Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

Entrepreneurship, Erdogan, and Interrupting: A Conversation with Elmira Bayrasli

by Micah Zenko Thursday, March 23, 2017
Cover art from World Policy Journal's 2016/2017 winter issue by Molly Crabapple.

The wonderful Elmira Bayrasli joined me again for discussion that ranged from the rise of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to women’s role in shaping foreign policy. Elmira is a fellow in New America’s International Security program, a professor at NYU School of Professional Studies and Bard College’s Global and International Affairs program, author of From the Other Side of the World: Extraordinary Entrepreneurs, Unlikely Places. (In case you missed it, you can listen to our talk last April about From the Other Side of the World here) She is also co-founder with Lauren Bohn of Foreign Policy Interrupted (FPI), an education and media startup dedicated to increasing female foreign policy voices in the press. Read more »

A New U.S. Strategy for Russia? A Conversation with Kimberly Marten

by Micah Zenko Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Putin talks to servicemen Russian President Vladimir Putin talks to servicemen during a training exercise at the Donguz testing range in Orenburg region, Russia, September 19, 2015 (Reuters/Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti/Pool).

While policymakers continued to struggle with investigating Russian interference in the U.S. election, I sat down with Professor Kimberly Marten to talk about how the Trump administration can effectively manage the increasingly tense relationship with Russia. Marten is the Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Political Science at Barnard College, a faculty member of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University, and director of the Program on U.S.-Russia Relations at Columbia’s Harriman Institute. She is also the author of a recent Center for Preventive Action Council Special Report, Reducing Tensions Between Russia and NATO. Read more »

The (Not-So) Peaceful Transition of Power: Trump’s Drone Strikes Outpace Obama

by Micah Zenko Thursday, March 2, 2017
Women walk past a graffiti, denouncing strikes by U.S. drones in Yemen, painted on a wall in Sanaa, Yemen February 6, 2017 (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah).

[Note: This post was updated to reflect additional strikes in Yemen on March 2, March 3, and March 6.]

As a candidate, President Donald Trump was deeply misleading about the sorts of military operations that he would support. He claimed to have opposed the 2003 Iraq War when he actually backed it, and to have opposed the 2011 Libya intervention when he actually strongly endorsed it, including with U.S. ground troops. Yet, Trump and his loyalists consistently implied that he would be less supportive of costly and bloody foreign wars, especially when compared to President Obama, and by extension, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This might be true, but nonetheless the White House is considering deploying even more U.S. troops to Syria, loosening the rules of engagement for airstrikes, and increasing the amount of lethal assistance provided to Syrian rebel groups. Read more »

Will Nagorno-Karabakh’s Frozen Conflict Heat Up?

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Wednesday, March 1, 2017
An ethnic Armenian soldier walks near Nagorno-Karabakh's town of Martuni, April 8, 2016 (Reuters/Staff).

Eshani Bhatt is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Last weekend, a firefight erupted between Azerbaijani forces and Armenian-backed separatists near the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, killing five Azerbaijanis. Nagorno-Karabakh remains a hotbed of tension after skirmishes along the line of contact, which separates Nagorno-Karabakh from the rest of Azerbaijan, escalated and killed one hundred people in April 2016, marking the worst violence since a 1994 cease-fire agreement. The contested region in the southwestern part of Azerbaijan is made up of mostly Armenians who have sought to break away since 1988 when Azerbaijan and Armenia gained their independence. Nagorno-Karabakh forces, with the support of Armenia, then waged a full-scale war against Azerbaijan and gained control of almost 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s geographic area over six years before the 1994 cease-fire was reached. Read more »

How to Use Red Teams and Be a Red Teamer: A Conversation with Mark Mateski

by Micah Zenko Monday, February 27, 2017
(Pixabay)

I sat down again with Mark Mateski, an expert in red teaming and one of the most insightful people I learned from while writing my book, Red Team: How to Succeed By Thinking Like the Enemy. In 1997, Mark founded Red Team Journal, a fantastic resource for red teamers and those seeking to learn more about the practice. Mark also gave a presentation at the 2014 Black Hat conference, The Devil Does Not Exist: The Role of Deception in Cyber, which I highly recommend watching. Read more »

Rethinking the U.S. Approach in Northern Syria: A Conversation with Aaron Stein

by Micah Zenko Friday, February 17, 2017
Kurdish fighters gesture while carrying their parties' flags in Tel Abyad of Raqqa governorate after they said they took control of the area June 15, 2015 (Reuters/Rodi Said).

Yesterday I spoke with Aaron Stein, resident senior fellow in the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council and author of the new Center for Preventive Action paper, “Reconciling U.S.-Turkish Interests in Northern Syria.” We discussed developments on the ground in northern Syria and the many complex and competing interests among the armed groups there. Stein also reviewed the strategic options for the United States going forward and made recommendations for the Donald J. Trump administration to strengthen the U.S.-Turkish relationship while pursuing the U.S. counterterrorism objectives in Syria. Though a young scholar himself, Stein also provides some great advice for professionals just entering the field. Read more »

Being Honest About U.S. Military Strategy in Afghanistan

by Micah Zenko Thursday, February 9, 2017
U.S. Marines from the First Battalion Eighth Marines Alpha Company patrol a remote eastern corner of Musa Qala district in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province February 22, 2011 (Reuters/O'Reilly).

Today, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General John “Mic” Nicholson, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC). Though it remains the longest war in American history, the ongoing military campaign in Afghanistan received little attention during the presidential race and even less since President Trump entered office. You may recall that in December 2009, President Obama authorized the deployment of 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, bringing the total to 97,000. The vast majority of those troops have returned home; there are 8,400 troops in country now (plus 26,000 military contractors, 9,474 of whom are U.S. citizens). Read more »

Failed States, Rebel Diplomats, and Pirates: A Conversation with Bridget Coggins

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, February 7, 2017
Power Politics and State Formation in the Twentieth Century: The Dynamics of Recognition by Bridget Coggins (Cambridge University Press 2016).

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Bridget Coggins, associate professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Coggins has a fascinating body of work that examines often overlooked non-traditional security issues and uses fact-based research to counter even the most pervasive conventional wisdom. We discussed her book, Power Politics and State Formation in the Twentieth Century: The Dynamics of Recognition, and her analysis of the politics—and implications—of state recognition. We also talked about her research into the the logic of rebel diplomacy, whether state failure causes terrorism, and the relationship between governance and maritime policy. Read more »

Ending the South Sudan Civil War: A Conversation with Kate Almquist Knopf

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Kate Almquist Knopf, director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, is the author of a recent Center for Preventive Action report on Ending South Sudan’s Civil War. We discussed the crisis in South Sudan and her outside-the-box proposal to address it, which involves establishing an international transitional administration for the country. She also offered some near-term recommendations for the Trump administration. Read more »

Fifteen Questions Trump Should Answer About His “Safe Zones”

by Micah Zenko Monday, January 30, 2017
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks after attending a swearing-in ceremony for Defense Secretary James Mattis with Vice President Mike Pence at the Pentagon on January 27, 2017 (Reuters/Carlos Barria).

Yesterday, the White House released the readout of a call between President Donald Trump and the King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud. The statement featured this remarkable statement: “The President requested and the King agreed to support safe zones in Syria and Yemen, as well as supporting other ideas to help the many refugees who are displaced by the ongoing conflicts.” Read more »