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.

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

by Micah Zenko
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?”


Tara McKelvey, “A Former Ambassador to Pakistan Speaks Out,” Daily Beast, November 20, 2012.

What Munter did want, however, was a more selective use of drones, coupled with more outreach to the Pakistani government—in short, a bigger emphasis on diplomacy and less reliance on force. “What they’re trying to portray is I’m shocked and horrified, and that’s not my perspective,” he said, referring to The New York Times article. “The use of drones is a good way to fight the war. But you’re going to kill drones if you’re not using them judiciously.” Munter thought the strikes should be carried out in a measured way. “The problem is the political fallout,” he says. “Do you want to win a few battles and lose the war?”

“What is the definition of someone who can be targeted?” I asked. “The definition is a male between the ages of 20 and 40,” Munter replied. “My feeling is one man’s combatant is another man’s—well, a chump who went to a meeting.”


Tom Vanden Brook, “Pentagon Overseas Propaganda Plan Stirs Controversy,” USA Today, November 20, 2012.


Gregory D. Johnsen, “The Wrong Man for the CIA,” New York Times, November 19, 2012.


The White House, Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Shinawatra in a Joint Press Conference, November 18, 2012.

There’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.

(3PA: Over the past ten years, the United States has launched approximately 330 missiles into Pakistan, 60 into Yemen, and 15 into Somalia.)


David Brunnstrom, “Clinton Says Budget Deal Critical to U.S. Global Role, Security,” Reuters, November 17, 2012.

Global leadership is not a birthright for the United States or any nation. It must be constantly tended and earned anew.

(3PA: One thing that successive generations of Americans can look forward to is leading the globe.)


Government Accountability Office, “DOD’s Ongoing Reforms Address Some Challenges, But Additional Information is Needed to Further Enhance Program Management,” November 16, 2012.

Congress appropriated $18.75 billion in fiscal year 2012 for various security cooperation and assistance programs that supply military equipment and training to more than 100 partner countries.

Focus group participants in five of six combatant commands and officials at 9 of the 17 Security Cooperation Organizations (SCOs) noted challenges in identifying and defining partner country assistance requirements. These officials noted that partner countries did not have enough experience or expertise to identify their requirements or develop an assistance request that DOD can act upon. Further, focus groups at four of the six combatant commands reported that SCOs lacked the experience or capacity necessary to identify equipment to match the partner country’s requirements.


Human Rights Watch, Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots, November 2012.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Don Bacon

    “Article Fifty-one of the UN charter gives us the right to go after these people…I don’t have a problem with that”

    Well I do. The UN Charter provides guidelines for international conduct, i.e. between nations — “to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained.”

    Article 51 is in Chapter VII of the UN Charter: CHAPTER VII: ACTION WITH RESPECT TO THREATS TO THE PEACE, BREACHES OF THE PEACE, AND ACTS OF AGGRESSION

    “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

    There is nothing in the Charter about “going after people,” and quoting an article dealing with self-defence against armed attacks to justify arbitrary assassinations on the other side of the earth doesn’t make it legal.

  • Posted by Don Bacon

    Obama’s first actions as president were to (1) stop CIA detention & torture of suspects and change it to (2) CIA assassination of suspects — and he got liberals to buy it. Amazing.

    Imagine if other world powers had such a policy!

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