Thursday, March 12, 2015

SOF Support to Political Warfare White Paper

I know we are deathly afraid of terminology such as political warfare and unconventional warfare.  I often hear from military personnel that the civilian leadership and congress do not look favorably on such terms as people recall the friction over the re-invention of irregular warfare post 9-11 (and from a congressional point of view we should recall Congressman Thornberry's recent words in this article with his emphasis on UW:  

The common refrain from those in the military who are opposed to the use of political warfare and UW is that our civilian interagency partners do not want to be associated with "warfare."  However, I recently attended a conference that was composed of US government civilian and military leadership from desk officers (military and civilian) to assistant secretaries to general officers and ambassadors and I was happy to hear senior civilian US government officials not only using political and unconventional warfare terminology but embracing the concepts.  Chatham  House rules prohibit naming names but I was gratified that there was no pushback among civilian officials on the use of warfare - both political and unconventional.

This contribution by USASOC should assist in understanding the phenomena we are facing in warfare - it is hybrid, unrestricted, political, and unconventional (resting on the foundation of revolutions, resistance, and insurgency) and all of what is routinely experienced between peace and war.  I asked three questions of the participants of the conference I attended:

1.  Are we going to get comfortable operating in the space between peace and war that is described by political and unconventional warfare?

2.  Are we willing to do strategy in that space to achieve our policy objectives?

3.  Are we willing to inform the national leadership that we have the will and capability to operate in that space between peace and war and conduct our own forms of political and unconventional warfare?

I hope that this paper will help contribute to answering those questions and most importantly understanding how political and unconventional warfare can contribute to developing and doing strategy and support achievement of our national policy objectives.

The paper can be downloaded here:

The introduction and table of contents are pasted below.

Key excerpts:

Political Warfare emerges from the premise that rather than a binary opposition between “war” and “peace,” the conduct of international relations is characterized by continuously evolving combinations of collaboration, conciliation, confrontation, and conflict.  As such, during times of interstate “peace,” the U.S. government must still confront adversaries aggressively and conclusively through all means of national power.  When those adversaries practice a form of Hybrid Warfare employing political, military, economic, and criminal tools below the threshold of conventional warfare, the U.S. must overmatch adversary efforts—though without large-scale, extended military operations that may be fiscally unsustainable and diplomatically costly.  Hence, the U.S. must embrace a form of sustainable “warfare” rather than “war,” through a strategy that closely integrates targeted political, economic, informational, and military initiatives in close collaboration with international partners.  Serving the goals of international stability and interstate peace, this strategy amounts to “Political Warfare.”

3-1 Problem Statement

How does the United States counter and deter the asymmetric and hybrid warfare employed by our state and nonstate adversaries during both “war” and “peace” across the spectrum of conflict?  How can the U.S. respond optimally to hybrid and asymmetric challenges while accounting for fiscal limitations and political sensitivity to large-scale operations?  What is the best means to fully synchronize Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, and Multinational (JIIM) responses to hybrid challenges?

3-2. Central Idea

U.S. policy makers require a suite of complementary options enabling them to counter and deter hybrid and asymmetric warfare practiced by state and nonstate adversaries.  As hybrid and asymmetric warfare rely on surrogates, proxy forces, insurgents and supporting influence operations, effective U.S. policy responses require capabilities to a) comprehensively mitigate the effect of subversion, UW, and delegitimizing narratives in partner countries targeted by adversaries; and b) dissuade adversaries from conducting hybrid warfare by increasing the cost of such activities to the point that they become unsustainable.  The former effort involves strengthening the capabilities, capacity, and legitimacy of partners, while the latter involves aggressively countering subversion and UW waged against friendly states, proactively employing coercive diplomacy, legal-economic measures, and UW against adversaries, and aggressively prosecuting a battle of narratives to undermine adversary legitimacy among critical populations. 

The U.S. and its partners can indeed overmatch adversaries practicing hybrid warfare and achieve escalation dominance against future adversaries—but only through a thoroughly whole-of-government approach informed by unity of effort and purpose expressed through integrated strategy and cohesive policy options. This all amounts to Political Warfare, a supple, synergistic, and evolving use of “both overt and covert” tools at America’s disposal, with an emphasis on coercive diplomatic and economic engagement, Security Sector Assistance (SSA), information and influence activities (IIA), and diverse forms of unconventional warfare (UW). 

A thoroughly whole-of-government endeavor, Political Warfare is by no means the preserve of SOF.  Given its diplomatic and economic content and its focus on achieving political ends, Political Warfare is likely best led by agencies beyond DoD.[i]  Indeed, Political Warfare can only succeed if it is conducted in a way to “elevate civilian power alongside military power as equal pillars of U.S. foreign policy.”[ii]  Yet, as SSA, UW and IIA hinge on skill sets cultivated by SOF, the latter are uniquely positioned to support both the joint force and America’s agencies beyond DOD leading Political Warfare strategies.  Furthermore, SOF are unique in the Department of Defense, suited to integrate Political Warfare’s activities across the JIIM spectrum.  Army Special Operators have a proven track record of bridging indigenous forces, local populations, Joint Force components, U.S. agencies, and coalition partners needed for an effective Political Warfare response to hybrid warfare.  SOF must be the expert practitioners of this form of warfare to lead DOD's contribution.

[i] See this discussion in the State Department context nearly a decade ago: Dave Kilcullen, “New Paradigms for 21st Century Conflict,” State Department eJournal, June 2007, found at
[ii] Department of State & USAID, Leading Through Civilian Power: The First Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (Washington, DC: 2010), Executive Summary, 2:


SOF Support to Political Warfare
White Paper
10 March 2015

1. Introduction

1-1 Purpose

This white paper presents the concept of SOF Support to Political Warfare to leaders and policymakers as a dynamic means of achieving national security goals and objectives.  Embracing the whole-of-government framework with significant targeted military contributions, Political Warfare enables America’s leaders to undertake proactive strategic initiatives to shape environments, preempt conflicts, and significantly degrade adversaries’ hybrid and asymmetric advantages. 
Applied at the regional or global level, Political Warfare emerges from a persistent and purposeful synergy of diplomatic, economic, informational, and military efforts in unified campaigns where military contributions support the attainment of broader strategic end states.  Taking advantage of skills, methods, and approaches resident in Special Operations Forces (SOF), Political Warfare's military aspects integrate counter-unconventional warfare (C-UW) and unconventional warfare (UW), foreign internal defense (FID), Security Sector Assistance (SSA), and Information and Influence Activities (IIA), closely calibrated with and in support of those of other government departments. 
Political Warfare is a strategy suited to achieve U.S. national objectives through reduced visibility in the international geo-political environment, without committing large military forces.  Likewise, Political Warfare can function as a critical, integrating element of U.S. national power against non-state adversaries such as the current Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).  Most often, the Department of Defense role in Political Warfare will be one of supporting other U.S. Government agencies that are more likely to lead strategy and planning development.  

 download at this link:

Table Of Contents

1. Introduction
1-1 Purpose
1-2. Background
a. The Twentieth-Century Normal: Cold War and Political Warfare
b. The Post-Cold War Retreat from Political Warfare
1-3. Emerging Operating Environment
a. Hybrid Warfare: Russia in its ‘Near Abroad’
b. China’s Unrestricted Warfare
c. Iranian Asymmetric Warfare
d. Hezbollah
2. Future Operating Environment
a. Global Power Diffusion
b. Non-State and Semi-State Actors
c. Advancing Computing Power and Information and Communications Technologies
d. Hybrid Warfare
3. Military Problem and Components of Solution
3-1 Problem Statement
3-2. Central Idea
3-3. Definitional Building Blocks of 21st-Century Political Warfare
a. Diplomacy: Persuasive and Coercive
b. Economic Aid or Coercion
c. Security Sector Assistance
(1) Security Sector Reform (SSR)
(2) Building Partner Capacity (BPC)
(3) Foreign Internal Defense (FID)
d. Unconventional Warfare (UW)
(1) Traditional Unconventional Warfare
(2) Counter-Unconventional Warfare (C-UW)
(3) UW in a Proactive Fashion(Pr-UW)
e. Information and Influence Activities (IIA)
(1) Public Affairs (PA)
(2) Public Diplomacy
(3) Cognitive Joint Force Entry (CJFE) and Military Information Support Operations (MISO)
f. The Human Domain (HD)
g. Political Warfare
3-4. Centrality of SOF to Political Warfare
a. Catalyzing Whole-of-Government Synergies
b. SOF’s Regional and Global Engagement
c. SOF’s Unique Operational Capabilities
4. Solution Concepts and Components
a. Develop Concepts and Doctrine
b. Develop Strategies
c. Embrace the Human Domain
5. Conclusion

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