On 05 April 2019, the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University hosted its 3rd annual Special Operations Conference. This years conference was the largest and most robust yet, with over 90 participants and attendees from across the spectrum of the special operations, intelligence, diplomatic, academic, and defense industry communities. The conference focused on exploring the role SOF would play in the developing multi-polar strategic environment. This included reviewing the historic threats of violent extremist organizations, growing challenges from competitive global powers, how advancing technologies would impact SOF capabilities and operators, and what the community has learned from nearly two decades at war.
This year’s SOF Conference was especially significant due to the participation of two senior DoD policymakers: Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict Owen West, and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy Mick Mulroy. ASD West opened this years conference with an informal talk aimed at the practitioners in attendance. He discussed how DoD prioritizes the challenges it faces, and how DoD quantified its investment and divestment of its limited SOF resources. Subsequently, DASD Mulroy led a discussion on the shape low intensity conflict is likely to take as a result of increased near peer global competition. The involvement of these two key DoD policymakers bridged the conceptual with the operational, and provided the majority practitioner crowd with key insight and intent so valuable in this dynamic strategic environment.