1st Edition

Special Operations and National Security Policies, Strategies, and Tactics

By Ben Gans Copyright 2025
    248 Pages 14 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book focuses on strategic special operations and how these have led to the achievement of major foreign policy goals, which is illustrated by six case studies.

    The study specifically focuses on the alignment of the policies, strategies, and tactics that dominated these operations, providing a fresh perspective. Theoretically, the work underscores the continued relevance of relative superiority as the dominant theory in the field. Importantly, it aligns the potential ways of achieving and sustaining relative superiority with the ability to conduct contemporary special operations across multiple domains, thereby generating cross-dimensional effects. In terms of methodology, the book includes a description and analysis of six distinct case studies in special operations, ranging from short-term surgical strikes to sustained special warfare campaigns and spanning multiple geographic regions – including in Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Ukraine, and the South China Sea. From that perspective, relative superiority theory is extrapolated to explain how this critical condition can be achieved and sustained during protracted special operations. The unique value of this research is underscored by the author's collection of exclusive primary source data on the operations in the respective countries. The book’s conclusions explain how the personnel involved fulfill the strategic promise of special operations, given their position within the larger framework of foreign policy.

    This book will be of much interest to students of special operations, military and strategic studies, defence studies and security studies in general.



    List of Figures



    List of Acronyms and Abbreviations


    Part I: Introduction

    Chapter 1        Special Operations: Theory and Strategic Utility

    Chapter 2        The Strategic Environment


    Part II: Case Studies in Direct Special Operations

    Chapter 3        The Russian Raid on Hostomel Airport

    Chapter 4        Operation Orchard: The Israeli Strike at Al-Kibar

    Chapter 5        Operation Olympic Games: The Cyber Attack at Natanz


    Part III: Case Studies in Indirect Special Operations

    Chapter 6        The Russian Annexation of Crimea

    Chapter 7        Iran’s Proxy War in Lebanon

    Chapter 8        China’s Shaping Operations in the South China Sea


    Part IV: Conclusions

    Chapter 9        Fulfilling the Strategic Promise of Special Operations





    Ben Gans is a Visiting Professor at the Defense Analysis Department, US Naval Postgraduate School.

    “Dr. Gans has analysed a very interesting series of recent special operations conducted by a range of countries with varied military cultures. His analysis suggests that special operations continue to have genuinely strategic impact if used to meet strategic ends, and if commanded and controlled at the highest level where policy makers are able to tolerate risk. Gans’ analysis also suggests that with the changing character of warfare special forces are more likely to be successful if they are integrated effectively with other capabilities like information and cyber. It is a thoughtful book which should be read by those who want to understand the enduring relevance of special operations and their value in the modern world.”

    General Sir Nick Carter, former UK CDS and Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institute.

    "Dr. Gans’ fresh look at the value of special operations forces as an integrator when both regular and irregular multidomain capabilities are operating is unique.   Commanders and leaders of combined, joint, interagency and multidomain organizations and operations that desire to increase their effectiveness will be well served to investigate the various case studies and insights provided by Dr. Gans in “Special Operations and National Security: Policies, Strategies, and Tactics.”"

    Eric P. Wendt, Lieutenant General, United States Army, Special Forces (Retired)
    (This is Lieutenant General (Retired) Wendt's personal view and does not imply DoD, U.S. Army or U.S. Army Special Forces endorsement).

    “Many will think of Special Operations as helicopter raids conducted by heavily armed soldiers on compounds in far off dusty lands but in reality, they are so much more. This book cleverly introduces the reader to the broad range of capabilities that can be deployed under the banner of a Special Operation. It also shines a light on the risks, threats and opportunities that this type of operation presents to the governments of today. There is plenty here for the military academic and defence college student, but this is also a fascinating and entertaining collection of case studies which goes a long way to showing the versatility, impact and challenges associated with this very modern form of warfare.”

    Brigadier (Retired) Rob Stephenson, former Deputy Commander of the NATO Special Operations Headquarters


    “Ben Gans brilliantly illuminates and extends our concept of “special operations” units beyond elite raiders to include cyber forces, proxies and quasi-state militias – which are already fully deployed in global strategic competition. How China, Russia and Iran are aggressively expanding their dominance, often with violence carefully executed below the threshold of declared war, is revealed in present-day cases exceptional for the author’s depth of research and penetrating analysis, and their immediate professional value.

    Kalev I. Sepp, former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Counter-Terrorism

    “Ben Gans' volume on special operations is a well-written, meticulously researched book that is a must-read for anyone who is interested in special operations / special forces. His skillful examination of six case studies that capture the varied and dynamic nature of special operations is as entertaining as it is insightful. Gans' publication is a great addition to the body of knowledge and study of special operations.”      
    Colonel (retired) Bernd Horn, former Deputy Commander Canadian Special Operations Forces Command

    “Gans updates and convincingly argues for the continuing relevance of the dominant theory of special operations--relative superiority. He expands its scope considerably in pursuit of the idea of special operations as an integrating function across various activities and different operating domains simultaneously. His theory, as well as the contemporary case studies contained within, make Gans his work required reading for special operations and national security professionals everywhere.” 

    James Kiras, Professor of Strategy and Security Studies, School of Advanced Air & Space Studies, USA

    “In Special Operations and National Security: Policies, Strategies, and Tactics, Ben Gans combines deep academic research with a seasoned practitioner’s touch to shed light on the often shadowy world of special operations. Through a varied series of case studies, Gans explores what special operations can and cannot accomplish and how they fit into the wider tool kit available to foreign policy decisionmakers.  In doing so, Special Operations and National Security provides an important contribution to defense analysts exploring this field as well to operators wanting to better understand their profession.”

    Raphael S. Cohen, Senior Political Scientist and Director of the Strategy and Doctrine Program of RAND’s Project AIR FORCE

    ''In the complex world of modern warfare, it's crucial to bridge theoretical knowledge with practical application. Special Operations and National Security - Policies, Strategies, and Tactics endeavors to do just that, offering a comprehensive look at the strategic nuances of special operations in the service of national security. This book is an earnest attempt to enrich the academic and operational discourse surrounding this complex area.''

    Ulrica Pettersson, Director of the Centre of Special Operations Research at the Swedish Defence University, Stockholm

    ''Ben Gans delves into the complexities of contemporary special operations in this thought-provoking analysis. Illuminating the nexus between the current strategic environment and the evolving role of special operations, this book provides a novel perspective, positioning special operations as an indispensable integrating force providing strategic effects. This volume serves as essential reading for scholars and practitioners seeking a deeper understanding of this vital instrument of foreign policy.''

    Patricia J. Blocksome, Vice President for Research, Special Operations Research Association

    “Special Operations and National Security offers a compelling explanation for the increasing importance of special operations, how it is evolving in different domains, and future implications. The case studies are illuminating and many contemporary, illustrating the speed of disruption in the irregular threats space. Ben Gans has the practitioner chops and a mastery of the academic aspects of the topic to provide the type of insights policy makers and militaries need to craft effective strategies including SOF in an increasingly dangerous world.”

    Craig Whiteside, co-author of The ISIS Reader and Professor, U.S. Naval War College

    “A comprehensive tour d’horizon of modern special operations that invites to think beyond traditional notions of such operations and the forces that conduct them. Food for thought for practitioners, policy makers, scholars and all others interested in the evolution of special operations in today’s challenging security environment.”

    Martijn Kitzen, Chair Irregular Warfare and Special Operations, Faculty of Military Sciences, Netherlands Defence Academy