US Special Forces transformation: post-Fordism and the limits of networked warfare

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The last two decades have witnessed a rapid rise in the use, size and capability of many western Special Operations Forces (SOF). A response to the global jihadist threat, the growing presence, prominence and technology-enabled lethality of SOF in conflict zones has resulted in increased scholarly attention. Some have argued that their rise is indicative of important and ongoing changes in the character of war itself. One of the most influential of these works is Steven Niva's study of the transformation of US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) Task Forces in Iraq. Niva argues that JSOC (more accurately its Task Force 714 Command Headquarters, henceforth TF714) was forced to adopt a networked organizational structure to counter Al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI). For Niva, this transformation provided evidence of a shift towards ‘counter-net’ and ‘chaoplexic’ forms of warfare conceptualized by Bousquet in this journal. This article uses new primary and secondary sources to critique these claims. It argues that although a network approach was an important part of TF714's transformation, it was only one part. Instead, JSOC's transformation is more accurately understood through a post-Fordist industrial framework of the centralization of management control and the simultaneous decentralization of decision-making; the integration of core and periphery forces; outsourcing; and a network approach to knowledge. From this analysis, it argues that post-Fordist, rather than network or chaoplexic theory, best describes even the most networked military organizations in the twenty-first century, and that more broadly, fully networked warfare is unlikely given the frictions associated with the coming ‘binary’ battlefield.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberiiab213
Pages (from-to)587-607
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Affairs
Issue number2
Early online date14 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author acknowledges the support of the UK Research and Innovation Future Leaders Fellowship grant reference MR/S034412/1, and the GLOBSEC Intelligence Reform Initiative, and would like to thank the interviewees and reviewers, and Anthony King, for their comments on previous drafts.


  • Joint Special Operations Command
  • Special forces
  • binary
  • networks
  • post-Fordism
  • warfare

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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