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.

Ten Whats With…Gregory D. Johnsen

by Micah Zenko Thursday, November 29, 2012
A view is seen of the historic city of Thula in Yemen (Mohamed Al-Sayaghi/Courtesy Reuters). A view is seen of the historic city of Thula in Yemen (Mohamed Al-Sayaghi/Courtesy Reuters).

Gregory D. Johnsen is a former Fulbright fellow in Yemen and currently a PhD candidate in Near Eastern studies at Princeton University. He is the author of The Last Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda, and America’s War in Arabia and writes the blog Waq al-Waq. Read more »

U.S. Drones: The Counterinsurgency Air Force for Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, November 27, 2012
The RQ-4A Global Hawk at a forward-deployed location (Staff Sgt. Reynaldo Ramon ME/Courtesy Reuters). The RQ-4A Global Hawk at a forward-deployed location (Staff Sgt. Reynaldo Ramon ME/Courtesy Reuters).

This past Sunday, Scott Shane of the New York Times reported that the U.S. presidential election spurred the Obama administration to develop and formalize a set of explicit rules to govern the U.S. targeted killings program. Each time that Obama administration officials leak information about a new process (how to make kill lists) or phrase (Disposition Matrix) that supports U.S. targeted killings, Americans are once again reminded of the Long Third War, which has resulted in the deaths of over three thousand individuals outside of battlefield settings. It is remarkable how certain pundits are still shocked by the scope and depth of targeted killings that the United States has carried out for over a decade—albeit most vigorously in the past four years under the guidance of John Brennan and authorized by President Obama. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Targeted Killings, the Fiscal Cliff, and “Killer Robots”

by Micah Zenko Wednesday, November 21, 2012
An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington, DC (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters). An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington, DC (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters).

Nicholas Schmidle, “After Pakistan,” The New Yorker, November 26, 2012.

And then there were the drones. A couple of weeks ago, on his first day at Columbia, Munter admonished a class of fourteen law students not to blog his comments—“These are very sensitive things”—before dishing about the CIA’s classified drone program. He distinguished three types of drone attacks: high-value targets (“Article Fifty-one of the UN charter gives us the right to go after these people…I don’t have a problem with that”); imminent threats, mostly to troops in Afghanistan (“Those, too, are fairly uncontroversial, at least inside our government”); and signature strikes, firing a missile at guys who “look like they’re up to no good” (“targeting based on behavior, rather than identity”). This became a source of contention between Munter and the CIA: “When you kill people and you don’t know who they are, what are you leaving yourself open to?” Read more »

The Latest in Tracking Global Terrorism Data

by Micah Zenko Monday, November 19, 2012
A sniper in a control tower checks surrounding areas for al-Shabaab militants (Handout/Courtesy Reuters). A sniper in a control tower checks surrounding areas for al-Shabaab militants (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

I was fortunate to attend a presentation of recent terrorism research led by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), which is based at the University of Maryland. START produces the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), an open-source database based on publicly-available information about terrorist events from 1970 through 2011 (with plans for annual updates) that includes more than 104,000 cases. (For their data collection and coding methodology, see here.) The GTD attempts to collect information on 120 attributes for each incident with 75 coded variables. It is easy to use, and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in having a data-driven understanding of trends in global terrorism over the past five decades. Read more »

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

by Micah Zenko Sunday, November 18, 2012
Air Force Space Command Network Operations and Security Center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs (Rick Wilking/Courtesy Reuters). Air Force Space Command Network Operations and Security Center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs (Rick Wilking/Courtesy Reuters).

Guest Post: Family Planning Is a Right, Not a Privilege

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Friday, November 16, 2012
A mother holds her child as she visits a health clinic in Eshkashem district of Badakhshan province in Afghanistan (Ahmad Masood/Courtesy Reuters). A mother holds her child as she visits a health clinic in Eshkashem district of Badakhshan province in Afghanistan (Ahmad Masood/Courtesy Reuters).

Emma Welch is a research associate in the Center for Preventive Action and the International Institutions and Global Governance program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Given the news dominating the headlines this week (CIA sex scandals and an increasingly Orwellian surveillance apparatus), it is unsurprising that a report published by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), The State of the World Population 2012, received little attention. And yet, underpinning the report is a paradigm shift in how the world body conceptualizes and articulates family planning: not as a privilege, but as a fundamental human right. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: U.S. Elections, Drones, and Cyber Threats

by Micah Zenko Friday, November 9, 2012
U.S. president Barack Obama celebrates on stage as confetti falls after his victory speech during his election rally in Chicago, November 6, 2012 (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. president Barack Obama celebrates on stage as confetti falls after his victory speech during his election rally in Chicago, November 6, 2012 (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters).

David Axe, “Predator Drones Once Shot Back at Jets… But Sucked At It,” Wired, November 9, 2012.

The U.S. military’s drones are defenseless against enemy fighters — as an incident this month over the Persian Gulf shows. But that wasn’t always the case. In 2002 the Air Force fitted some of its early-model Predator drones with short-range Stinger air-to-air missiles. But even with the right weaponry the robots were likely a poor match for enemy fighters, and the Air Force ultimately stripped them of the missiles. Read more »

How Free Are American Elections?

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Voters cast their ballots on November 6, 2012 (Chris Keane/Courtesy Reuters). Voters cast their ballots on November 6, 2012 (Chris Keane/Courtesy Reuters).

“When a nation begins to modify the elective qualification, it may easily be foreseen that, sooner or later, that qualification will be entirely abolished. There is no more invariable rule in the history of society: the further electoral rights are extended, the greater is the need of extending them; for after each concession the strength of the democracy increases, and its demands increase with its strength. The ambition of those who are below the appointed rate is irritated in exact proportion to the great number of those who are above it. The exception at last becomes the rule, concession follows concession, and no stop can be made short of universal suffrage.” Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Drones, Drones, and Drones

by Micah Zenko Saturday, November 3, 2012
A MQ-1 Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Prepares to take off on a mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force by Master Sgt. Demetrius Lester) A MQ-1 Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Prepares to take off on a mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force by Master Sgt. Demetrius Lester)

Editorial Board, “Pulling the U.S. Drone War Out of the Shadows,” Washington Post, November 1, 2012. Read more »