Zero dark squared: Does the US benefit from more Special Operations Forces?

Author: Grant Martin


There is no question that the number of United States Special Operations Forces (SOF) is growing. This paper argues that focusing on the increase in size obscures what should be the real debate: what kind of SOF should the US employ in the twenty-first century? I conclude with two ideas: that SOF’s best capability is at the tactical level, and that the largest benefit they can provide a democracy is in the conduct of special warfare, and not the more popular surgical strike operations. It would be wise, therefore, for democracies to resist the natural inclination to grow SOF simply because they perceive a growth in asymmetric threats. SOF, conducting special warfare, can offer democracies both a “special” capability and also more subtle, longer-term influence than is normally associated with conventional armed forces.

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