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Countering the Hybrid Threat: The Role of Special Operations Forces in NATO's Strategy

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Technical Report

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Naval Postgraduate School Monterey United States

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Russias aggressive and unconventional actions over the past decade have reinforced NATOs fear of the threat Russia represents to European and global security. Special Operations Forces would seem to have unique applicability when defending against such hybrid tactics, but it has proven difficult for NATO and the academic community to determine the appropriate role of NATO SOF in countering hybrid threats. This is due to a combination of factors the difficulty of clearly defining the hybrid threat, legal and organizational checks on the use of military internal to national borders, atrophy of useful capabilities due to decreased interoperability and lack of exercise, and a disconnect between developed SOF capabilities and those necessary to be effective in this arena. This thesis lays out a categorized description of observed Russian hybrid tactics. It then identifies NATO SOFs current capabilities that can be matched as counters to elements of the Russian hybrid threat. This includes inherent capabilities as well as those gained by NATO SOF through participation in the ISAF SOF mission in Afghanistan and combat operations in Iraq. Finally, it recommends the NSHQ-assisted formation of Counter Hybrid Threat Joint Interagency Task Forces within NATO member countries, with NSHQ facilitating NATO-wide connectivity and cooperation, along with additional recommendations for research and focus for organizational planning to counter the Russian hybrid threat.

Subject Categories:

  • Military Forces and Organizations
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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