By, With, And Through: Section 1202 and the Future of Unconventional Warfare


As conflicts continue to be fought in countries far from the United States, it is of increasing importance that our government have the ability to train and equip foreign personnel to ensure global security. To this end, Congress enacted Section 1202 of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, enabling the Department of Defense to spend up to $10 million annually to support foreign forces engaged in ongoing and authorized irregular warfare operations.

In their article, Rich, Johnson, and Shirk discuss the significant limitations of this authority, chiefly its definition of irregular warfare as “competition between state and non-state actors short of traditional armed conflict,” and argue that Section 1202 is critical in allowing Special Operations Forces to counteract the aggressive actions of other nation-states through foreign personnel, while emphasizing the lack of specific authority which would allow SOF to train and equip an irregular force during a traditional armed conflict against another nation-state.

Rich, Johnson, and Shirk conclude that, while this gap may be filled through covert funds or existing emergency funds, there is still value in enacting specific authorities prior to an emergency.

By MAJ Christopher Rich

Judge Advocate, United States Army; J.D. 2008, University of Virginia School of Law; LL.M. 2018, Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School, Honor Graduate. Previous assignments include Chief of National Security Law, 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne), 2018-2020. Opinions, conclusions, and recommendations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army, or the Judge Advocate General’s Corps.

By CPT Charles B. Johnson

Judge Advocate, United States Army; J.D. 2012, University of Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law. LL.M. 2022, University of Arizona. Previous assignments include Deputy Legal Advisor to a Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan, 2019-2020, National Security Law Attorney, United States Army Special Operations Command, 2019-2020, and National Security Law Attorney, 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne), 2018-2019.

By MAJ Paul T. Shirk

Judge Advocate, United States Army; J.D. 2011, Marquette University Law School. LL.M. 2022, Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School. Previous assignments include Deputy Group Judge Advocate and 4th Battalion Judge Advocate, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Carson, Colorado, 2016-2019.

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