Strategic Disruption by Special Operations Forces

December 16, 2023

A Concept for Proactive Campaigning Short of Traditional War

by Eric RobinsonTimothy R. HeathGabrielle TariniDaniel EgelMace Moesner IVChristian CurridenDerek GrossmanSale Lilly

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.

RAND researchers develop a new concept for strategic disruption by special operations forces, exploring how disruptive campaigns can frustrate an adversary’s preferred strategy and enable friendly gains across multiple instruments of national power. This research articulates a clear framework for special operations campaigning short of war, particularly when potentially escalatory conventional options are ill-suited or infeasible.