How to Win an Asymmetric War in the Era of Special Forces

Keith Pritchard, Roy Kempf, Steve Ferenzi

Imagine a military force that could prevail against America’s adversaries in great-power competition without going to war. As the specifics of “competition” with China and Russia continue to vex national leaders down to tactical military formations, new times call for new approaches to secure America’s national interests. United States Army special operations forces should be the force of choice to lead these efforts against adversaries that deliberately avoid America’s conventional strengths.

Despite the narrow focus on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency over the past eighteen years, Army special operations forces offer policymakers much more than expertise in “kicking doors.” They expand the range of military options to enable other instruments of statecraft to succeed.  This way, the United States does not have to resort to armed conflict—it wins without fighting. Army special operations forces do this by shaping adversary and partner behavior, both through behavior reinforcement—deterring adversaries and assuring partners, and behavior modification—compelling adversaries and inducing partner cooperation.

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