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.

You Might Have Missed: Drones, Afghanistan, and the North Korean Nuclear Program

by Micah Zenko Friday, March 30, 2012
U.S. Army soldiers shield themselves as a Medivac helicopter takes off from Arghandab Valley, Afghanistan (Courtesy Reuters/Bob Strong). U.S. Army soldiers shield themselves as a Medivac helicopter takes off from Arghandab Valley, Afghanistan (Courtesy Reuters/Bob Strong).

The Power of Witness: Imagery and Mass Atrocities

by Micah Zenko Thursday, March 29, 2012
A monument with the names of victims in Potocari Memorial Center near Srebrenica (Courtesy Reuters//Marko Djurica). A monument with the names of victims in Potocari Memorial Center near Srebrenica (Courtesy Reuters//Marko Djurica).

* coauthored with my research associate, Emma Welch

Warning: This blog post contains graphic images.

Last week, I was fortunate to attend a workshop at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Power of Witness: The Use of Technology in Preventing Mass Atrocities.” Among the topics discussed were the current and potential use of journalists, victims’ reporting, satellites, aircraft, and drones (presented by myself) to reveal to the outside world what is happening on the ground. It was remarkable to hear from a wide range of dedicated people who utilize innovative technologies and collaborative arrangements to document prospective war crimes for dissemination to the media, people in the target country, foreign leaders, criminal tribunals, the global public, and others. Read more »

The 2012 Nuclear Security Summit: Obama’s Work in Progress

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, March 27, 2012
U.S. President Obama during a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev before the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea (Courtesy Reuters/Larry Downing). U.S. President Obama during a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev before the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea (Courtesy Reuters/Larry Downing).

An edited version of this post originally appeared on CFR.org as a First Take.

On his first foreign trip as a U.S. senator in 2005, Barack Obama accompanied Senator Richard Lugar on a week-long tour of WMD facilities in the former Soviet Union. Afterward, Senator Obama often spoke about the trip, in particular the vast amount of poorly secured lethal materials that he witnessed at the sites. As a presidential candidate, Obama declared, “The single most serious threat to American national security is nuclear terrorism.” While President George W. Bush deserves credit for highlighting the seriousness of nuclear terrorism and committing the resources to work with Russia to secure nearly all of its potentially loose nukes, nuclear security has been a top-tier priority for Obama.  As early as July 2008, he vowed to “lead a global effort to secure all loose nuclear materials around the world during my first term as president.” Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Drones, Counterterrorism Policies, and Tobacco Mortality

by Micah Zenko Friday, March 23, 2012
The lobby of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters in McLean, Virginia (Courtesy Reuters/Larry Downing). The lobby of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters in McLean, Virginia (Courtesy Reuters/Larry Downing).

The government needs to ensure that the principles of an independent foreign policy must be grounded in strict adherence to the Principles of Policy as stated in Article 40 of the Constitution of Pakistan, the UN Charter, and observance of international law. The US must review its footprints in Pakistan. This means (i) the cessation of drone attacks inside the territorial borders of Pakistan, (ii) No hot pursuit or boots on Pakistani territory… It needs to be realized that drone attacks are counter productive, cause loss of valuable lives and property, radicalize the local population, create support for terrorists, and fuel anti-American sentiments. Read more »

Iran’s Nuclear Program: (Not) Selling a War

by Micah Zenko Monday, March 19, 2012
President Obama addresses the nation from the Oval Office in Washington, DC (Courtesy Reuters/Jim Young). President Obama addresses the nation from the Oval Office in Washington, DC (Courtesy Reuters/Jim Young).

The public debate on whether the United States and other countries are able to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon exhausted itself years ago. Yet, discussion about confrontation with Iran will persist until one of two things happens: Tehran provides sufficient transparency over its suspected nuclear weapons activities to meet the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Tel Aviv, and Washington; or Israel and/or the United States attacks Iran’s nuclear facilities. Unless the major players are bluffing and ultimately back down—which has happened before—one of these determining actions will likely take place within the next two years. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Nuclear Material, Poverty Decline, and George Washington

by Micah Zenko Friday, March 16, 2012
Image of the Iranian drone downed in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. Image of the Iranian drone downed in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan.

Despite individual agency efforts to implement the 4-year initiative, we found that the overarching interagency strategy coordinated by NSC lacked specific details concerning how the initiative would be implemented, including the identity of, and details regarding, vulnerable foreign nuclear material sites and facilities to be addressed, agencies and programs responsible for addressing each site, planned activities at each site, potential challenges and strategies for overcoming these challenges, anticipated timelines, and cost estimates. NSC officials told us that developing a single, integrated cross-agency plan that incorporates all these elements could take years. (1) Read more »

Wonk Writing Today

by Micah Zenko Wednesday, March 14, 2012
The twitter page of France's Christine Lagarde on a computer screen in Paris (Courtesy Reuters/Mal Langsdon). The twitter page of France's Christine Lagarde on a computer screen in Paris (Courtesy Reuters/Mal Langsdon).

In his excellent book published in 1999, Disarming Strangers: Nuclear Diplomacy with North Korea, Leon Sigal chronicles the Clinton administration’s confrontation with Pyongyang over its nuclear program. Rather than simply providing the play-by-play of the diplomatic negotiations that led to the 1994 Agreed Framework, Sigal explains how the policymaking process actually works, with particular emphasis on how mainstream media reporting and opinion writing influenced and constrained the United States’ ability to choose cooperation over coercion. Read more »

U.S. Targeted Killings: Official Confusion

by Micah Zenko Monday, March 12, 2012
FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC (Courtesy Reuters/Kevin Lamarque). FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC (Courtesy Reuters/Kevin Lamarque).

Last Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder gave a policy speech at Northwestern University Law School, reportedly intended to “reveal publicly the legal reasoning behind [the Obama administration’s] decision to kill the American-born leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Anwar al-Awlaki.” Holder’s speech was the latest in a series of attempts to defend and justify the government’s targeted killing policies, following similar efforts by senior State Department, White House, and Pentagon officials. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Syria, Iran, and Targeted Killings

by Micah Zenko Friday, March 9, 2012
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei greets election officials as he prepares to cast his ballot in the parliamentary election in Tehran on March 2, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters/Caren Firouz). Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei greets election officials as he prepares to cast his ballot in the parliamentary election in Tehran on March 2, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters/Caren Firouz).

Hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, “The Situation in Syria,” March 7, 2012.

SENATOR WEBB: I want to ask you about one thing that you said, because I think we all need to think about it. You said: Any government — I think this is a direct quote; I’m an old journalist here, I can write fast: “Any government that indiscriminately kills its own people loses its legitimacy.” Read more »

Ask the Experts: Where Are the Women in Foreign Policy?

by Micah Zenko Thursday, March 8, 2012
President Barack Obama meets with the national security team on Iraq in the Situation Room of the White House (Courtesy Reuters). President Barack Obama meets with the national security team on Iraq in the Situation Room of the White House (Courtesy Reuters).

Having worked at a number of institutions over the past fifteen years, I have long been struck by the proportional underrepresentation of women in U.S. foreign policy and national security positions. In an attempt to understand the scope and extent of this gender gap, I wrote a piece that examined the best available data for the government, military, academy, and think tanks. With few exceptions, I found that women make up less than 30 percent of senior positions across these institutions. Read more »