and the U.S. Special Operations Command, was creating something called the Office of Strategic Landpower. As word spread through the defense media, including blogs and social media, much of the initial reaction treated the development as simple Defense Department politics and interservice wrangling. The land forces, according to this line of thought, were attempting to rebut ideas about future conflict promoted by the Air Force and Navy. Since those services had already created an AirSea Battle Office, the land forces had to create a counterweight to protect their share of the defense budget.
In reality there is much more at play. The creation of the new office is part of an important debate within the U.S. armed forces and the wider community of national security specialists. The outcome of this debate will affect not only the type of military the United States has in coming decades, but also the nature of American national security strategy. It might at first seem esoteric, but the stakes are huge.
Skilled military leaders have always understood that war has both a physical and a psychological dimension. The physical dimension allows an army, navy and air force to compel enemies and noncombatants to act in a specific way. By contrast, effects in the psychological dimension are indirect, leading both enemies and noncombatants to choose to act in a specific way either by fear of what will happen to them if they don't or the promise of reward if they do. The two dimensions clearly overlap: Physically compelling enemies to do something, or killing them, has psychological effects on anyone who observes or hears about it. But skill in one dimension does not automatically equate to success in the other.