The DoD at large and the special operations community in particular could play key roles in opposing the proxy and covert uses of force by American adversaries. In some cases, this may drive additional resourcing needs. Military Information Support Teams and military intelligence personnel will be in high demand. In other cases, it will require more organizational changes—including closer coordination between Defense and State Department efforts.
Since political warfare is about achieving political objectives often in the court of public opinion, the State Department could find itself making a notable shift to the center of this fight—both in terms of its public diplomacy role, but also in coordinating the U.S. government response abroad to ensure this interagency effort is working in unison. This will require both additional resources and a shift in focus.
Importantly, since political warfare extends, rather than replaces, traditional conflict, the United States cannot simply focus on one to the exclusion of the other. The United States military still needs to prepare for high-intensity combat against great powers. And yet, in preparing for these wars, the United States must not lose focus on the strategic competition that occurs every day in the realm of political warfare.
A former active-duty Army officer, Raphael S. Cohen is a political scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and an adjunct professor of Security Studies. Linda Robinson is a senior international and defense researcher at the RAND Corporation and author of multiple books on special operations and irregular warfare. They are authors of the recently released report Modern Political Warfare: Current Practices and Possible Responses from which this essay has been partially adapted.