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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Diagnosing and Deciding Military Interventions: Insights from Surgical Scholarship

by Micah Zenko
Surgeon poses Professor Karl Oldhafer poses before liver surgery in Hamburg August 15, 2013. (Bimmer/Reuters)

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

Hillary Clinton has reportedly made reassessing U.S. strategy in Syria one of her first agenda items as president. With a history of generally backing interventions and statements of support for no-fly zones and safe zones on the record, an expanded intervention in Syria is likely should Clinton win. Plenty has been written over the past five years on the the risks and potential benefits of intervening in Syria. Consider how similarly invasive, dramatic, and potentially harmful decisions are made outside of foreign policy: an (admittedly unorthodox) analogy can be drawn between a president’s decision to intervene militarily and a surgeon’s decision to operate on a patient. Read more »

Red Team at Aspen

by Micah Zenko
Fallows Zenko Aspen Red Team James Fallows interviews CFR Senior Fellow Micah Zenko on his book, Red Team: How to Succeed By Thinking Like the Enemy, at the Aspen Ideas Festival on June 27, 2016.

Late last month, I was honored to be a speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival about my book Red Team: How to Succeed By Thinking Like the Enemy. The Festival, which the Aspen Institute began in 2005, invites a wide array of thinkers and doers from around the world to present their research or performances in an unusually scenic environment, and in front of super smart and challenging attendees. At this year’s festival, the big-name speakers included Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Secretary of State John Kerry, and IMF chief Christine Lagarde. I learned a great deal from the sessions I attended on food insecurity, criminal justice reform, and the expanding universe—I even got to observe evidence of this at night through high-powered telescopes. Read more »

Research Associate Opportunity–New York City

by Micah Zenko

The CFR’s David Rockefeller Studies Program is hiring a research associate to work in New York City, to support the work of a senior fellow, who happens to be me. The position requires someone who is super motivated, deeply curious about foreign policy issues, well-educated, and/or experienced in producing written content. This generally involves various administrative tasks, researching, editing, and writing—certainly your own stuff, and ideally some co-authored pieces as well (see examples here, here, and here). Read more »

Guest Post: Preventing Another Russia-Georgia Confrontation

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
Protesters stand near a border sign erected by Russian and Ossetian troops along Georgia's de-facto border with its breakaway region of South Ossetia in the village of Khurvaleti, Georgia, on July 14, 2015. (Reuters/Mdzinarishvili)

Shahin Badkoubei is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The next twelve to eighteen months will be a critical test of already tense and tenuous relations between Russia and Georgia. What could escalate to a level similar to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea in Ukraine, territorial disputes over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia remain unresolved since Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, and are a potential trigger of conflict. Russia has not fulfilled its obligations under the 2008 cease-fire agreement, and continues to push territorial markers in the breakaway regions and grant Russian passports to citizens living there. Upcoming events, including the July Warsaw North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit and Georgia’s parliamentary elections in fall 2016, could escalate tensions or renew confrontation. Read more »

Red Teaming Nuclear Intelligence: The Suspected Syrian Reactor

by Micah Zenko
This undated combination image released by the U.S. Government shows the North Korean reactor in Yongbyon and the nuclear reactor under construction in Syria. The White House on April 24, 2008 broke its official silence on the mysterious September 6, 2007 Israeli air strike. (U.S. Government/Reuters)

In former CIA and NSA director Gen. Michael Hayden’s new memoir, Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror, he describes the case of Al Kibar, in which Israeli officials informed the United States in 2007 about a building under construction in Syria that they thought was a nuclear reactor. Hayden writes, “Then we gave the data to a red team, dedicated contrarians, and directed they come up with an alternative explanation. Build an alternative case as to why it’s not a nuclear reactor; why it’s not intended to produce plutonium for a weapon; why North Korea is not involved.” (p. 258) Read more »

How Red Teams Protect Holiday Shoppers

by Micah Zenko
A shop assistant uses an eftpos system on December 11, 2012. (Wimborne/Reuters)

This holiday season, Americans will spend more than $600 billion buying gifts for friends, colleagues, and loved ones. Roughly 46 percent of the transactions will be done online, with the remaining purchases made in stores. Most shoppers will use credit or debit cards, assuming (incorrectly) that manufacturers and retailers are doing everything possible to protect their personally identifiable information from being stolen by malicious hackers. The truth about whether your information is adequately secure depends upon the security standards and practices that manufacturers and distributors use, which oftentimes fall short. Read more »

Red Team Wisdom From Experts

by Micah Zenko

My book Red Team: How to Succeed by Thinking Like the Enemy will be “launched” in one week. One lasting impression that I got from reading the red team literature broadly, and speaking with over two hundred individuals in the field, is the vivid and memorable phrases that red teamers use to describe their work. This colorful language was especially remarkable because it was not at all rehearsed; most of the people who I spoke with had never been interviewed about their professional experiences or insights into red teaming. Many red teamers lack public profiles because they are in the military or government (where interviews not controlled by public affairs officers are discouraged), in the private sector (where proprietary concerns and non-disclosure agreements prohibit much real transparency), or have no personal or professional need for attention. Read more »

Obama’s Terrorism Mistake

by Micah Zenko
President Barack Obama talks to the media in the the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on July 17, 2015. (Gripas/Reuters)

In an interview conducted yesterday, President Barack Obama made the following comment to BBC North America Editor Jon Sopel:

You mentioned the issue of guns, that is an area where if you ask me where has been the one area where I feel that I’ve been most frustrated and most stymied it is the fact that the United States of America is the one advanced nation on earth in which we do not have sufficient common-sense, gun-safety laws. Even in the face of repeated mass killings. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Recent Academic Journal Findings II

by Micah Zenko
The Artron Wall on display at the 11th International Culture Industry Fair in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China, on May 14, 2015. (Stringer/Reuters)

Six months ago, I published the first blog in this series, highlighting earlier academic findings.

Jeffrey Stamp, “Aero-Static Warfare: A Brief Survey of Ballooning in Mid-nineteenth-century Siege Warfare,” The Journal of Military History, 79(3), July 2015, pp. 767-782. Read more »

Book Review – “The Hillary Doctrine: Sex & American Foreign Policy”

by Micah Zenko
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the U.S. Conference of Mayors Annual Meeting in San Francisco on June 20, 2015. (Lam/Reuters)

During her confirmation hearing to become secretary of state, Hillary Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in no uncertain terms, “I want to pledge to you that as secretary of state I view [women’s] issues as central to our foreign policy, not as adjunct or auxiliary or in any way lesser than all of the other issues that we have to confront.” A thoughtful and nuanced new book by Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl, The Hillary Doctrine: Sex & American Foreign Policy, evaluates to what extent Secretary Clinton has fulfilled this pledge. Read more »