MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – United States Special Operations Command hosted a one-day workshop for partner nations, during the Sovereign Challenge conference in the District of Columbia, Sept. 23, 2015. This year’s topic was “Challenging Extremism from Within – Engaging the Successor Generation,” and was built on past Sovereign Challenge conferences as a part of USSOCOM’s international engagement program. The event provided a venue for 82 representatives from 67 participating countries to build relationships, share national policies, positions, and ideas related to extremism, as well as the capabilities to battle these threats, which are often exacerbated as a nation comes out of conflict.
Sovereign Challenge began in 2004, when USSOCOM invited a group of defense attachés from Washington D.C. to Tampa to discuss major issues of concern to their respective nations. Since then, conference participation has focused on accredited military, defense attachés and security related diplomats from D.C.-based foreign embassies.
“The Sovereign Challenge program is one of the tools that help the command look at problems differently. It makes USSOCOM more culturally astute, and brings people, capabilities and ideas together to help address some of our most pressing international problems,” said Larry Cook, Sovereign Challenge program manager. Peter Bergen, a CNN national security analyst, American print and broadcast journalist, and documentary producer, was one of the guest speakers for this event. Bergen spoke about ISIS and how they are using social media to push their agenda.
“The Vietnam War was the first televised war; the Gulf War was the first cable news war that was available 24/7, and what is going on in Syria, is the first social media war,” said Bergen.
Bergen said that the ISIS message of victory, and the method of using social media to push their agenda, appeals to their target demographic - tech-savvy, potential recruits between the ages of 21 to 24.
The majority of Sovereign Challenge’s attendees remain senior foreign military attaches, although the past few years have seen a steady rise in the number of security related non-defense diplomats engaged in the program as well. This, said Cook, is a clear reflection of the increasing recognition of complex issues many nations face which require a “whole of government” response.
The next Sovereign Challenge is scheduled for April 2016 in Philadelphia.