Passing the Paramilitary Torch from the CIA to SOCOM

In the shadowy realm of international competition that falls below the threshold of traditional conflict, the United States continues to struggle to match near-peer competitors like Russia and China. The Russian-led paramilitary invasion of eastern Ukraine that began in mid-2014 has thus far prevented successive U.S.-backed Ukrainian governments from fully consolidating power or joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In Syria, Russian private paramilitary companies have been crucial in propping up the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Over the last decade, China has built artificial islands and deployed paramilitary naval units to secure its illegal claim to the international waterways of the South China Sea – all without firing a single shot. These examples involved the use of paramilitary activities by America's adversaries, a form of conflict to which the U.S. government has historically responded with the CIA. In this context, paramilitary activities involve the use of non-conventional or proxy forces to conduct sabotage, ambushes, or other low-visibility combat operations to undermine and contribute to the defeat of an adversary.

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