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.

Posts by Author

Showing posts for "Micah Zenko"

The Pentagon Plans for Autonomous Systems

by Micah Zenko
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 »

Podcast: Civil-Military Relations: A Conversation with Kori Schake

by Micah Zenko
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
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 »

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

by Micah Zenko
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
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 »

Red Team at Aspen

by Micah Zenko
Fallows Zenko Aspen Red Team James Fallows interviews CFR Senior Fellow Micah Zenko on his book, Red Team: How to Succeed By Thinking Like the Enemy, at the Aspen Ideas Festival on June 27, 2016.

Late last month, I was honored to be a speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival about my book Red Team: How to Succeed By Thinking Like the Enemy. The Festival, which the Aspen Institute began in 2005, invites a wide array of thinkers and doers from around the world to present their research or performances in an unusually scenic environment, and in front of super smart and challenging attendees. At this year’s festival, the big-name speakers included Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Secretary of State John Kerry, and IMF chief Christine Lagarde. I learned a great deal from the sessions I attended on food insecurity, criminal justice reform, and the expanding universe—I even got to observe evidence of this at night through high-powered telescopes. Read more »

Podcast: Rogue Justice: A Conversation with Karen Greenberg

by Micah Zenko
Rogue Justice Greenberg book cover Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State by Karen J. Greenberg (Crown 2016).

Today I spoke with Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School. We spoke about her comprehensive account of the national security legal debates since 9/11 in her new book, Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State (Crown, 2016), as well as a new report from the Center on National Security that details all 101 publicly known Islamic State-related cases. Karen also offered her sobering and honest advice for young legal and national security scholars. Follow Karen’s work on Twitter @KarenGreenberg3, and listen to my conversation with one of the most respected and knowledgeable scholars in the world of national security, counterterrorism policy, and civil liberties. Read more »

Questioning Obama’s Drone Deaths Data

by Micah Zenko
Pre-flight inspection of an MQ-1B Predator unmanned drone aircraft on September 3, 2008 (Christopher  Griffin/Reuters). Pre-flight inspection of an MQ-1B Predator unmanned drone aircraft on September 3, 2008 (Christopher Griffin/Reuters).

Months after promising to release the number of civilians that have been killed in U.S. lethal counterterrorism operations outside of “areas of active hostilities,” the Obama Administration today released its count in a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. According to the numbers provided, there were 473 “strikes” [presumably this includes both manned and unmanned aircraft conducted by both the CIA and the U.S. military] which killed between 2,372 and 2,581 combatants, and between 64 and 116 civilians. Read more »

How Not To Estimate and Communicate Risks

by Micah Zenko
An unmanned Space Exploration Technologies Falcon 9 rocket launches in Cape Canaveral, Florida, June 28, 2015 (Michael Berrigan/Reuters). An unmanned Space Exploration Technologies Falcon 9 rocket launches in Cape Canaveral, Florida, June 28, 2015 (Michael Berrigan/Reuters).

Estimating and translating the probability of an event for decision-makers is among the most difficult challenges in government and the private sector. The person making the estimate must be able to categorize or quantify a likelihood, and willing to relay that analysis to the decision-maker in a way that is comprehensible and timely. The decision-maker then must consider the probability within the context of other information, and subsequently consider the trade-offs between one course of action over another. The ultimate goal of perceiving and communicating risks is to best assure any institution has managed those risks and made the most sound choice possible in the time allotted. Read more »

Podcast: Bargaining and Military Coercion: A Conversation with Todd Sechser

by Micah Zenko

Today, I spoke with Todd Sechser, Associate Professor in the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics at the University of Virginia. We spoke about his important new article in Journal of Conflict Resolution, “Reputations and Signaling in Coercive Bargaining,”  his next book with Matthew Fuhrman, Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming), and why the United States has such a poor record at coercive diplomacy. Todd also provides advice for young scholars in international relations. Listen to my conversation with one of the smartest scholars doing policy-relevant research on coercion, reputations, and U.S. foreign policy. Read more »