In this new era of perpetual sequestration, it seems that budget restraint conflicts with enhancing our national defense. Yet threats to our nation have not diminished in the face of our budget battles. Several years ago, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates accurately asserted that many future conflicts are likely to run the spectrum just short of full-scale war. Our experience in the last decade, if not the last four decades, confirms this notion.

An article last year in the New York Times reported criticism within the defense establishment of then-Special Operations Commander Admiral William McRaven. The article alleges that Admiral McRaven sought to create a fiefdom within Special Operations Command (SOCOM), thwarting the military’s predominant conventional leadership. Given current threats, does it not seem obtuse to have stood in his way?

As Admiral McRaven recognized, the authority to deploy and command forces is currently left to regional combatant commanders who oversee operations in the various operational theaters. However, our force structure must acknowledge current realities in the operational environment. Regardless of who sits in the oval office, the U.S. will, for the foreseeable future, be much more constrained in its employment of military force to affect emerging security threats. Even now, Iraq and Syria are unraveling, Ebola is threatening Africa and belligerent aggression by Russia undermines stability in Ukraine. The Commander-in-Chief and his aides have few appropriate conventional military options available. As a result, there is a great need for an enduring capability that will allow us to maintain our persistent global presence and pursue irregular threats on a more modest budget.

Much like we have separate services to engage the enemy in different physical operational environments (land, sea and air), we need a service to meet the enemy to secure key terrain in irregular warfare—human terrain. This force ought to have a component of veritable military ambassadors working with allied foreign militaries, coordinating with local civilian governments to improve governance and protect vulnerable civilian populations and translating that into a message that appeals to foreign audiences.

Our current posture suggests that groups of very able troopers need be the tip of the spear in places where the choice to employ force is ambiguous. To be successful, this force will often employ non-lethal and non-kinetic measures coupled with patience. During times of conflict, it can be the force to conduct precision operations where the target is politically sensitive or civilians are exposed.

How do we create a force that can do all this, and on a budget? The force already exists. They are the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines of SOCOM. SOCOM is a diverse command with a wide variety of capabilities that span the spectrum of conflict. From U.S. Army Rangers to Navy SEALs to Air Force operators, who seize airfields, conduct strike operations and rescue downed pilots. Toward the non-lethal end of the scale is Army civil affairs and psychological operations, which deal with civilian governments and populations to minimize or enhance battlefield operations.

Some have suggested that special operations tactics, techniques and procedures ought to filter to the conventional force. In this view, the “wall” that separates conventional and special operations forces ought to be removed in order to more broadly infect general purpose forces with SOF-like capabilities. This is doomed to failure as a last gasp to minimize the long-evolving threat to our overall warfighting capability. If an effort to pursue making the conventional trooper more akin to his special operations brother succeeds, then it is more likely that the trappings of the conventional force would suffocate all that is “special” in the SOF community. Conventionalization of special operations has long been under way, especially since the conventional military forces were given command of irregular operational environments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

To underscore my point, I propose that the Goldwater-Nichols Act, the statute that established SOCOM, should be amended to establish a separate service component and department that would govern special operations.