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.

The Scope of U.S. Global Military Presence

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, April 30, 2013

In the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2012, Congress included a routine reporting requirement, “The Secretary of Defense shall commission an independent assessment of the overseas basing presence of United States forces.” That report—with twelve authors—was published yesterday by RAND: “Overseas Basing of U.S. Military Forces: An Assessment of the Relative Costs and Strategic Benefits.” It is, by far, the most impressive and comprehensive study of the scope, benefits, risks, costs, and consequences of America’s global military presence. Many citizens and policymakers are unaware of the number of troops stationed overseas to execute U.S. defense strategy: recent Pentagon data lists over 172,000 U.S. servicemembers on permanent or rotational deployments around the world (not including the 66,000 troops in Afghanistan). Read more »

Sea Power in the Pacific, Drones in Lebanon, and America’s “Dirty Wars”

by Micah Zenko Friday, April 26, 2013
The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) departs for a deployment to the Asia-Pacific region, in San Diego Bay, California. (Christine Walker-Singh/Courtesy Reuters). The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) departs for a deployment to the Asia-Pacific region, in San Diego Bay, California. (Christine Walker-Singh/Courtesy Reuters).

David C. Gompert, “Sea Power and American Interests in the Western Pacific,” Rand Corportation, to be published June 3, 2013,  pp. 160-162.

If we are indeed in for a change in the basic premise of sea power, the main reason would be that globalization is making cooperative maritime security more attractive and even compelling. But why would globalization favor cooperation over confrontation at sea? This is a legitimate question: After all, economic interdependence did not prevent naval rivalry or, for that matter, world war a century ago. More to the point at hand, why would the common economic interests of China and the United States, including secure trade, foster maritime cooperation when such an approach was not pursued by Great Britain and Germany, also major trading partners when they became rival sea powers? The answer is complex but worth examining. Read more »

Preventing a Clash in the East China Sea

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Wednesday, April 24, 2013
An aerial view shows Japan Coast Guard patrol ship, fishing boats from Taiwan and Taiwan's Coast Guard vessel sailing side by side near the disputed islands in the East China Sea. (Kyodo/Courtesy Reuters). An aerial view shows Japan Coast Guard patrol ship, fishing boats from Taiwan and Taiwan's Coast Guard vessel sailing side by side near the disputed islands in the East China Sea. (Kyodo/Courtesy Reuters).

CFR’s Senior Fellow for Japan studies, Sheila A. Smith, published a new CFR Contingency Planning Memo (CPM), “A Sino-Japanese Clash in the East China Sea.”  In it, she argues that the United States should encourage peaceful dispute resolution to the avoid further escalation in tension between China and Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.  Below, CPA staff write a guest post about this aspect of the CPM. Read more »

White House Transparency and Targeted Killings

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, April 23, 2013

In February, President Obama declared during a Google+ Fireside Hangout: “This is the most transparent administration in history, and I can document how that is the case.” Obama did acknowledge: “When it comes to how we conduct counterterrorism there are legitimate questions there, and we should have that debate.” One way the White House could cement its purported legacy as the most transparent administration ever, and contribute to counterterrorism debates would be to participate in congressional hearings on drone strikes. Read more »

Grading the World: The Global Governance Report Card

by Micah Zenko Monday, April 22, 2013

If, like me, you assume that virtually no transnational challenges can be solved by the United States alone, then you agree that they require multilateral solutions and the engagement of global institutions and a host of other stakeholders including local civil society, the private sector, philanthropic groups and NGOs. Though the phenomenon of global governance is old, serious research into understanding how the world acts collectively to manage and mitigate shared challenges is quite new. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Spending on Overseas Bases, Drones over Boston, and Benghazi

by Micah Zenko Friday, April 19, 2013
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Sung Y. Kim at Seoul Air Base (Paul J. Richards/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Sung Y. Kim at Seoul Air Base (Paul J. Richards/Courtesy Reuters).

Donna Cassata, “Report: US Footing Greater Bill for Overseas Bases,” Associated Press, April 17, 2013.

The United States is footing more of the bill for overseas bases in Germany, Japan and South Korea even as the military reduces the number of American troops in Europe and strategically repositions forces in Asia, a congressional report says. Read more »

Transferring CIA Drone Strikes to the Pentagon

by Micah Zenko Wednesday, April 17, 2013

It has recently been reported that the Obama administration is seriously considering transferring the lead executive authority for targeted killings from the CIA to the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). President Obama should commit to implementing this in his forthcoming promised reforms of U.S. targeted killing policies. Read more »

The U.S. and Mexico: Two Nations Indivisible

by Micah Zenko Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Policymakers are attempting to broker a bi-partisan deal that would allow undocumented people living in the United States could apply for permanent legal residency. Democrats want those individuals who either entered the United States illegally, or entered legally and then overstayed their visas (fully 40% of the 11 million undocumented workers) to be able “to earn citizenship so they can come out of the shadows,” in the White House’s words. Republicans, meanwhile, seek to “secure the border,” which specifically means the Department of Homeland Security certifying that the  U.S.-Mexico border is 100% under surveillance, and 90% of those who cross illegally at “high risk” sections were apprehended. Read more »

Why Did the CIA Stop Torturing and Start Killing?

by Micah Zenko Sunday, April 7, 2013

In the New York Times, Mark Mazzetti has an excellent account of how, in 2004, the CIA’s counterterrorism efforts in Pakistan merged from capturing suspected terrorists to killing them with armed drones. The important contribution from Mazzetti’s reporting is that he reveals the extent to which the CIA based its support for this policy shift on a May 2004 report by John Helgerson, the Agency’s inspector general. The semi-redacted report—“Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities, September 2001-October 2003”—is available here. As Mazzetti writes: Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Conflict Prevention, Cyber War, and Conspiracy Theories

by Micah Zenko Saturday, April 6, 2013
A South Korean soldier looks to the north near the demilitarized zone. (Kim Hong-Ji/Courtesy Reuters). A South Korean soldier looks to the north near the demilitarized zone. (Kim Hong-Ji/Courtesy Reuters).

Claudette Roulo, “Dempsey Arrives in Afghanistan to Assess Progress,” American Forces Press Service, April 6, 2013.

Any conflict in history, when it is resolved, is resolved through some form of reconciliation,” [Gen. Martin Dempsey chairman of the joint chiefs of staff] said. “I support the effort to try … through the Afghans to encourage them to take reconciliation as an important line of effort.” Read more »