U.S. Soldiers with Special Operations Command, Europe, 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Detachment Alpha 0114 participate in heavy weapons train with their Hungarian counterparts at Szolnok Air Base, Hungary, July 10, 2012. This partnership development program in various locations in Hungary is designed to foster good communication and relationships in preparation for upcoming joint deployments to Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tyler Placie/Released)

By: LTC Sandor Fabian

“With two thousand years of examples behind us, we have no excuses when fighting for not fighting well.” — T. E. Lawrence

Since the end of the Cold War only a handful countries remained in the world with a meaningful conventional military capability. Most countries lost their ability to defend themselves without significant external support. Due to shrinking defense budgets most of these nations are struggling to maintain their conventional military structure and hardware despite the fact that they have become obsolete and irrelevant. Furthermore, these nations cannot keep up with the speed of the 21st century`s military developments because the price tag of the modern systems has become so high. We will see that more and more countries will seriously consider Sir Winston Churchill`s thoughts: “Gentlemen, we have run out of money! It is time to think.” Driven by these resources problems and the evolving threats presented by our current adversaries, including a re-emerging and aggressive Russia and multi-faceted terrorist organizations like ISIS and Al-Qaida, fundamental changes will occur in how nations—small countries in particular—are going to look at the idea of defense.

What the world is about to witness is a fundamental shift from the current conventionally focused defensive approaches to much more unconventional national strategies. This will not only involve the introduction of more specialized forces and high-tech equipment in support of the large conventional system, but a total restructuring of everything we would associate with  defense. We have already seen signs of such developments in several countries, but they have been characterized by cautious steps instead of the beginning of a complete break down of historical military traditions. This will change soon, and the revolution that is coming can be described in three steps.

First, more and more nations will understand that their traditional understanding of defense and the organizations serving it are not working anymore and will consider the introduction of an “unrestricted” or “total” war-like national defense strategy. This new approach will answer Samuel P. Huntington`s famous question about how to modernize a defensive system without westernizing it.

Second, in their new approach, countries will break down the decades-old (in some cases hundreds of years-old) military culture and traditions. Just like the phalanx, the heavy cavalry, and the hussars (and the weapon systems associated with these formations) vanished hundreds of years ago, the existing services, branches, formations and the military rank system will disappear in most small countries. I foresee defense formations comprised of military, police, secret services, intelligence agent, hacker, terrorist, partisan, insurgent, pirate, hider-finder etc. These formations will be employed with completely unexpected techniques, tactics, and procedures to defeat both a conventional and/or an unconventional adversary.

Third, small nations will move away from pursuing high-tech to the “right-tech” approach. Countries will soon understand that they cannot buy and sustain the most advanced weapons, but they do not have to. They can free themselves from their slavery to technology. We are at the point in technological development when we can choose our way of fighting first and then develop the proper hardware in support of it. Instead of trying to compete with a tank against a tank or an airplane against an airplane, a nation’s approach can focus only on technologies that mitigate modern systems’ advantages or make them irrelevant.

Small countries will soon start to implement fundamental changes in their approach to defense through the three steps described above. They will start to harvest from the edges of strategic thinking in order to ensure their future survival. Nations will finally realize that the unconventional approach can not only be an instrument in the hands of the non-state actors, but can be taken to another level as a state`s grand strategy, allowing nations to become smart and nimble. When this time comes the involved stakeholders will look for some already basic framework to start building on and this should be the time for national special operations forces to prevail.

The characteristics of SOF—including flexibility, non-traditional thinking, and the ability to adapt to the changing environment—could make SOF the primary vehicle to implement thesefundamental changes in national security strategy. The responsibility of national SOF is going to be to recognize the change and instead of trying to block the revolution, to support it as much as possible. Of course it may often have devastating effects for the SOF culture and traditions, but what will arise from the destruction is a more sustainable and more relevant defensive capability than most of the countries possess today. Do not be afraid of change, but be part of it as much as possible. Because it is not a question anymore of if the revolution is coming; the only question remaining is in which country first and how soon?


LTC Sandor Fabian is a Special Forces officer in the Hungarian Army. He began his career as a specialist in long-range reconnaissance. In 2006, CPT Fabian participated in the creation of the Hungarian Special Forces Battalion as a Special Forces Company Commander. At the beginning of 2009 he was promoted to major and deployed to Afghanistan as the commander of the Hungarian Special Forces element. In June 2012, after receiving his Master of Science degree at the Naval Postgraduate School, MAJ Fabian became the senior Special Forces advisor at the Operational Directorate of the Hungarian General Staff. At the beginning of 2014 he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and is currently serving as the Assessment and Evaluation Branch Head in the NATO Special Operations Headquarters, in Mons, Belgium.

(Photo courtesy: DVIDS)