Irregular Warfare, Socioeconomic Development, and SOF

A member of an Agricultural Development Team (ADT) talks with an Afghan villager about crops. (Photo U.S. Army SPC Leslie Goble, 2012). Jeff Goodson article on development in conflict areas.
A member of an Agricultural Development Team (ADT) from the Kansas Army National Guard talks with an Afghan villager about crops. (Photo U.S. Army SPC Leslie Goble, 2012).

Jeff Goodson, a retired Foreign Service Officer, has written a 1400-word article on the recent history of socioeconomic development as an element of warfare. Goodson has extensive time and experience in conflict zones. Socioeconomic development has played a major role in the past Cold War, conventional military conflicts, and in irregular warfare. The role of socioeconomic development in conflicts will continue to grow in the future.

The onset of the Cold War between western democracies and the Soviet-bloc just after World War II saw the beginning of the modern era of international development. The U.S. recognized that the restoration of the political stability of European countries would depend on the growth of the national economies. The Marshall Plan was designed to rebuild Europe and prevent the spread of communism. Subsequent plans similar to the Marshall Plan to help allied countries were implemented through the 1950s.

The Vietnam War spurred the establishment of the Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support Program or CORDS. The CORDS program was a primary mechanism for executing civil-military counterinsurgency strategy. The United States Agency of International Development (USAID) – which saw extensive involvement in the Vietnam War – would continue through the remainder of the Cold War and post-Cold War era to be used in the global chess game with the Soviet Union with the establishment of development programs throughout contested areas of the world.

A new era of conflict – with many names to include irregular warfare, hybrid warfare, the gray zone, and more – has evolved since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Special Operations Forces (SOF) are playing a leading role in this new (maybe not so new) form of warfare. Jeff Goodson, the author of the article linked to below, says the establishment of stability in places like Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan requires three principle ingredients – security, governance, and basic social and economic services. This is very similar to the Village Stability Operations (VSO) program that SOF established in Afghanistan – highlighting the role of security, governance and development in establishing local governance and security in contested and remote districts.

Socioeconomic development in conflict areas has been proven to be an integral element of war. The United States is going to remain involved in the “New Cold War” with Russia, conventional conflicts, and irregular warfare for decades to come. It must retain and grow its capacity in its expeditionary capabilities for delivering economic development programs. There are a number of U.S. agencies within and outside of the Department of Defense that can deliver these programs. Within the Defense Department the United States Special Operations Command has SOF units uniquely qualified for this endeavor.

Jeff Goodson worked for 29 years for USAID in many countries around the world. He was the USAID Chief of Staff in Afghanistan from 2006-2007 and later worked in Afghanistan in stability operations from 2010-2012. His article (below) outlines the role of socioeconomic development in past conflicts and the increased role it will play in future conflicts.

“Development at War: A Short History”Real Clear Defense, by Jeff Goodson, August 7, 2017.