Lost in translation: Lessons from counterterrorism for a more proactive weapons of mass destruction strategy
Stanfield, Erik J.
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In August 2016, President Obama directed U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) to take the lead in synchronizing Department of Defense (DOD) plans for countering weapons of mass destruction (WMD), thus orchestrating a shift in national strategy. Under this new role, USSOCOM signaled an intent to increase military efforts to identify and prevent proliferation threats from metastasizing into crises. This approach represents a turn from USSOCOM's prevailing emphasis on WMD crisis response. But what are the conditions under which military contributions—in collaboration with other U.S. government agencies—enhance the national strategy to counter WMD acquisition, development, and proliferation prior to a crisis? USSOCOM offers a unique perspective in addressing this question, based on its experience synchronizing military counterterrorism plans since 2003. This study analyzes USSOCOM's role in counterterrorism strategy and evaluates the application of this experience to counter-WMD strategy. The research generates two conclusions. First, friction caused by varied meanings and understandings of organizational language can be overcome by educating the force on language already in use and emphasizing WMD threat pathways as the shared calibration point between organizations. Second, USSOCOM can improve counter-WMD strategy by replacing rigid command hierarchies with a networked, interorganizational response unified around specific threats.
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