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 Colombia Peace Agreement Does not Mean the End of U.S. Involvement

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Tuesday, September 20, 2016
A fighter from Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) during the opening of ceremony congress at the camp where they prepare for ratifying a peace deal with the government. (Vizcaino/Reuters). A fighter from Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) during the opening of ceremony congress at the camp where they prepare for ratifying a peace deal with the government. (Vizcaino/Reuters).

Aaron Picozzi is a research associate for the military fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations, is a Coast Guard veteran, and currently serves in the Army National Guard. 

A recent victory in the half century conflict in Colombia was marked by an agreement between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by its Spanish acronym, FARC) leader Rodrigo Londono, and President Juan Manual Santos. But as thousands of FARC rebels hand their weapons over to a UN mission, many will be faced with a difficult consequence of the peace—a lifestyle change from fighting for an ideology, to attempting to rejoin society as a former solider. With the folding of the FARC organization comes the question: what will happen to the Colombian cocaine trade that was so closely tied to the rebel group? Read more »

How Not to Red Team

by Micah Zenko Thursday, September 8, 2016
Passenger TSA A woman passes through a TSA checkpoint at Reagan National Airport. (Lamarque/Reuters).

During the 2015 summer travel season, airline passengers were stunned by a finding that was never supposed to be made public, but which leaked to ABC News. Auditors from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) had successfully smuggled weapons and fake explosives past Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints sixty-seven times out of seventy attempts at multiple domestic airports earlier that year. The DHS Inspector General John Roth later told a Congress that the auditors did not have “any specialized background or training,” meaning they were not especially proficient or skilled red teamers. Read more »

Hackers, Pen Tests, and Security Research: A Conversation with Chris Rohlf

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, September 6, 2016

I spoke with Chris Rohlf, former head of Yahoo’s red team in New York and a thoughtful and respected voice in the security community. Chris has extensive experience as a pen tester, developer, engineer, and consultant for various organizations, including within the Department of Defense and on the Black Hat review board. We discuss how the government should bridge the gap with the security community, like the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) and the recent Hack the Pentagon bug bounty. We also talk about how organizations will grapple with the challenges presented by the Internet of Things, the “IoT”: the growing network of objects that sense and interact with each other. Chris offers useful advice for aspiring hackers, and three practical suggestions for how you can protect your own devices. Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisrohlf. Read more »

CFR Model Diplomacy: Students as Policymakers

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, August 30, 2016
A U.S. airman guides a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone as it taxis to the runway at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan on March 9, 2016. (Josh Smith/Reuters) A U.S. airman guides a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone as it taxis to the runway at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan on March 9, 2016. (Josh Smith/Reuters)

When asked to recommend readings for international relations and foreign policy syllabi, I regularly send people to my summaries of important policy-relevant findings from academic journals. But for this fall, I wanted to recommend an immersive teaching tool that goes beyond reading lists and puts students in the policymaker hot seat, where they work in teams to make judgments and decisions based upon limited information and timelines. Read more »

The Pentagon Plans for Autonomous Systems

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, August 23, 2016
An Intel AscTec Firefly drone during a flight demonstration on Capitol Hill in Washington November 19, 2015 (Cameron/Reuters). An Intel AscTec Firefly drone during a flight demonstration on Capitol Hill in Washington November 19, 2015 (Cameron/Reuters).

Today, the Defense Science Board (DSB) released a long-awaited study, simply titled Autonomy. Since the late 1950s, the DSB has consistently been at the forefront of investigating and providing policy guidance for cutting-edge scientific, technological, and manufacturing issues. Many of these reports are available in full online and are worth reading. Read more »

Civil-Military Relations: A Conversation with Kori Schake

by Micah Zenko Monday, August 22, 2016
Warriors Citizens book cover Warriors and Citizens: American Views of our Military ed. by Kori Schake and Jim Mattis (Hoover 2016)

Today I spoke with Kori Schake, Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. We spoke about her new book co-edited with Jim Mattis, Warriors and Citizens: American Views of our Military (Hoover 2016) and what their research reveals about how the public and elites currently view the military—and what that means for national security policy. Kori also offered some candid advice for young national security scholars and an uplifting story featuring the great Harvard Professor Ernie May from early in her career. Follow her work on Twitter @KoriSchake, and listen to my conversation with one of the smartest and most well-respected experts in national security and military affairs: Read more »

Reviewing the Pentagon’s ISIS Body Counts

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Strike Eagles Iraq Syria A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes in Syria, in September 2014.

Four months after President Obama pledged to the nation in September 2014 “we will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL,” reporters challenged Pentagon spokesperson Rear Adm. John Kirby about his assertion that “We know that we’ve killed hundreds of their forces.” One reporter asked directly, “can you be more specific on that number?” Kirby replied tersely: Read more »

Why Donald Trump is Wrong About NATO

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Tuesday, August 9, 2016
NATO soldiers during a military exercise in Portugal  on October 20, 2015. (Marchante/Reuters) NATO soldiers during a military exercise in Portugal on October 20, 2015. (Marchante/Reuters)

Dan Alles is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

At the 2016 Warsaw Summit last month, leaders from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) announced that they will deploy four multinational battalions to Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. This decision sends an important and reassuring message to the world at a time when some, like Donald Trump, are questioning the reliability and sustainability of the alliance altogether. Although Trump’s comments about burden-sharing have some merit, his judgements are misguided; weakening the current deterrence posture or abandoning the alliance would be disastrous for U.S. and global security. NATO is not only a collective deterrent against Russian aggression, but also a political and military organization that has adapted to meet twenty-first century challenges. Through these developments, NATO has become an indispensable part of U.S. security, and despite some limitations, it should not be abandoned. Read more »

Revisiting President Reagan’s Iran Arms-for-Hostages Initiative

by Micah Zenko Wednesday, August 3, 2016
Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan waves to well-wishers on the south lawn of the White House on April 25, 1986. (Marquette/Reuters) Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan waves to well-wishers on the south lawn of the White House on April 25, 1986. (Marquette/Reuters)

The Wall Street Journal published an important story about the Obama administration’s decision in January to ship $400 million, which was first converted into Swiss and Dutch currencies, to Iran on board a cargo plane. The plane delivering the money had reportedly arrived at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport on the same date that four U.S. citizens were released by the government of Iran. Read more »

Diagnosing and Deciding Military Interventions: Insights from Surgical Scholarship

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Surgeon poses Professor Karl Oldhafer poses before liver surgery in Hamburg August 15, 2013. (Bimmer/Reuters)

This blog post was coauthored with my research associate, Jennifer Wilson.

Hillary Clinton has reportedly made reassessing U.S. strategy in Syria one of her first agenda items as president. With a history of generally backing interventions and statements of support for no-fly zones and safe zones on the record, an expanded intervention in Syria is likely should Clinton win. Plenty has been written over the past five years on the the risks and potential benefits of intervening in Syria. Consider how similarly invasive, dramatic, and potentially harmful decisions are made outside of foreign policy: an (admittedly unorthodox) analogy can be drawn between a president’s decision to intervene militarily and a surgeon’s decision to operate on a patient. Read more »