SOCEUR and Resistance Operating Concept (ROC)

SOCEUR and the Resistance Operating Concept (ROC)

The U.S. Special Operations Command Europe has, working with NATO and other allies, developed the Resistance Operating Concept (ROC) that will contribute to deterring and resisting aggression in Eastern Europe. The ROC is a concept that will assist Nordic and Baltic countries to conduct ‘resistance operations’ in the event of an invasion or occupation by Russian military forces.

Russia’s Military Advantage. Almost all observers of the Eastern Europe security situation will acknowledge the military advantages that the Russian military has should it’s national leadership decide to cross the borders into the Baltic states, Scandinavian countries, or Poland. It has a significant ground force in its Western Military Region (WMD) as well as in Kaliningrad. The ability of the one of Russia’s neighbors to stop a conventional force attack is limited.

“In the event of a ground attack on a NATO member in the Baltic region, Russia would have a substantial time-distance advantage in the initial days and weeks of its ground campaign because of its strong starting position and ability to reinforce with ground and air units from elsewhere in Russia.” (1)

Defending Eastern Europe. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization will have a difficult time defending Eastern Europe. Not only does Russia pose a ‘traditional conventional threat but Russian hybrid warfare (some national security observes prefer the term Russian New Generation Warfare) could be instrumental in leveraging the Russian ethnic minority in the Baltic states (as it did in eastern Ukraine).

SOF and Defense of Eastern and Northern Europe. SOCEUR units participate in a number of multinational exercises focused on the defense of the Nordic and Baltic regions. It is continually working in conjunction with the SOF units of Latvia, Estonia, Lithuanian, Sweden, and other regional countries. While many of these exercises have incorporated the full spectrum of special operations; some are specifically focused on irregular warfare in enemy occupied territory.

UW for the Baltic States. This fact, of Russian military superiority in proximity to its borders, has prompted the Scandinavian, Baltic, and other East European nations to step up its resistance capabilities to both deter Russia (making an invasion and occupation painful) and to set conditions for a reversal of a Russian occupation. In U.S. doctrine, this is a classic case of unconventional warfare (UW) for which U.S. Army Special Forces is uniquely trained and postured to conduct in Eastern Europe. (2)

ROC – UW with European Flavor. The U.S. has a long history of conducting UW – beginning with the OSS in World War II. However, the Resistance Operating Concept puts a European flavor on UW methodology. The Baltic states, Poland, and some of the Scandinavian nations have a rich history of resisting foreign occupiers. Finland proved to be a difficult conquest for the Soviets in the WWII era. Norway successfully established a resistance network against the Germans in WWII as well. The Baltic states and Poland had their insurgencies that were active against the Soviets. (3)

Modern Day UW. The nature of unconventional warfare has changed from the OSS efforts in Nazi-occupied Europe and the Cold War Flintlock exercise conducted by the 10th Special Forces Group in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

“We must advance from the nostalgic vision of remote guerrilla bases in denied territory and adapt to a world of split-second communications and data transfer, nonviolent resistance, cyber and economic warfare, and the manipulation of international law to undermine national sovereignty.”

Major General Lengyel, opening remarks at the ROC Conference, Tartu, Estonia, November 2014. At the time he was the Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command Europe.

SOCEUR. The Special Operations Command – Europe mission is to enable deterrence, strengthen European security capabilities and interoperability, and counter transnational threats. It’s area of responsibility consists of 51 countries extending from Greenland in the west to Russia in the east and south to the Mediterranean Sea. However, the theater special operations command’s (TSOC) primary area of focus is to defend NATO on the eastern flank. Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are all NATO countries.

SF and UW. The premier unit for conducting unconventional warfare is the Army’s special forces units. There are seven SF groups; all regionally aligned. The 10th Special Forces Group – based at Fort Carson, Colorado, with a forward deployed battalion in Germany – is responsible for Europe and works with SOCEUR. (Units of the 19th and 20th Special Forces Group of the National Guard also conduct training in Europe as well).

UW is one of the 12 Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) core activities. (4) UW is also one of the five functions of irregular warfare (IW). The six core activities of UW include:

  • preparation of the battlefield
  • subversion
  • sabotage
  • personnel recovery
  • guerrilla warfare
  • intelligence operations

What is ROC? SOCEUR is working with Baltic, Nordic, and other partner nations to further develop coordination and refine concepts associated with partisan warfare, resistance movements, and unconventional warfare. It is doing this through coordination and planning conferences, training exercises (5), seminars, workshops, table talk exercises (6), publications, and the exchange of information within Subject Matter Expert (SME) networks. Resistance is framed by ROC as a national effort to regain sovereignty after an invasion and occupation by an aggressor nation. It is a whole-of-society effort encompassing a total resistance posture.

What Does a Baltic Resistance Movement Look Like? The intent of the ROC is to further refine ‘resistance’ doctrine, increase resistance options, and increase regional cooperation. In ‘historical U.S. UW doctrine’ there are three components of a resistance movement: guerrillas, underground, and auxiliary. In the Baltic states the guerrilla component may have less emphasis. There would likely be a shadow government and a official government in exile. In addition, the ROC envisions a whole-of -society approach to resistance – national or societal resilience.

Future of ROC? The Resistance Operating Concept will continue to be a high priority for SOCEUR as well as the participating countries. The workshops, exercises, conference, and coordination will continue in the future. It is projected that a publication entitled Resistance Operating Concept will soon be published in 2019 by the Swedish Defense University. It should be interesting reading.



(1) Assessing the Conventional Force Imbalance in Europe: Implications for Countering Russian Local Superiority, RAND Corporation, 2018. This fifteen-page report examines in detail the difficulties of defending and responding to a Russia attack on either Poland or the Baltic states. See also Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics, RAND Corporation, 2016. This 16-page paper summarizes the difficulty of defending the Baltic states against a Russian attack.

(2) See “Special Forces, Unconventional Warfare, and the Baltic States”, SOF News, January 5, 2017.

(3) James K. Wither, a retired British Army Officer, has penned an informative article of historical cases of Baltic states resisting the Soviets as well as current ‘resistance’ capabilities. See “Modern Guerrillas and the Defense of the Baltic States”, Small Wars Journal, 2018.

(4) See Field Manual 3-05, Army Special Operations, DA, January 2014.

(5) Read about an UW exercise conducted in 2018 in “Trojan Footprint – UW in the Baltic States”, SOF News, June 15, 2018.

(6) SOCEUR recently (June 2019) hosted a Resistance Tabletop Exercise (TTX) in Germany that included representatives from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the United States. See “U.S. Special Operations hosts Baltic resistance wargame”, SOCEUR DVIDS, July 16, 2019.


Resistance Operating Concept, JSOU Press, 2020

Resistance Views: Essays on Unconventional Warfare and Small State Resistance, Joint Special Operations University (JSOU), 2018. SOCEUR began sponsoring, in 2014, a series of seminars about countering Russian aggression in Eastern Europe – using resistance as a means of national defense. This publication by JSOU is derived from the 2nd Senior Unconventional Warfare and Resistance Seminar hosted by JSOU, SOCEUR, and other European SOF organizations in Tartu, Estonia in November 2014.

UW Pocket Guide, USASOC, April 2016.


About John Friberg 201 Articles
John Friberg is the Editor and Publisher of SOF News. He is a retired Command Chief Warrant Officer (CW5 180A) with 40 years service in the U.S. Army Special Forces with active duty and reserve components.