The Pen is Mightier than the Sword? – SOF Need Both

Soldier Night Operations

By; LtCol Chris Howard (UK Army), LtCol Rolf Starosta (DEU Army), Maj Eliann Carr (US Army), and Cpt Philipp Nebgen (DEU Army).

Modern warfare requires abrupt adaptation to dynamic developments of circumstances in which the use of special operations forces to counter violent extremism has become increasingly essential to provide the required immediate response. After decades of reaction to each action in the physical environment, patterns of behavior are emerging in the information environment that lead to the predictability of how both adversary and ally respond to kinetic action.

The momentum of information has accelerated through the evolution of social media and real time messaging. This developed capability integrated an ancient perspective of the “war on influence” using modern day platforms. The nearly instantaneous nature of information flow illuminates one single source being the strongest point influence—the mind.

As seen in current campaigns, we are fighting a networked non-state enemy with highly professional and advanced propaganda that exploits modern media, most notably through the internet, to disseminate messages globally. There messages are simple in presentation but deep in influence as they bolster recruitment and propagate extremist ideology. Because the enemy’s center of gravity exists in the information domain, it is there that we must engage.

This places a stronger emphasis on the role of special operations forces within every military campaign due to their inherent nature of expedient adaptation and ability to shape the environment through integration of kinetic and non-kinetic actions. This integration of effects propels special operations into the modern warfare front where conventional forces continue to remain fixated on predominately-kinetic actions.

The next evolutionary in the application of combined kinetic and non-kinetic action is toward the predictive nature of human behavior, such as the emerging pattern of how adversaries respond to kinetic action. Through intentionally applying combined effects to this strategic intercept is what will ultimately disrupt adversarial decision-making, resulting in our more dominant positioning within the information environment. Although kinetic actions are a form of messaging, alone they will only evoke a primal response, which will likely lead to continued escalation of action and reaction. To attain sustainable success for military operations is through the prevention of retaliatory escalation leading to direct de-escalation. All of which is achieved through the integration of both kinetic and non-kinetic planning in conjunction to the primary kinetic action.

Special operations house highly skilled men and women with unique abilities tailored toward this form of tangible and intangible warfare. It is through the orchestration of each generated effect of these skills that will mitigate the degree of adversarial response. Furthermore, it is the application of these same effects into the information environment in the time leading up to a kinetic strike that may potentially mitigate adversarial kinetic response altogether in the physical environment.

As warfare advances in stride with technology, so does the methods of how to analyze and assess the environments of wartime operations. Through these advancements, evidence of existing algorithms of predictable behavior surface giving way to the development of revised protocols. Existing research in the predictability of criminal behavior and the time-sequenced escalation of retaliation are the theoretical framework applied to understand the predictableness of adversarial behavior. Through the indicated points of predicted response are the points of intercept where non-kinetic effects are most potent in eliciting an intended response from adversarial decision-makers.

The key to achieve this level of interdiction is a purposeful approach to the development and distribution of strategic communication that will guide the synchronization of both kinetic and non-kinetic efforts. Unlike conventional war strategies, it is the understanding that non-kinetic actions are essential to surgically shaping the information environment leading to tangible operations. To say that the pen is mightier than the sword, is certainly not entirely wrong. However, to address the concerns of violent extremism and wartime threats, we need both.



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Lieutenant Colonel Christian L Howard. Adjutants General’s Corps (Educational and Training Services) (AGC(ETS)) BSc (Hons), MSc, PGCE.

Lieutenant Colonel Rolf Starosta. Chief Operations 1st German Armored Division. Currently deployed with CJTF-OIR.

Major Eliann Carr. Ph.D., Human Dev & Ed Psych. Presently serving as an Information Operations Analyst.

Captain Philipp Nebgen is an intelligence officer for the Strategic Reconnaissance Command of the German Armed Forces and currently on duty for the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve.

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