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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Evolving State Department-USAID Strategic Goals

by Micah Zenko

In August 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell and USAID administrator Andrew Natsios introduced the first joint State Department – USAID Strategic Plan. These plans are intended to better synchronize the direction of and priorities for the two agencies most responsible for developing and implementing U.S. foreign policy and development assistance programs.  Just yesterday, the fourth Strategic Plan was published, and like the preceding three it lists several broad strategic priorities that are intended to guide State and USAID’s own guidance documents, budgets, directives, and policies. To understand how U.S. foreign policy priorities have shifted between the Bush and Obama administrations in the past decade, please see below for a chart that lists those strategic goals
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Syria Civil War Total Fatalities

by Micah Zenko
Shiite fighters chant anti- al Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and anti-Free Syrian Army (FSA) slogans at the Sayeda Zainab area in Damascus, February 10, 2014. (Alaa Al-Marjani/Courtesy Reuters) Shiite fighters chant anti- al Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and anti-Free Syrian Army (FSA) slogans at the Sayeda Zainab area in Damascus, February 10, 2014. (Alaa Al-Marjani/Courtesy Reuters)

This blog post was coauthored with my research associate, Amelia M. Wolf.

Estimates released today by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) portray a different picture of the civil war in Syria than U.S. policymakers and media convey. SOHR’s estimated death toll reinforces the point made in an article published on ForeignPolicy.com in September 2013, when they last released updated data: most of the reported deaths in Syria have not been committed by forces under Bashar al-Assad’s command. Additionally, the involvement of various individuals and groups in the conflict has broadened greatly since SOHR’s September 2013 estimate. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Ukraine, Rep. Mike Rogers, and Drones

by Micah Zenko

Jeanne Whalen and Alan Cullison, “Ukraine Battles to Rebuild a Depleted Military,” Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2014.

In recent weeks Mr. Yarema has turned to Washington and NATO for help, but with little luck so far. Ukraine’s military lacks much of an air force, and if fighting breaks out he expects that Russia would be able to pound Ukrainian ground troops with impunity. In meetings with U.S. senators and Western diplomats, he says he asked for help establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors so that his troops could at least count on some zones of safetyRead more »

Ukraine Isn’t a U.S. Priority, As Policymakers Demonstrate

by Micah Zenko
U.S. Senator John McCain and other members of the delegation walk as they visit Kiev, Ukraine, on March 14, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. Senator John McCain and other members of the delegation walk as they visit Kiev, Ukraine, on March 14, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

The Russian coercive de facto annexation of the Crimean province of Ukraine poses a dilemma for U.S. policymakers. They claim the need to “send a strong message” to Russian President Vladimir Putin to deter him from authorizing a direct military incursion into the remainder of Ukrainian territory. According to anonymous Pentagon officials, there are around twenty thousand Russian troops poised near the eastern Ukrainian border, including mechanized, infantry, and special operations forces. Read more »

Highlights Of U.S. Special Operations Command

by Micah Zenko

U.S. Special Operations Command in Review of the Defense Authorization Request for FY2015 and the Future Years Defense Program,” Senate Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, March 11, 2014. Read more »

China’s Resource Quest: A Conversation with Economy and Levi

by Micah Zenko
By All Means Necessary: How China's Resource Quest is Changing the World, by Elizabeth Economy and Michael Levi By All Means Necessary: How China's Resource Quest is Changing the World, by Elizabeth Economy and Michael Levi

Elizabeth C. Economy, C.V. Starr senior fellow and director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and Michael A. Levi, David M. Rubenstein senior fellow for Energy and the Environment and Director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at CFR, coauthored a book on the unrivaled expansion of the Chinese economy and the global effects of its meteoric growth, By All Means Necessary: How China’s Resource Quest is Changing the World (Oxford University Press, 2014). Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Cyberattacks, Asia Pivot, and the U.S. Military and Human Rights

by Micah Zenko
Pro-Russian men hold Russian flags in front of armed servicemen near Russian army vehicles outside a Ukrainian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava March 1, 2014. (Ratner/Courtesy Reuters) Pro-Russian men hold Russian flags in front of armed servicemen near Russian army vehicles outside a Ukrainian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava March 1, 2014. (Ratner/Courtesy Reuters)

Zachary Fryer-Biggs, “DoD Official: Asia Pivot ‘Can’t Happen’ Due to Budget Processes,” Defense News, March 4, 2014.

“Right now, the pivot is being looked at again, because candidly it can’t happen,” Katrina McFarland, assistant secretary of defense for acquisition, told Aviation Week’s Defense Technologies and Requirements conference in Arlington, Va… Read more »

You Might Have Missed: U.S.-China Relations, Olympics, and Intelligence Assessments

by Micah Zenko
The Olympic and Russian flags are raised during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, on February 7, 2014. (Blinch/Courtesy Reuters) The Olympic and Russian flags are raised during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, on February 7, 2014. (Blinch/Courtesy Reuters)

Rear Admiral John Kirby, “Department of Defense Press Briefing with Rear Admiral Kirby in the Pentagon Briefing Room,” Department of Defense, February 20, 2014. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Israeli Drones, Benghazi, and the NSA

by Micah Zenko
Israel Aero Space Industries (IAI) Heron 1 unmanned aerial vehicle at the airbase in Switzerland on September 20, 2012 (Wiegmann/Courtesy Reuters). Israel Aero Space Industries (IAI) Heron 1 unmanned aerial vehicle at the airbase in Switzerland on September 20, 2012 (Wiegmann/Courtesy Reuters).

Jim Garamone, “Special Ops Forces in Transition, Pentagon Official Says,” U.S. Department of Defense, February 12, 2014.

Network threats present new challenges and require new ways of planning, the assistant secretary told the audience, and cyber operations come to mind first. “As we continue to work our doctrine for response in the cyber realm,” he said, “it is entirely possible that SOF units, or even individuals, would be called upon to act online or offline to address these threats.” Read more »