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.

Turkey-EU Trade on Tenterhooks? Faltering Membership Talks Threaten Economic Ties

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan attends a Republic Day ceremony at Anitkabir, the mausoleum of modern Turkey's founder Ataturk, to mark the republic's anniversary in Ankara, Turkey, October 29, 2016. (Reuters/Bektas).

Sabina Frizell is a research associate in the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

After yesterday’s assassination of the Russian ambassador, Turkish officials were quick to place blame on Fetullah Gulen, an exiled religious leader and one of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s strongest critics. Erdogan is sure to use the attack as yet another justification to silence dissenting voices in the name of security. His ongoing crackdown further diminishes Turkey’s prospects for joining the European Union (EU), following the European Parliament’s overwhelming vote on November 24 to suspend membership negotiations. Read more »

Why Trump’s Foreign Policy Appointments Matter: A (Second) Conversation with Elizabeth Saunders

by Micah Zenko Friday, December 16, 2016
President-Elect Donald Trump, then Republican presidential nominee, speaks along side retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn during a campaign town hall meeting, September 6, 2016 (Reuters/ Segar).

I was lucky enough to again be joined by the brilliant Elizabeth Saunders, assistant professor of political science and international affairs at the George Washington University, and currently a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. We discussed the role that President-Elect Donald Trump’s advisers will play in shaping his approach to foreign policy and response to international crises. Professor Saunders also talks about two of her recent articles published on the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage, “What a President Trump Means for Foreign Policy” and “How Much Power Will Trump’s Foreign Policy Advisers Have?” Follow her on Twitter @ProfSaunders and, if you haven’t already, listen to the conversation we had back in March, “Presidents and Foreign Policy.” Read more »

The Politics of Proliferation: A Conversation with Matthew Fuhrmann

by Micah Zenko Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy, by Todd S. Sechser and Matthew Fuhrmann (Cambridge University Press 2017).

I spoke with Matthew Fuhrmann, associate professor of political science at Texas A&M University, visiting associate professor at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, and one of the  most innovative scholars of nuclear proliferation. We discussed Matt’s soon-to-be released book Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming). The book was co-authored with University of Virginia associate professor of politics Todd Sechser, whom I spoke with earlier this year. Read more »

What Conflicts Should the Trump Administration Watch in 2017?

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Tuesday, December 13, 2016
The Center for Preventive Action's annual Preventive Priorities Survey (PPS) evaluates ongoing and potential conflicts based on their likelihood of occurring in the coming year and their impact on U.S. interests

Helia Ighani is the assistant director of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Center for Preventive Action.

Today President-elect Donald J. Trump announced his nomination for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. Tillerson’s nomination, like others that Trump has made to fill national security positions, have garnered controversy and could face contentious Senate confirmation hearings. Yet, whoever leads the State Department, Pentagon, and intelligence agencies, foreign policy professionals across the government will be confronted with numerous unanticipated global crises in Trump’s first year in office. To help policymakers plan for these contingencies, the Center for Preventive Action conducts an annual Preventive Priorities Survey (PPS) to highlight the top thirty potential conflicts that could affect U.S. interests in 2017. Read more »

Red States and Green Cities: Predictions for Trump-Era Climate Action

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Thursday, December 8, 2016
Commuters walk through the early morning sun in New York, October 31, 2016. (Jackson/Reuters)

Jennifer Wilson is a research associate for national security at the Council on Foreign Relations. 

President-Elect Donald Trump’s reported nomination of Scott Pruitt to head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicates that his anti–climate change rhetoric was not just campaign bluster. Pruitt, who has a history of fighting EPA regulations, dims any optimism that Trump would take environmentally responsible action to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. While he seemed to have walked back his opposition to the historic climate deal reached in Paris last year, saying that he had an “open mind” on the accord, Trump’s EPA pick seems more in line with his campaign promise to “cancel” the deal. Read more »

Drone Memos: A Conversation With Jameel Jaffer

by Micah Zenko Thursday, December 1, 2016
The Drone Memos: Targeted Killing, Secrecy, and the Law, ed. by Jameel Jaffer (The New Press, 2016)

This week, I spoke with Jameel Jaffer, inaugural director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. We discussed his new book, The Drone Memos: Targeted Killing, Secrecy, and the Law, and the judicial precedents for targeted strikes and secrecy set during the Obama administration. We also talked about Jameel’s concerns for protecting civil liberties and human rights under the Trump administration. Jameel spoke about his transition from the private sector to the American Civil Liberties Union, where he worked as deputy legal director and headed the Center for Democracy, and also shared his advice for young conscientious  lawyers. Read more »

Ending War in South Sudan: A New Approach

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Wednesday, November 30, 2016
South Sudan National security members ride on their truck as they protect internally displaced people during a reallocation at the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) compound at the UN House in Jebel, in South Sudan's capital Juba, August 31, 2016. (Solomun/Reuters)

Sarah Collman is a research associate in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

On December 15, South Sudan will have been at civil war for three years. In 2013, just two years after the country seceded from Sudan and gained independence, fighting broke out in the capital between forces loyal to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar. The political struggle between Kiir and Machar dating back to the 1990s, and divisions within the ruling party, quickly devolved into full-scale civil war, pitting tribal groups against each other. Leaders manipulated ethnic identities and mobilized members of their respective tribes. Forces loyal to Kiir were mainly from the Dinka tribe, and were pitted against Machar’s tribe, the Nuer. Read more »

Thinking About Long-Term Cybersecurity: A Conversation With Steven Weber and Betsy Cooper

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, November 22, 2016
People peer into a server room during the grand opening of Hewlett-Packard's Executive Briefing Center in Palo Alto, California January 16, 2013. (Lam/Reuters)

I had a fascinating conversation with Professor Steven Weber and Dr. Betsy Cooper of the UC Berkeley Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity (CLTC). We discussed several scenarios that CLTC developed that could emerge over the next five years, like a destabilizing “war for data” where hundreds of firms whose value is primarily data-driven suddenly collapse. We also talk about bridging the gap between the policy and technical realms, and CLTC’s new report, “Cybersecurity Policy Ideas for a New Presidency,” which identifies top priorities for the Trump administration. Professor Weber and Dr. Cooper also offer their advice to young professionals and scholars hoping to work in cyber policy. Listen to my conversation with two leaders about their inter-disciplinary and innovative approach to one of the most pressing policy challenges today. Read more »

Kabila’s Repression: A Consequence of UN Inaction

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Friday, November 18, 2016
Congolese opposition supporters chant slogans during a march to press President Joseph Kabila to step down in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, September 19, 2016. (Katombe/Reuters)

Susanna Kalaris an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

As Americans flocked to polling stations on November 8, United Nations peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) were hit by a grenade blast that killed one and injured thirty-two others. Since 1999, the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), and its successor, MONUSCO, have deployed peacekeepers to implement a ceasefire, disarm combatants, and protect civilians following an international war that killed an estimated 5.4 million people between 1996 and 2003 and plunged the country into economic and political chaos. Yet despite more than seventeen years, twelve billion dollars spent, and twenty-thousand personnel dispatched across the country, the peacekeeping missions have left an unfulfilled mandate and a local government that recognizes and profits from its failures. President Joseph Kabila and his government are emboldened to maintain the political status quo; while peacekeeping troops struggle to contain violence, the government violates democratic processes and civil rights with impunity, knowing MONUSCO will not stop it anytime soon. Read more »

U.S. Airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, Versus Drone Strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia

by Micah Zenko Thursday, November 10, 2016
A U.S. Air Force MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle assigned to the California Air National Guard's 163rd Reconnaissance Wing undergoes a postflight inspection (Reuters/U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Effrain Lopez/Handout)

Yesterday, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) published an updated estimate of civilian casualties from U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. Previously, the Pentagon had acknowledged just 55 civilian casualties for the air war that began in August 2014. The new CENTCOM estimate listed a total of 24 civilian casualty incidents, which “regrettably may have killed 64 civilians.” This makes the new official estimate of civilian fatalities 119. Read more »