It's Time to Make Special Operations a Separate Service
Budgetary realities dictate a strategic shift toward more efficient and effective means of national defense
February 17, 2012
If Americans learned anything from the colossally expensive use of large general purpose Army and Marine combat forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's that a low-profile mix of special operations forces and covert operators to find and liquidate anti-Western insurgent, terrorist, and criminal elements is a more effective and economical solution in the Middle East. Special forces are also far better suited to foreign internal defense missions than general purpose Army or Marine forces.
In addition, a smaller defense budget is not only inevitable; it's a national economic necessity. Budgetary realities dictate a strategic shift toward more efficient and effective means of national defense, means predicated on a lighter footprint overseas with far fewer soldiers and Marines stationed on foreign soil.
Thus, it's time to make special operations a separate service. But Americans in and out of uniform must scale back their expectations regarding what such a service could achieve on its own. In a conflict with a capable opponent that fields effective armed forces and maintains a cohesive society, special operations forces can only operate on the margins in support of general purpose forces. Special ops is most effective in the developing world, where societies are weak and armed forces are ineffective or nonexistent. These are places like the Middle East, Africa, and most of Latin America, where capable air-defense networks, strong armies, and internal police forces are few and far between. In these settings, special operations forces can play a decisive strategic role.
There is also another reason why special operations should become a separate service. Operatives should be legally accountable for actions involving the train and equip mission, as well as direct action missions beyond America’s borders. Like all of the current services, a separate special forces service must not operate without regional combatant commander knowledge or permission anywhere under any circumstances.
One way to establish special forces as a separate service is to return the general purpose Marines to control of the Navy while also permanently reassigning selected Army, Marine and Air Force units to Special Operations Forces and Special Forces control. This would keep the number of service branches the same. All of these proposed changes should be considered in the context of a new National Security Act designed to replace the Joint Chiefs of Staff system with a unified national defense staff under a uniformed national defense chief.