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: 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) 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) 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) 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) 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) 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) 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 »

Guest Post: Chinese Troops in Africa: Protecting Civilians and Oil

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
The national flags of South Sudan and China are displayed in front of South Sudan's President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao, during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Ibuki/Courtesy Reuters) The national flags of South Sudan and China are displayed in front of South Sudan's President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao, during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Ibuki/Courtesy Reuters)

Sean J. Li is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

China announced in September that it would send a battalion of seven-hundred infantry soldiers to reinforce the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), a heretofore unprecedented move that triples its troop contribution. It is suspected by commentators, such as Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy, that this commitment was made to shield the oil industry—which both UNMISS and the Chinese Foreign Ministry have denied. The increased international profile of Chinese national oil companies (NOCs) and other commercial interests, especially in Africa, has raised questions about whether China’s long-standing principle of non-interference will hold in the future. Read more »

Why Secretary Chuck Hagel Resigned

by Micah Zenko
President Barack Obama embraces Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel after announcing Hagel's resignation at the White House on November 24, 2014. (Downing/Courtesy Reuters) President Barack Obama embraces Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel after announcing Hagel's resignation at the White House on November 24, 2014. (Downing/Courtesy Reuters)

Gopal Ratnam, “Picking Up the Pieces at the Pentagon,” ForeignPolicy.com, November 25, 2014.

Although the White House portrayed Hagel’s departure as a usual cabinet change post a midterm election that resulted in Democrats losing their Senate majority, unnamed administration officials have said that Hagel wasn’t up to the task of leading the fight against the militant group also known as ISIS and ISIL that now controls broad parts of Iraq and SyriaRead more »

Guest Post: Implications of Declining Israeli Sympathy

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
Jewish men protest to support the people of Gaza, in central London on August 9, 2014. (MacGregor/Courtesy Reuters) Jewish men protest to support the people of Gaza, in central London on August 9, 2014. (MacGregor/Courtesy Reuters)

Elena Vann is an interdepartmental intern at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Once a small, noble state heralded for its democratic values and established after the horrors of the Holocaust, Israel’s popularity is declining as global public opinion trends further away from the David and Goliath narrative once commonly attached to the Jewish state. After a fierce, month-long offensive against Hamas that is estimated to have taken the lives of over one thousand civilians in Gaza and decimated the country’s infrastructure, Israel’s public image joins the list of damages. As the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire tenuously holds between Israeli and Palestinian officials representing Hamas, the Gaza Strip is smoldering in ruins and Israel looks more bully than victim. Should these negative sentiments toward Israel continue to fester, U.S.-Israel relations could be substantially weakened. Read more »