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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Guest Post: Do-It-Yourself Military Intelligence

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
View of the airstrip near Rumaylan in northeast Syria accessed on February 18, 2016. (Google Maps/DigitalGlobe) View of the airstrip near Rumaylan in northeast Syria accessed on February 18, 2016. (Google Maps/DigitalGlobe)

Harry Oppenheimer and Aaron Picozzi are research associates at the Council on Foreign Relations.

An unparalleled, indiscriminate and growing wave of transparency is exposing the deployment of military assets—once found only through labored searches of technical publications—and high definition, near-real-time images of geographical locations worldwide, are obtainable through the click of a mouse. As tensions rise between the United States and potential state and non-state adversaries, the veil of secrecy that at one time could only be lifted by intelligence agencies is now accessible to virtually anyone via the worldwide web. Read more »

Guest Post: What Happens if the Battlefield ‘Goes Dark’?

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
A U.S. soldier smokes next to an armoured vehicle before a night operation in southeast Baghdad on September 12, 2007. The image below the soldier's face is a reflection of a GPS unit's screen, as seen from inside a vehicle. (Barria/Reuters) A U.S. soldier smokes next to an armoured vehicle before a night operation in southeast Baghdad on September 12, 2007. The image below the soldier's face is a reflection of a GPS unit's screen, as seen from inside a vehicle. (Barria/Reuters)

Aaron Picozzi is a research associate for the military fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The United States has recently enjoyed the tactical benefit of fighting enemies incapable of matching the technological prowess of the U.S. military. The use of modern weaponry against relatively antiquated forces has led to successful operations on the battlefield, particularly against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The U.S. military’s high-tech upper hand relies upon the leverage of these technological disparities, and in turn, has fostered an inflated level of combat supremacy. This problem resonates from foot soldiers to the highest level commanders and planners. Read more »

Guest Post: Obama, Don’t Cross the Rubicon in Syria

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
A member of al-Nusra Front carries his weapon as he squats in the town of the northwestern city of Ariha, Syria, after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the area in Idlib province on May 29, 2015. (Abdullah/Reuters) A member of al-Nusra Front carries his weapon as he squats in the town of the northwestern city of Ariha, Syria, after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the area in Idlib province on May 29, 2015. (Abdullah/Reuters)

Bogdan Belei is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

On his way to Rome in 49 BCE, Julius Caesar paused before crossing the Rubicon. With only a single legion under his command, and outnumbered two to one by Pompey’s legions, the general faced the serious threat of defeat if he committed his forces to invade Rome. Ultimately, Caesar led his army to victory and solidified the Roman Empire. But the decision to fight his opposition was driven by the reality that Caesar had only one alternative to victory: surrender. Read more »

Guest Post: The Islamic State – Where is it now?

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
An armed motorcade belonging to members of the Islamic Youth Council in Libya drive along a road in Derna, eastern Libya, after the group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. (Stringer/Reuters) An armed motorcade belonging to members of the Islamic Youth Council in Libya drive along a road in Derna, eastern Libya, after the group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. (Stringer/Reuters)

Helia Ighani is the assistant director of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Center for Preventive Action.

Since the self-proclaimed Islamic State captured territory in Iraq and Syria in the summer of 2014, their network of affiliated groups has grown significantly. The Islamic State—known previously as al-Qaeda in Iraq—was disavowed from al-Qaeda in 2014 for its divergent philosophy and brutal tactics. Pre-existing terrorist groups in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere have declared their allegiance to the Islamic State, increasing the number of fighters to anywhere from twenty thousand to two hundred thousand in Iraq and Syria alone. Now, nearly thirty-five terrorist groups have declared their allegiance to the Islamic State and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Read more »

Guest Post: Unfreezing the Ukraine Conflict

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 28, 2015. (Lamarque/Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 28, 2015. (Lamarque/Reuters)

Andrew Kenealy is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations

For some in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, the ongoing low-level skirmish between Ukrainian and Russian/separatist forces has faded into the background of daily life. The nightly shelling barely affects the normal existence of Ukrainians: grocers have enough to sell in shops, public gathering spots are crowded on warm days, and reservations are still difficult to book at the best restaurants on the weekends. But despite the perception of calm, the death toll from the conflict is unsettling. After eighteen months of fighting, nearly eight thousand lives have been lost, another thirty thousand people have been wounded, and more than 1.5 million are internally displaced. Read more »

Guest Post: Making Obama’s Peacekeeping Commitments a Reality

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
President Barack Obama delivers remarks during a Leaders Summit on Peacekeeping to coincide at the United Nations in New York on September 28, 2015. (Kelly/Reuters) President Barack Obama delivers remarks during a Leaders Summit on Peacekeeping to coincide at the United Nations in New York on September 28, 2015. (Kelly/Reuters)

Amelia M. Wolf is a research associate in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

While chairing Monday’s Leaders’ Summit on Peacekeeping, President Obama called on UN member states to increase their troop contributions, improve protection of civilians, and reform and modernize peace operations. The intent and outcome of the meeting is a positive step toward strengthening the ability of UN peacekeeping to work more effectively in complex environments. However, there are many issues left unaddressed, and what matters most is what comes next. Read more »

Guest Post: Setting the Boundaries in the South China Sea

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
A crewman from the Vietnamese coastguard ship 8003 looks out at sea as Chinese coastguard vessels give chase to Vietnamese ships that came close to the Haiyang Shiyou 981, known in Vietnam as HD-981, oil rig in the South China Sea July 15, 2014. (Petty/Reuters) A crewman from the Vietnamese coastguard ship 8003 looks out at sea as Chinese coastguard vessels give chase to Vietnamese ships that came close to the Haiyang Shiyou 981, known in Vietnam as HD-981, oil rig in the South China Sea July 15, 2014. (Petty/Reuters)

Bogdan Belei is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Tensions between China and Vietnam over the South China Sea are rising and a miscalculation or miscommunication risks an outbreak of hostilities. Earlier this month, satellite imagery revealed that China is constructing its third airstrip in the disputed Spratly Islands, an archipelago of 750 reefs, cays, and islands claimed—in whole or in part—by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan. This news follows a tense summer, during which China deployed oil rigs in disputed waters and naval standoffs between China and Vietnam culminated in a ship ramming. Beijing’s construction establishes a permanent Chinese base in disputed waters, with airstrips that could be used to launch military missions against regional rivals. China has so far only used them to conduct surveillance missions, but this alone has increased tensions and resulted in political disagreements with the United States. As the intensity and frequency of disputes over territory in the South China Sea increase, the situation has the potential to escalate into militarized conflict. Read more »

Guest Post: Preventing the Third Intifada

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
Mourners carry the body of Palestinian Anas Taha during his funeral in the West Bank village of Qatana, near Jerusalem on August 10, 2015. Israeli troops shot dead Tah, who stabbed an Israeli man at a petrol station in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, police said. (Awad/Reuters) Mourners carry the body of Palestinian Anas Taha during his funeral in the West Bank village of Qatana, near Jerusalem on August 10, 2015. Israeli troops shot dead Tah, who stabbed an Israeli man at a petrol station in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, police said. (Awad/Reuters)

Patrick Romano is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

If tensions escalate further, the West Bank could erupt in a violent uprising—sometimes referred to as the third intifada—for the first time since 2005. The death of a Palestinian toddler in an arson attack by Jewish extremists on July 31 was the latest example of an increasingly violent situation. Recent flare-ups between Israeli police and Palestinians over the al-Aqsa mosque, sometimes deadly arrest raids by Israeli forces on West Bank homes, and continued discord over Israeli settlements all underscore growing Palestinian frustration with the perceived status quo: lack of political independence, a depressed economy, encroaching Israeli settlements, and an increasingly divided Palestinian Authority (PA). Read more »

Guest Post: Reevaluating U.S. Targeting Assistance to the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
A man stands in front of a house destroyed by a Saudi-led air strike in Yemen's western city of Mokha on July 26, 2015. The strike killed at least fifty-five people and left tens injured. (Stringer/Reuters) A man stands in front of a house destroyed by a Saudi-led air strike in Yemen's western city of Mokha on July 26, 2015. The strike killed at least fifty-five people and left tens injured. (Stringer/Reuters)

Samantha Andrews is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

As the United States provides targeting assistance to the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council in Yemen, it should consider that its allies’ standards for target selection may be less rigorous. However, the United States is still partially responsible for airstrikes enabled with its intelligence. Contrary to the official U.S. position that it remains in a “non-combat advisory and coordinating role to the Saudi-led campaign,” this enabling support makes the United States a combatant in the Yemen air campaign. Even if the United States is not pulling the trigger, the “live intelligence feeds from surveillance flights over Yemen” that “help Saudi Arabia decide what and where to bomb” are indispensable for the launch of airstrikes against Houthi rebels. Read more »

Guest Post: Endgame in Colombia – The Need for a Bilateral Ceasefire

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos talks with Colombian armed forces chief Gen. Juan Pablo Rodriguez during a presentation of new military leaders at the Jose Maria Cordova military school in Bogota on July 9, 2015. (Vizcaino/Reuters) Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos talks with Colombian armed forces chief Gen. Juan Pablo Rodriguez during a presentation of new military leaders at the Jose Maria Cordova military school in Bogota on July 9, 2015. (Vizcaino/Reuters)

Patrick Romano is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’s unrelenting opposition to negotiating a bilateral ceasefire with left-wing guerrilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) threatens to derail current peace talks and indefinitely perpetuate the longest conflict in the Western Hemisphere. Though the war began in 1964, over the past fifty years more than 220,000 Colombians—80 percent civilians—have lost their lives and more than five million have been displaced. Read more »