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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Showing posts for "Conflict Prevention"

Planning for 2013: What Are the Next Threats?

by Micah Zenko
A soldier from the U.S. Army scans across the Pakistani border (Tim Wimborne/Courtesy Reuters). A soldier from the U.S. Army scans across the Pakistani border (Tim Wimborne/Courtesy Reuters).

If you ask ten forecasters to predict the next conflict, you’ll likely get ten very different answers. But, they will agree on one thing: it is impossible to know for sure where and when the next conflict will emerge. Even the U.S. military acknowledges this certainty of uncertainty. Recently, Major General H.R. McMaster quipped: “We have a perfect record in predicting future wars…And that record is 0 percent.” Although experts have called for improved statistical models and “assigning more explicit, testable, and accurate probabilities” to improve existing U.S. government methodologies, prediction will always be an imperfect science. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Israeli Strike on Iran, No-Fly Zone in Syria, and Ernest Hemingway

by Micah Zenko
A man sits in front of houses destroyed during a recent air strike in Azaz, Syria (Goran Tomasevic/Courtesy Reuters). A man sits in front of houses destroyed during a recent air strike in Azaz, Syria (Goran Tomasevic/Courtesy Reuters).

Benny Morris, “Obama’s Last Chance Before Israel Bombs Iran,” The Daily Beast, August 16, 2012.

(3PA: In this piece, Morris predicts “Israel is likely to strike [Iran] before the American elections.” In July 2008, Morris boldly predicted in the New York Times, “Israel will almost surely attack Iran’s nuclear sites in the next four to seven months.” Morris also writes of Israel’s 1981 attack on the Iraqi Osirak plutonium reactor, “That successful strike actually put paid to Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program, which was never resurrected.” It is totally untrue that Iraq’s nuclear program was never resurrected. As Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer wrote in the journal International Security: “The attack had mixed effects: it triggered a covert nuclear weapons program that did not previously exist, while necessitating a more difficult and time-consuming technical route to developing nuclear weapons.”) Read more »

Preventing Renewed Violence in Iraq

by Micah Zenko
An Iraqi soldier stands guard near the Syrian border (Saad Shalash/Courtesy Reuters). An Iraqi soldier stands guard near the Syrian border (Saad Shalash/Courtesy Reuters).

As the civil war in Syria intensifies and forecasts of an Israeli strike on Iran mount (yet again), it would be an understatement to say that the Obama administration’s Middle East team is perpetually working overtime. And yet, sandwiched between Syria and Iran brims another potential flashpoint that the United States cannot afford to ignore: Iraq. Conflict in Syria or Iran could “bleed over into Iraq,” warns former National Security Council staffer Douglas Ollivant in a new Center for Preventive Action Contingency Planning Memorandum. Political instability in the Middle East is just one of the drivers that could spark ethno-sectarian violence and a breakdown in constitutional order in Iraq. Read more »

Would We Know if Iran Decides to Build a Bomb?

by Micah Zenko
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a meeting in Tehran (Handout/Courtesy Reuters). Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a meeting in Tehran (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

The most important unanswered question about the heightened U.S.-Israel confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program is whether Iran’s political leadership will decide to pursue a nuclear weapon. The key judgments in the last declassified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the Iranian nuclear program found with “high confidence” that “Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program” in the fall of 2003, and this conviction remained with “moderate confidence” through mid-2007. Read more »

A U.S.-Iran Naval Clash Is Not Inevitable

by Micah Zenko
U.S. Navy handout photo of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln (Courtesy Reuters). U.S. Navy handout photo of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln (Courtesy Reuters).

The headline of today’s Washington Post reads, “Iran Expands Ability to Strike U.S. Navy in Gulf.” The piece describes Persian Gulf war games, paranoid comments by regional officials, and hollow threats from Iranian officials. Read more »

Ask the Experts: Preventing Sexual Violence

by Micah Zenko
Female victims of sexual violence at Panzi hospital in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo on September 6, 2007 (James Akena/Courtesy Reuters). Female victims of sexual violence at Panzi hospital in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo on September 6, 2007 (James Akena/Courtesy Reuters).

Last week, forty members of Congress re-introduced the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA). As Amnesty International’s Cristina Finch explains, the I-VAWA “would coordinate and improve the U.S. government’s efforts to stop this global scourge by making it a priority in diplomatic and foreign assistance initiatives. This will help to ensure that the United States lives up to its international responsibility to end violence against women and girls.” Read more »

A Primer on Military Force

by Micah Zenko
U.S. Sheridan tanks mothballed at Fort Irwin, California Army National Training Center (Courtesy Reuters/Rick Wilking). U.S. Sheridan tanks mothballed at Fort Irwin, California Army National Training Center (Courtesy Reuters/Rick Wilking).

As I’ve written previously, policymakers and pundits have some pretty silly proposals for the use of military force. Whether it’s President Clinton,“[It would] scare the shit out of al Qaeda if suddenly a bunch of black ninjas rappelled out of helicopters into the middle of their camp,” or uberconservative Pat Robertson, “We really ought to go ahead and [assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez]…It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war,” such harebrained schemes lack a basic understanding of military strategy, geography, and logistics, not to mention international law. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Drones, Afghanistan, and the North Korean Nuclear Program

by Micah Zenko
U.S. Army soldiers shield themselves as a Medivac helicopter takes off from Arghandab Valley, Afghanistan (Courtesy Reuters/Bob Strong). U.S. Army soldiers shield themselves as a Medivac helicopter takes off from Arghandab Valley, Afghanistan (Courtesy Reuters/Bob Strong).

The Power of Witness: Imagery and Mass Atrocities

by Micah Zenko
A monument with the names of victims in Potocari Memorial Center near Srebrenica (Courtesy Reuters//Marko Djurica). A monument with the names of victims in Potocari Memorial Center near Srebrenica (Courtesy Reuters//Marko Djurica).

* coauthored with my research associate, Emma Welch

Warning: This blog post contains graphic images.

Last week, I was fortunate to attend a workshop at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Power of Witness: The Use of Technology in Preventing Mass Atrocities.” Among the topics discussed were the current and potential use of journalists, victims’ reporting, satellites, aircraft, and drones (presented by myself) to reveal to the outside world what is happening on the ground. It was remarkable to hear from a wide range of dedicated people who utilize innovative technologies and collaborative arrangements to document prospective war crimes for dissemination to the media, people in the target country, foreign leaders, criminal tribunals, the global public, and others. Read more »

The 2012 Nuclear Security Summit: Obama’s Work in Progress

by Micah Zenko
U.S. President Obama during a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev before the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea (Courtesy Reuters/Larry Downing). U.S. President Obama during a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev before the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea (Courtesy Reuters/Larry Downing).

An edited version of this post originally appeared on CFR.org as a First Take.

On his first foreign trip as a U.S. senator in 2005, Barack Obama accompanied Senator Richard Lugar on a week-long tour of WMD facilities in the former Soviet Union. Afterward, Senator Obama often spoke about the trip, in particular the vast amount of poorly secured lethal materials that he witnessed at the sites. As a presidential candidate, Obama declared, “The single most serious threat to American national security is nuclear terrorism.” While President George W. Bush deserves credit for highlighting the seriousness of nuclear terrorism and committing the resources to work with Russia to secure nearly all of its potentially loose nukes, nuclear security has been a top-tier priority for Obama.  As early as July 2008, he vowed to “lead a global effort to secure all loose nuclear materials around the world during my first term as president.” Read more »