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Cover: Authorities and Permissions to Conduct Army Special Operations Activities Abroad

Authorities and Permissions to Conduct Army Special Operations Activities Abroad

Published Dec 12, 2022

by Kimberly Jackson

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Research Question

  1. What types of authorities and permissions govern the overseas use of U.S. SOF in environments below the threshold of armed conflict?

The activities that U.S. special operations forces (SOF) conduct overseas in environments below the threshold of armed conflict are governed by a wide variety of statutes, laws, and legal decisions. Collectively called authorities, these parameters outline what military forces can, and cannot, do under specific circumstances. These authorities, and the non-statutory permissions that accompany them, are often the topic of policy discussions about how to leverage Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) to support broader strategic competition objectives, particularly because the sheer number of authorities that can be used often muddles understanding of what the legal basis is for a deployment in a particular region. This report outlines the basic types of authorities relevant to ARSOF's activities in environments short of war, differentiating between "steady-state" and operational authorities. Further, it summarizes the role of policy permissions in enabling military activities overseas.

Key Findings

  • U.S. military authorities to conduct activities short of war can be roughly divided into "steady-state" authorities and operational authorities.
  • Steady-state authorities comprise congressional security cooperation authorities that enable executive branch agencies to expend funds on non-operational partnering activities, and certain exchange and training activities.
  • Operational authorities encompass certain military activities that occupy the space beyond steady-state activities but fall short of war.
  • Beyond authorities, military forces must have requisite permissions to conduct authorized operations. To conduct an activity, permissions might be required, for example, from chiefs of mission in a particular country, host-nation leadership, combatant commanders, the National Security Council, or the President.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the U.S. Army Special Operations Command and conducted by the Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program within the RAND Arroyo Center.

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