Four recent trends have provided an environment that is extremely conducive to the rise of Special Operations Forces. These trends include the rise of asymmetrical warfare, continuous technological leaps, heightened sensitivity to military casualties, and the professionalization of armed forces.

Today, small teams of professional operators, equipped with cutting edge technologies, can rapidly deploy and carry out missions of strategic significance that in the past required massive military campaigns. Indeed, the last three decades were marked by a steady rise in the size and influence of these forces in many militaries around the world. However, a closer look at trends across Special Operations Forces reveals that the seemingly linear trend among Special Operations units is a façade, and that, in reality, a small number of units account for the seeming global proliferation of this branch. This phenomenon, however, and the use of Special Forces more generally, are topics that are currently understudied at academic institutions.

The Strauss Center supports a range of research projects analyzing the rise and use of Special Operations Forces. One current project, for example, investigates the sustainability of Special Operations units over time, exploring the role of military performance, the particular nature of special operations forces as organizations, and their interaction with their respective military bureaucracies.