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Research Questions

  1. What are the mechanisms through which disruption campaigns by military forces can enable friendly strategic outcomes short of war?
  2. What is the role for special operations forces in such campaigns?

Researchers from RAND Corporation develop a new concept for strategic disruption by special operations forces, involving proactive campaigns to delay, degrade, or deny an adversary's ability to achieve core interests through its preferred strategies. This research provides a clear framework, grounded in concrete historical examples, for how strategic disruption campaigns can create the time, space, and opportunity for strategic gains across diplomatic, informational, military, and economic instruments of national power. For the special operations community, this research provides a rubric for how future campaigns can disrupt nation-state competitors' efforts to win without fighting, particularly when potentially escalatory options rooted in conventional deterrence are ill-suited or infeasible to achieve similar disruptive effects.

Key Findings

  • The role of special operations forces in strategic disruption campaigning is to frustrate an adversary's ability to achieve core interests through its preferred strategies.
  • Special operations forces execute strategic disruption campaigns through five unique pillars of capability: resist, support, influence, understand, and target.
  • Special operations campaigning across these five unique pillars creates the time, space, and opportunities needed for the United States to achieve strategic objectives across multiple instruments of national power.
  • Historical cases reveal a series of mechanisms through which strategic disruption led by special operations forces has sought to deny adversary objectives in the pursuit of friendly diplomatic, informational, military, and economic aims.

Research conducted by

This research was prepared for the United States Army and conducted within RAND Arroyo Center’s Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program.

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