Small Wars Journal

Rethinking Army Special Operation Forces-Department of State Partnership in Europe

Sun, 04/18/2021 - 9:22pm

Rethinking Army Special Operation Forces-Department of State Partnership in Europe

By Major Anthony Wertz and Major Stuart Gallagher

To achieve its theater-strategic goals and counter Russian aggression despite ongoing fiscal constraints, the United States Government (USG) must consciously increase its U.S. interagency and whole-of-government efforts specifically by augmenting U.S. Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) and Department of State (DoS) collaboration in the European Command (EUCOM) area of responsibility. Both European Union (EU) and U.S. leadership recognize Russia as the greatest security threat confronting Europe and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).  In response, NATO countries and the U.S. have increased defense spending, but capacity gaps will continue to remain in the near future.  These gaps relate to both fiscal austerity and Russia’s recent unconventional approaches to warfare.  Fostering European reassurance and collective defense, EUCOM is in prime position to exploit long-standing interagency and partner relationships towards strategic ends.  Moreover, it is an opportunity to truly implement a whole-of-government approach, which is so often touted, but so rarely employed. Through specialized interagency training, a focus on foreign internal defense (FID), and enhanced strategic communications, and increased collaboration between ARSOF and DoS are and will continue to be essential to countering Russian aggression and achieving lasting European collective security.

The Contemporary European Strategic Environment

            Gradual post-Cold War defense budget reductions[1] exacerbated by decreased economic growth after the 2008 global recession[2] left European and NATO countries unprepared to respond to Russian aggression.  Since 2008, Russia increasingly demonstrated power projection by successively fighting a war in Georgia, invading eastern Ukraine, and occupying Iranian bases for Syrian operations.  Foreign policy experts from Europe finally took notice in 2014 when they began discussing the Russian unconventional threat showcased in Crimea.  Subsequently, EUCOM’s revised theater strategy named Russia’s conventional, irregular, and asymmetric warfare efforts against Europe as the largest of six strategic challenges.[3]  The mutual U.S. – European concerns center on Russia’s operational concept known as “New Generation Warfare” (NGW). 

            Russian New Generation Warfare uses a synchronized whole-of-society effort to influence targeted populations (Fig. 1).  First introduced on February26, 2013, by the chief of the Russian General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov, “The doctrine appeals to the adaptive use of conventional (military) and especially non-conventional employment of military and non-military means in pursuit of political objectives. This ‘new way of war’ and its asymmetrical means bypasses or even neutralizes the Western military capacities and exploits vulnerabilities of Western societies.”[4] By applying deception, psychological and information operations early on, “Russia creates a curtain of ambiguity that obscures reality and hinders calculated NATO response.”[5] Ultimately, New Generation Warfare’s goal is to create strategic division amid collective NATO and European security interests, eventually enticing European countries into a new Russian alliance.[6]  The strategic implications of successful New Generation Warfare campaigns conducted by the Russian Federation have forced European leadership to take notice inspiring reactionary measures across the whole of Europe.

Figure 1. Graph of the Gerasimov doctrine (Source: Military Review, January-February 2016, p.35. [7]

Fourteen of the 29 NATO countries have increased their defense budgets since Russia’s 2014 Crimean campaign.[8]  Though larger budgets seem to demonstrate a renewed resolve towards collective defense, inflation and fluctuating exchange rates did not allow the stated increases to produce actual budget growth by 2020.[9]  Despite the various initiatives taken by the Trump administration to force NATO countries to increase their respective contributions to the alliance, the extrapolation indicates that NATO and Europe as a whole may still fail to achieve their own strategic defense in the short term. 

Conversely, the U.S. plan included overall resource increases for European collective security.  EUCOM requested an annual budget increase of $2.6 billion for 2017;[10] however their diplomatic counterparts in the DoS /U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs projected a $193.3 million budget decrease for the same period.[11]  Thus, “dedicated resources to remain decisively engaged with European allies…partners [and] interagency partners” is a chief Combatant Command (COCOM) concern.[12]   

In the short term, it appears that the U.S. and NATO prepared a traditional military response to Russian NGW that only compounded New Generation Warfare’s effects.  New Generation Warfare uses all instruments of national power (Diplomacy, Information, Military, and Economic) to specifically avoid conventional military confrontation and to exploit the Western preference for military restraint.[13]  Western restraint combined with a post-Cold War reluctance to engage in political warfare[14] provides strategic space for Russia to fracture NATO by exploiting public fears of defensive instability.[15]  Thus, EUCOM needs an immediate strategic solution to preserve NATO’s collective security.  Intensifying ARSOF and DoS cooperation while more effectively leveraging FID throughout Europe is that solution.  

U.S. Current Foreign Internal Defense Policy and Capability

            “[Foreign Internal Defense or] FID refers to the U.S. activities that support a [host nation’s internal defense and development (IDAD)] strategy designed to protect against subversion, lawlessness, insurgency, terrorism, and other threats to their security.”[16]  The U.S. plans FID support to a country if:  “the existing or threatened internal disorder threatens U.S. national strategic goals;” “the threatened nation is capable of effectively using US assistance;” and “the threatened nation requests U.S. assistance.”[17]  These defined criteria clarify eligibility for U.S. FID support to Europe, especially in the eastern countries most vulnerable to NGW.[18]  

            The Department of State is the lead agency for the U.S. FID mission; they advise foreign policy formulation with respect to designating the countries that receive FID support.[19]  More importantly, each U.S. Ambassador is responsible to direct and supervise all FID programs within their particular country.  Political-Military Officers manage the FID programs.  Indirect support includes security assistance (SA), exchange programs, and joint/multinational exercises, while direct support (short of combat) includes civil-military operations (CMO), military information support operations (MISO), military training, logistic support, and intelligence cooperation.[20]  The Public Affairs Office (PAO) supports FID through public diplomacy campaigns. 

            Similarly, ARSOF receive specific FID training.  Special Forces (SF) perform SA, lead joint/multinational exercises, and can contribute to intelligence cooperation; they partner with allied SOF and conventional forces with POL-MIL officer oversight.  Civil Affairs (CA) forces are responsible for all CMO; they enhance USAID development operations and maintain buy-in with local populations.  Psychological Operations (PO) forces execute MISO; under the embassy PAO’s supervision, the defense support to public diplomacy (DSPD) mission ensures synchronized messages convey U.S. government (USG)-partner nation intent.[21]  All three ARSOF branches contribute to partner military training, exchange programs, and logistics support.  Given their complimentary FID capabilities, ARSOF and DoS collaboration must be augmented in the strategic effort to counter and deter Russian aggression. 

ARSOF and DoS:  A Strategic Solution

In EUCOM’s case, in order to optimize ARSOF capabilities, ARSOF must have enduring representation on the Country Team allowing ARSOF personnel 36-month embassy tours in the European countries that are most vulnerable to New Generation Warfare.  This action would build rapport between ARSOF and DoS, provide an ARSOF touchstone to DoS and promote continuity of ARSOF-DoS missions throughout the area of responsibility. This solution demands EUCOM attention as the current practice limits ARSOF to six-month embassy tours. [22]  ARSOF’s temporary embassy status limits the overall U.S. interagency effort, perpetuating disjointed FID efforts ultimately resulting in the application of short-term planning methodologies to long-term campaign plans.  The lack of long-term strategic planning reinforces New Generation Warfare efforts, as USG actions that contradict allied message campaigns delegitimize the U.S. effort and confirm New Generation Warfare messaging.  ARSOF’s permanent placement on Country Teams would significantly contribute to the U.S. interagency effort, strengthening FID support and helping to synchronize strategic communication.  However, in order for this concept to work, it would need to be underwritten by both DOD and DoS senior leadership to include the individual Ambassadors. As challenging as this may sound, it is not an impossible ask when one considers the detailee program presently employed across the national capital region (NCR). This program places military officers from all the military branches in key positions throughout the interagency for multi-year assignments. This program could serve as a model for the embassies throughout the EUCOM footprint.  

An embassy’s Country Team is the focal point for the U.S. interagency abroad.  The Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) oversees 85 diplomatic posts that provide crucial interagency placement to support partner nation defense across Europe;[23] there are six posts in the six countries most vulnerable to New Generation Warfare [Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine].[24] Thus, EUCOM could start by leveraging its personal relationships with the U.S. Ambassadors in those six countries to afford ARSOF the same level of access.  EUCOM’s securing U.S. Ambassador approval to lengthen ARSOF tours would yield a multitude of positive outcomes across the whole of Europe. 

The greatest strategic benefit results from ARSOF’s specific training for SOF campaign planning that directly translates to the interagency.  SOF campaigns integrate and synchronize all available interagency and partner capabilities in support of collective interests;[25] this means that when ARSOF teams or representatives arrive at an embassy, they are prepared to build partnerships towards strategic goals.  In effect, ARSOF would serve as multilateral liaisons increasing embassy capacity to generate a true whole-of-government effort within the U.S. interagency.[26]  Because legislation authorizes such ARSOF activity, the resulting interagency synergy provides policymakers with an acceptable and effective alternative to engaging in political warfare. 

Mutual ARSOF and DoS expertise maximizes foreign internal defense program effectiveness by identifying the most critical partner-nation capability gaps that require support.  Campaign planning proficiency improves the joint ARSOF-DoS ability to build long-term defense support plans; they achieve this with a uniting approach.  First, theater-strategic goals are fused with DoS’s Integrated Country Strategy (ICS) [27] in support of defense.  ARSOF and DoS jointly leverage their long-standing partner military and governmental relationships to integrate the partner’s strategic goals.  ARSOF and DoS then recruit relevant U.S. agencies to augment the unified plan.  The resulting FID campaign plan demonstrates a true whole-of-government effort to achieve strategic goals.  In Europe, the country-specific campaign actions will directly combat Russia’s New Generation Warfare without direct military confrontation, while effectively eroding NGW’s legitimacy.  Further, synchronized campaign actions can strengthen Europe by aligning with allied strategic messaging efforts. 

The support to strategic communication is perhaps the greatest short-term strategic benefit.  Russia counts on disjointed strategic communication or conflicting messages and actions to solidify New Generation Warfare’s influence in targeted populations.  ARSOF’s synchronizing contribution to each embassy’s country-specific campaign plan helps to immediately combat New Generation Warfare’s propaganda by presenting a cohesive allied effort against Russia.  In effect, EUCOM, embassy, and partner government actions and messages would echo one another, thereby bolstering the civil population’s trust in their security. 

Finally, a permanent ARSOF embassy presence provides ancillary benefits that have positive strategic impacts.  Concerning manpower, extra embassy personnel with military experience increase the embassy’s capacity for immediate response to strategic contingencies. In the constrained fiscal environment, 36-month ARSOF tours pool resources to support diplomacy rather than burdening the DoS budget.  In sum, gaining Ambassador approval for ARSOF permanency on the Country Team strategically leverages the interagency towards collective European defense.     

Possible Opposition to ARSOF-DOS Integration and Collaboration

            New Generation Warfare showcases Russia’s whole-of-society approach to modern political warfare.  If EUCOM’s solution only focuses on ARSOF-DoS cooperation, one may suggest that it will fail as it does not guarantee inclusion of all instruments of national power.  Hence any initiative will require full USG endorsement. Additionally, ARSOF and DoS suffer from deep-rooted cultural differences that could undermine such cooperation.[28]  Further, some may argue that a formal USG interagency mechanism is necessary to force a whole-of-government solution.  The Obama Administration’s Presidential Decision Directive-23 (PDD-23) was one such mechanism.  PDD-23 mandated a “deliberate and inclusive whole-of-government approach” to improve U.S. security assistance abroad through regionally-aligned interagency policy coherence.[29]  Other existing mechanisms include joint interagency control groups (JIACG) and task forces (JIATF) that EUCOM’s senior DoS representative, the Civilian Deputy to the Commander/Political Advisor, could establish.[30]   

            Though an all-encompassing mechanism may force collaboration, it would take some time to enact.  PDD-23 already exists, but historical presidential efforts to increase interagency collaboration were not adopted beneath the Principal Committee level after years of implementation; nor did they transcend presidential administrations.[31]  Likewise, JIACGs and JIATFs prove very effective, but they are short-term constructs with limited authority.[32]  To suggest that ARSOF and DoS cannot effectively coordinate and align all instruments of national power discounts the myriad agencies hosted on the Country Team.  Finally, the simple act of making ARSOF permanent Country Team members fosters professional understanding and respect, naturally erasing organizational biases.[33]  Indeed, ARSOF’s support to FID is the most critical capability not permanently housed within U.S. Embassies, hence lengthening ARSOF tours to support DoS efforts over the long-term is the quickest, most lasting efficiency to achieve U.S. strategic ends in Europe. 


As so recently and continuously demonstrated, Russia’s New Generation Warfare approach to strategically fracture NATO will likely continue to endure into the foreseeable future. In the Russian mind, this has approach has been as effective as it has efficient.  As such, senior USG leadership must act quickly to preserve NATO and secure Europe’s collective defense.  Posting ARSOF personnel on 36-month embassy rotations provides numerous benefits to DoS that can directly contribute to the accomplishment of EUCOM’s theater-strategic goals: enhanced whole-of-government campaigns counter Russian aggression on the unconventional battlefield of Russia’s own choosing; FID support increases partner self-defense capacity and strengthens the collective allied defense; and unified strategic communication relieves vulnerable populations of the psychological pressure Russia seeks to impose.  If an ARSOF-supported, whole-of-government FID campaign successfully counters New Generation Warfare in the short-term, it has the propensity to deter New Generation Warfare in the long-term.  Successful Russian deterrence further allows allies to shift more attention towards other European strategic threats.  Moving to counteract New Generation Warfare and strengthen NATO communicates U.S. and European strategic resolve towards Russian aggression while simultaneously forcing Russia to think twice about future expansionism and question their intentional persistent disregard international norms.  


The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policies or positions of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


[1] “Chapter 4: Europe,” The Military Balance 116, no.1 (2016; repr., (TSDM Strategies 5-2 EUCOM) U.S. Naval War College, National Security Affairs Department, Newport, RI: USNWC 2016), 55.

[2] Ibid.  Kristin Archick, “The European Union: Current Challenges and Future Prospects,” Congressional Research Service Report (2016; repr., (TSDM Strategies 6-5 EUCOM) U.S. Naval War College, National Security Affairs Department, Newport, RI: USNWC 2016), 5.

[3] Commanding General, U.S. EUCOM, United States European Command Theater Strategy, (Stuttgart, Germany: CG, U.S. EUCOM, October 2015), 5. 

[4] E.H.F. Donkersloot, “Hybrid Threats from the East.” Militaire Spectator (22 September 2017): accessed 4 February 2021,

[5] Ibid

[6] Commanding General, U.S. EUCOM, United States European Command Theater Strategy, (Stuttgart, Germany: CG, U.S. EUCOM, October 2015), 5. 

[7] Charles K. Bartles, “Getting Gerasimov Right,” Military Review, (January-February 2016): 35.

[8] “Chapter 4: Europe,” The Military Balance, 60. 

[9] Ibid., 63. 

[10] Luis Simon, “US Leadership and NATO: Balancing Priorities in America’s European Strategy,” Parameters 46, no. 1 (Spring 2016): 22-23, accessed 24 August 2016,

[11]Secretary of State, Congressional Budget Justification: Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Fiscal Year 2016, (Washington, DC: SECSTATE, 2 February 2015): 161-182, accessed 19 September 2016,; Secretary of State, Congressional Budget Justification: Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Fiscal Year 2017, (Washington, DC: SECSTATE, 9 February 2016): 173-195, accessed 19 September 2016,

[12] U.S. EUCOM, United States European Command Theater Strategy, 9.

[13] Martin N. Murphy, Ph.D., “Understanding Russia’s Concept for Total War in Europe,” Special Report, no. 184 (12 September 2016): 1, 10, accessed 26 September 2016,

[14] U.S. Army Special Operations Command, SOF Support to Political Warfare White Paper, (Fort Bragg, NC: Headquarters USASOC, 10 March 2015), 3.

[15] Hanna Shelest, “Hybrid War and the Eastern Partnership: Waiting for a Correlation,” Turkish Policy Quarterly 14, no.3 (Fall 2015): 46, accessed 26 September 2016,

[16] Chairman, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Foreign Internal Defense, Joint Publication (JP) 3-22, (Washington, DC: CJCS, 12 July 2010), I-2.

[17] Ibid., III-2.

[18] Hanna Shelest, “Hybrid War and the Eastern Partnership: Waiting for a Correlation,” 46.  Eastern Partnership states include those former Soviet Bloc states on the Eastern European periphery:  Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

[19] CJCS, Foreign Internal Defense, JP 3-22, III-3. 

[20] Ibid., I-8. 

[21] Commanding General, U.S. EUCOM, “U.S. European Command Posture Statement 2016,” (speech transcript; Stuttgart, Germany: CG, USEUCOM, 25 February 2016): 34, accessed 23 August 2016,  The COCOM’s 2017 ERI request for Information Operations (IO) authorities would allow PO to directly counter adversary IO and propaganda. 

[22] MAJ Kevin E. Smith, “U.S. Army Psychological Operations Soldiers: Best Suited for U.S. Diplomatic Posts Overseas and NSDD-38 Inclusion,” Special Warfare 27, no. 4 (October – December 2014): 20-21, accessed 25 August 2016,  

[23] Embassies, Consulates, and Diplomatic Missions, Europe-Eurasia, U.S., accessed 17 September 2016,

[24] Hanna Shelest, “Hybrid War and the Eastern Partnership: Waiting for a Correlation,” 46.  The Eastern Partnership States form Europe’s eastern border and include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine; they are Russia’s short-term NGW focus. 

[25] Commanding General, USASOC, ARSOF Operating Concept 2022, (Fort Bragg, NC: Headquarters, USASOC, 26 September 2014), ii. 

[26] Stanley Brown, “Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement,” Lecture, Department of State Headquarters, Washington, DC: 30 September 2016.  It is important to note that American Embassies can host up to 32 different USG agencies in support of partner nations, depending on the embassy’s size and the partner nation’s problem set. 

[27] U.S. Department of State, Integrated Country Strategy: Guidance & Instructions, (Washington, DC: DOS): 3, accessed 30 September 2016,


[28] Shoon Murray and Anthony Quainton, “Combatant Commanders, Ambassadorial Authority, and the Conduct of Diplomacy,” in Mission Creep: The Militarization of US Foreign Policy?, ed. Gordon Adams and Shoon Murray (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2014), 182-185.

[29] The White House Office of the Press Secretary, Fact Sheet: U.S. Security Sector Assistance Policy, (Washington, DC: The Press Office, 5 April 2013): 2, accessed 17 September 2016,  

[30] CJCS, Foreign Internal Defense, JP 3-22, III-8. 

[31] National Security Council, PDD/NSC 56: Managing Complex Contingency Operations, (May 1997): 1-2, accessed 17 September 2016,   Before PDD-23, The Clinton Administration’s PDD-56 ordered U.S. interagency-collective training to improve complex contingency operations management.  President Clinton enacted PDD-56 because complex situations “may require multi-dimensional operations composed of…political/ diplomatic, humanitarian, intelligence, economic development, and security [components].” 

[32] Nikolas Gvosdev, Issues with the Interagency and Theater Security, (2016: 3rd rev., John Cloud (TSDM Policy 8-1) U.S. Naval War College, National Security Affairs Department, Newport, RI: USNWC 2016), 10.

[33] COL Eric P. Wendt, “The Green Beret Volckmann Program: Maximizing the Prevent Strategy,” Special Warfare 28, no. 3 (July-September 2015): 15, accessed 25 August 2016,

About the Author(s)

Major Stuart Gallagher currently serves as the Chief, G3/5 Plans and Analysis and Deputy G3 for the United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Operations Center and School (USAJFKSWCS). His former assignments include: Senior PSYOP Observer Coach Trainer at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center, Hohenfels, Germany, Commander, Bravo Company, 6th PSYOP Battalion, Ft. Bragg, North Carolina and Military Advisor to the U.S. Department of State, Washington D.C. Major Gallagher holds a Bachelor of Arts in Russian Area Studies from Marist College and a Master of Arts in Strategic Security Studies from National Defense University.


Major Anthony Wertz currently serves as the Deputy Director for Engagement, Commander’s Initiatives Group at the United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (USAJFKSWCS). His former assignments include: Battalion Operations Officer and Charlie Company Commander, 8th PSYOP Battalion (Airborne), Ft. Bragg, NC, Deputy Director and PSYOP Representative to the Tribal Engagement Coordination Cell, U.S. Embassy Baghdad, Iraq, and MIST OIC and SOF Liaison Element Commander, U.S. Embassy Abuja, Nigeria. Major Wertz is trained in Russian language and culture, and is a graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and holds a Master of Arts in Defense and Strategic Studies.




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