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Interview with a Speaker: Isaiah Wilson III


CDr. Isaiah “Ike” Wilson III is Professor and Former President of JSOU Operations University (JSOU).  Dr. Wilson (Colonel, U.S. Army, retired) has earned a reputation as a versatile and innovative soldier-scholar. 

A decorated combat veteran with multiple combat tours in the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan and extensive operational experience across the greater middle east, he is a nationally and internationally-recognized leading advocate for change in how America understands and deals with matters of security affairs and uses of force, in times of peace and war, at a time when disruptive change continues to outpace organizations and organizational leadership ability to think and act fast and effectively.

As a scholar, Dr. Wilson is the author of Thinking Beyond War: Civil-Military Relations and Why America Fails to Win the Peace, among numerous books, articles, essays, and multimedia presentations. He has taught at a number of Professional Military Education (PME) and civilian colleges and universities, including Yale U, Columbia U, George Washington U, West Point, and the National War College.  He is a life-member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), International Affairs Fellow with New America, and a Professor of Practice with Arizona State University (ASU). 

He will be providing Keynote Remarks and moderating a panel at GSOF Europe.


Ahead of GSOF 2023, Dr Isaiah “Ike” Wilson III shared his thoughts on GSOF, highlights of his keynote speech and why GSOF is an important event for him and his SOF colleagues.

Dr. Wilson’s background is perfect to make him a GSOF speaker.  Having spent 33 years in the United States Army, including as an Apache pilot and professor, and retiring as a “Full-Bird” Colonel, he then worked for the US federal government and on global affairs, and served as director of the Strategic Studies Institute at the Army War College, and most recently, as president of the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) at United States Special Operations Command. He is an Army strategist, with a background in geopolitics, political and policy science, and is now a partner with Gainful Solutions, an international lobbying and strategic consultancy firm.

When it comes to GSOF, Dr Wilson recognises the importance of the foundation and welcomes how, as a global forum, it sets the right conditions for bringing in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary experts, experts in thinking and experts in doing, and getting them together with industry for cross-pollenization and detailed conversations.  

The timing of the symposium, not just with Ukraine, but also Israel and Gaza, shows that we live in a moment of compound security dilemmas and competition and the world needs to recognise that there is a much bigger “Gordian Knot” of issue between the United States and the Western powers, and  Xi’s communist China and Putin’s Russia, over the futures of Ukraine (and beyond), Taiwan (and beyond), and of the future solvency and directions of the western-liberal international system, that needs to be considered, reckoned with, and reconciled.  The contagion potentialities make this moment of change, unique and frankly, epochal in its possible consequences, in world history. Having events such as GSOF are vital. They allow the different countries and stakeholders to get out of their stovepipes institutionally and organisational-culturally and look at those puzzles that need to be solved, in new, innovative, and collective-teaming ways.

GSOF this year will help to frame those problems and the opportunities, looking at them not merely as discrete threats and as discrete problems, but as compounded dilemmas, but dilemmas also ripe with positive opportunities.  Allowing discussions to take place, giving people the opportunity to solve those puzzles – by looking at the aggressive ascendancy of a Xi’s China and an imperialistic revanchism in a Putin’s Russia or even the nuclear-armed hermitaged paranoias of an Un’s North Korea, collectively, and from different angles and through different lenses. Dr Wilson has also noted that there are still the old forms of terrorist organisations like al Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State, both violent extremist organisations, that have not magically disappeared, and must still be contended with, both as singular discrete threat-lines, as well as compounded threats.  All of this seems to be converging into a compound security threat array. This is what Dr Wilson calls ‘compound security competition’ ... Gordian knots, which lie at the intersections of our borders, of our policies, of our civilizational values and ideals.

In his keynote speech – “What Winning (Can) Look Life: Utility of Special Operations in Compound Security Competition” – Dr Wilson would like GSOF attendees to come away with a real understanding of how to approach the puzzle, how to respond to these global crises.  He would like them to understand why these crises exist in the first place, perhaps through a lack of anticipation and foresight. How to understand and deliver a preparedness and position to provide a preventive security and defence approach and set of outcomes? What a win set might look like from a peace and prosperity standpoint, and how you then reverse engineer that into an ideated and envisioned future state of relative peace?

What Dr Wilson will do during his speech is to show, in an unclassified way, what the geopolitical, geostrategic picture looks like.  Where the chaos and the geopolitical, geoeconomic and geostrategic applications of applicable theory, history, and contemporary practice toolcraft come together, helping attendees to come up with solutions as to what may be perceived as unsolvable problems.  As Jean Monnet, the father of the European Union, said when they were trying to knit together the European Union, whenever you are, or perceive yourself to be, dealing with and facing an unsolvable problem, enlarge the context.

GSOF is important, and people should attend, because it's about special operations forces, bringing together their unique, exquisite and peculiar views and approaches that help define and solve the puzzles that the world is currently experiencing.  There is also an element of education – the Symposium provides that vital venue where attendees can formally discuss the importance of combined SOF education.  Thirty-six years ago, in the Cohen-Nunn Amendment to the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act that gave birth to US Special Operations Command, they got SOF “peculiar” acquisition right-- the materiel, the R&D, unique and peculiar to and for special operations investments in procurement and production. But we've played an all too slow catch-up game on the commensurate talent development, talent management, and education leader/development leader preparation that must companion SOF materiel development and enablement. So those two things are very vital, SOF and The Foundation are leading “at the edge” of these discussions and these transformational changes.

Dr Wilson is looking forward to GSOF – it gives him the opportunity to catch up with colleagues, “it will be about two months since I handed over the reins of the university. So first and foremost, I guess a little selfishly as well, I'm looking forward to getting back with the team, the global SOF team, and to get back ‘on-point’ with them at this vanguard moment of change. I'm looking forward to the symposium and the cross-pollenization of ideas, the interactions with industry, with the business community with foreign partners and teammates, as well as with my US counterparts to think through these puzzles, together.” He is also, through his speech, looking forward to both provoking discussions and challenging “current conventions” in thinking regarding unconventional warfare, flipping the scripts, and to get everyone thinking about, not just how to react to the dilemmas, but how to be genuinely proactive and to look at what winning needs to make it happen.

Finally, he is “looking forward to being back in one of my most favourite places across the globe, the Czech Republic. I'm really looking forward to being back in the Czech Republic.”