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"

Illicit Networks, Political Instability, and Criminal Violence

by Micah Zenko
FARC The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) set up explosives on the Caldono-Toribio road on June 4, 2013 to prevent the approach of government troops trying to regain territory held by the FARC in Cauca province. This soldier patrols the street. (Saldarriaga/Courtesy Reuters)

Two weeks ago, CFR’s Center for Preventive Action and International Institutions and Global Governance program convened a workshop on “Illicit Networks, Political Instability, and Criminal Violence.” The workshop intended to analyze trends in transnational criminal networks, examine the latest developments in the field, and identify gaps and challenges in U.S. and multilateral responses to criminal violence. In an off-the-record setting, we brought together government, academic, nonprofit, and private sector experts in the field of transnational crime from across the United States. Read more »

Guest Post: Fighting Maritime Piracy: Mission Accomplished?

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
German forces patrol after destroying two boats off the coast of Somalia (Handout/Courtesy Reuters). German forces patrol after destroying two boats off the coast of Somalia (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

Emma Welch is a research associate in the Center for Preventive Action and the International Institutions and Global Governance program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In early January, Mohamed Abdi Hassan—dubbed a “pirate kingpin” by the United Nations—announced his retirement from piracy. In his farewell press conference, Hassan explained: “After being in piracy for eight years, I have decided to renounce and quit, and from today on I will not be involved in this gang activity.” He added, “I have also been encouraging many of my colleagues to renounce piracy too.” Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Drones, Cyber, and Mythologies of Intervention

by Micah Zenko
A drone takes off from a U.S. base in Afghanistan (Handout/Courtesy Reuters). A drone takes off from a U.S. base in Afghanistan (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

Jill Lepore, “How Much Military is Enough?” New Yorker, January 28, 2013.


Veit Medick, “Germany Plans to Deploy Armed Drones,” Spiegel Online International, January 25, 2013. Read more »

Ask the Experts: Social Media and Conflict Prevention

by Micah Zenko
An opposition supporter lifts a placard at the front line near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, in July 2011 (Yannis Behrakis/Courtesy Reuters). An opposition supporter lifts a placard at the front line near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, in July 2011 (Yannis Behrakis/Courtesy Reuters).

An increasing number of policymakers and think-tank residents are championing the power of social media and big data to pressure governments, empower civil society, deter human rights abuses through the power of witness, and semi-accurately forecast political instability and conflict without the false positives. In a column today, Thomas Friedman endorsed utilizing existing social networks “to our advantage to gain leverage in diplomacy” by speaking directly to Iranians, Israelis, and Palestinians, who will then somehow force their governments to finally do what they have not (because, of course, ordinary citizens are aligned with U.S. interests once they are addressed in Persian, Hebrew, or Arabic). Read more »

Preventing Electoral Violence in Kenya

by Micah Zenko
Kenyans walk past a destroyed house in the sprawling Kibera slums, which was one of the most affected areas during the post-election violence in 2007 (Antony Njuguna/Courtesy Reuters). Kenyans walk past a destroyed house in the sprawling Kibera slums, which was one of the most affected areas during the post-election violence in 2007 (Antony Njuguna/Courtesy Reuters).

Since 2007, after a widely contested presidential election precipitated a descent in violence that killed over one thousand people, Kenya has taken steps to rebuild its political system through a power-sharing agreement and a new constitution. However, as tensions among rival ethnic groups rise ahead of the next elections, to be held in March 2013, continued stability in Kenya—already threatened by sporadic outbreaks of violence—remains uncertain. In a new Contingency Planning Memorandum “Electoral Violence in Kenya,” Joel Barkan warns that the March elections (with a potential run-off in April) are “arguably the most important and complex since the country’s return to multiparty politics two decades ago.” Events on the ground are further complicated by ongoing proceedings of the International Criminal Court, which has indicted one of the leading presidential candidates, Uhuru Kenyatta, for his role in perpetuating ethnic conflict in the aftermath of the 2007 elections. Read more »

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 »