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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Understanding Atrocities: A Conversation with Dara Kay Cohen

by Micah Zenko
Rape During Civil War, by Dara Kay Cohen (Cornell University Press 2016). Rape During Civil War, by Dara Kay Cohen (Cornell University Press 2016).

I spoke with Dara Kay Cohen, assistant professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, about her book, Rape During Civil War. To better understand this underexamined wartime atrocity, Dara built an original dataset and conducted extensive interviews in Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste, and El Salvador, including with perpetrators and victims. We discuss Dara’s research and her counterintuitive findings, which indicate that rape is often used as a tactic by some groups in civil wars to bond militants. We also talk about the role of academic research in informing policy, and Dara gives advice to young scholars considering a career in academia. A fascinating conversation with a thoughtful and brilliant scholar. Read more »

Military Endorsements and Civ-Mil Relations: A Conversation with Peter Feaver

by Micah Zenko
Retired USMC General John Allen is joined by veterans while addressing at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. (Audette/Reuters) Retired USMC General John Allen is joined by veterans while addressing at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. (Audette/Reuters)

Last week, I spoke with Peter Feaver, professor of political science and public policy at Duke University and fellow columnist on ForeignPolicy.com. We talk about how he became interested as a grad student in civil-military relations, and how that led to his seminal book on the subject, Armed Servants: Agency, Oversight, and Civil-Military Relations. We also discuss Peter’s two experiences on the National Security Council, his concerns about the dangers of military officers’ endorsements in presidential campaigns, and his advice to young scholars on balancing careers with personal lives. A timely discussion given the presidential candidates’ reliance on the non-partisan legitimacy of military officials, listen to my conversation with a leading expert in an important field. Read more »

Trump and the Makings of a Constitutional Crisis

by Micah Zenko
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the third and final debate with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton (not pictured) at UNLV in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., October 19, 2016.  (Reuters/Wilking) Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the third and final debate with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton (not pictured) at UNLV in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., October 19, 2016. (Reuters/Wilking)

During yesterday’s third and (mercifully) final presidential debate, Republican candidate Donald Trump stated explicitly what he has hinted at for months: he will not agree ahead of time to accept the results of the election on November 8. When asked directly by moderator Chris Wallace, Trump only promised: “I will look at it at the time.” Wallace pressed further by explaining the American tradition of a peaceful transition of power, and inquiring, “Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?” The candidate, trailing Hillary Clinton by 6.4 percent in averaged national polls and forecasted a 12.7 percent likelihood of winning, replied: “What I’m saying is I’ll tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense, okay?” Read more »

Is it Still 1968? A Conversation with Michael A. Cohen

by Micah Zenko
American Maelstrom: The 1968 Election and the Politics of Division, by Michael A. Cohen (Oxford University Press 2016) American Maelstrom: The 1968 Election and the Politics of Division, by Michael A. Cohen (Oxford University Press 2016)

Today, I spoke with Michael A. Cohen, regular contributor at The Boston Globe, about his new book, American Maelstrom: The 1968 Election and the Politics of Division (also available on iTunes here). We talk about the chaotic U.S. presidential election of 1968, which not only bears a striking resemblance with the 2016 election, but sowed the seeds for many political currents running through the United States today. Michael also offers his advice to passionate aspiring journalists and writers. Listen to our conversation, check out his last book, Live From the Campaign Trail: The Greatest Presidential Campaign Speeches of the Twentieth Century and How They Shaped Modern America, and follow him on Twitter @speechboy71. Read more »

What Threats or Conflicts Will Emerge or Escalate in 2017?

by Micah Zenko
A boy walks past damaged buildings in the northern Syrian rebel-held town of al-Waqf, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, October 9, 2016. (Ashawi/Reuters) A boy walks past damaged buildings in the northern Syrian rebel-held town of al-Waqf, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, October 9, 2016. (Ashawi/Reuters)

In last night’s presidential debate, it took little time for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to bring up the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Responding to moderator Anderson Cooper’s question about a leaked recording of Trump bragging about groping women, Trump promised that he would “knock the hell out of ISIS.” For the amount of time spent by both candidates talking about defeating terrorists, viewers might think that they pose the greatest threat to the United States. Read more »

Predictions of the Candidates’ Promises to “Secure America”

by Micah Zenko
A TV cameraman works during a rehearsal for the first U.S. presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York September 25, 2016. (Wilking/Reuters) A TV cameraman works during a rehearsal for the first U.S. presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York September 25, 2016. (Wilking/Reuters)

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

Last week, President Obama announced the unprecedented step of connecting U.S. national security with the threats posed by climate change. Obama’s Presidential Memorandum directs twenty federal agencies to integrate climate change into national security policy and planning—meaning collecting climate science data and identifying how climate change will affect agency missions. Melting ice and rising temperatures are not traditionally considered national security concerns, but the memorandum is the most recent development in a years-long effort to focus on the dangers of global environmental change that has been applauded by security professionals and environmentalists alike. Read more »

How Not to Red Team

by Micah Zenko
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

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
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
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 »