NATO SOF Symposium 2015By: Meaghan Keeler-Pettigrew

Earlier this month Stu and I attended the NATO SOF Symposium in Mons, Belgium, titled “Operationalizing Allied Joint SOF”. Forty-six nations were present, and we heard from some fantastic speakers. I was particularly inspired by two of the presentations and their recommendations for how special operations forces should insert themselves and influence the larger national security apparatus.

First, General Petr Pavel (CZE)—the recently appointed Chairman of the NATO Military Committee  and thus NATO’s senior military officer—talked about the role of SOF in “projecting stability”, how SOF’s elite status can translate into a valuable influence on a country’s conventional forces, and the need for today’s “quiet professionals” to be more vocal in telling the SOF story. He said: “We don’t all need to be movie stars, but we can no longer be silent.” Let’s hope that he is following his own advice and leveraging his SOF background to shake up the NATO decision-making processes.

Second, recently retired LTG Michael Day (CAN) struck a related note. He explained how special operations cannot be merely “integrated” as an element of military planning but SOF must instead be embedded in the joint planning process from beginning to end. He referred to the topic du jour of “hybrid warfare”, saying “SOF cannot wait for hybrid response solutions; we must lead their development.”

These two speakers presented real and timely examples of a common tension in the special operations community: How vocal and how visible should SOF be? Yes, SOF value their place as “quiet professionals”, getting the job done without recognition. But if SOF remain completely silent, then their thinking, ethos, and value to the defense community cannot be fully realized. In today’s threat environment, if we’re going to success against our enemies, SOF must speak out more.

Above all, the NATO SOF Symposium demonstrated the need to convene the SOF community on a regular basis to focus on SOF-specific issues. This is reason we are looking forward to the second Global SOF Symposium to be held February 23-25, 2016 in Florida. This event will broader than NATO and provide a forum for SOF to each other about SOF issues. We hope to see you there.

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