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 "U.S. Foreign Policy"

Putting Iran’s Nuclear Program in Context

by Micah Zenko
U.S. officials including Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, and Robert Malley of the National Security Council, and European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini, Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation Ali Akbar Salehi, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and others wait for a meeting in Switzerland to continue negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program. (Smialowski/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. officials including Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, and Robert Malley of the National Security Council, and European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini, Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation Ali Akbar Salehi, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and others wait for a meeting in Switzerland to continue negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program. (Smialowski/Courtesy Reuters)

The April 24, 1984, edition of the British defense publication Jane’s Defence Weekly informed its readers: “Iran is engaged in the production of an atomic bomb, likely to be ready within two years, according to press reports in the Persian Gulf last week.” Subsequent warnings from U.S. and foreign sources about Iran’s imminent acquisition of a nuclear weapon have been offered over the past four decades. These false guesses are worth bearing in mind as news from the P5+1 nuclear negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland emerges. Read more »

How the U.S. Military Thinks About Complexity

by Micah Zenko
Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Amos, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James Winnefeld, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, and Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Frank Grass testify before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on May 6, 2014. (Ernst/Courtesy Reuters) Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Amos, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James Winnefeld, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, and Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Frank Grass testify before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on May 6, 2014. (Ernst/Courtesy Reuters)

If you routinely read Pentagon reports, speeches, hearings transcripts, and news articles, you occasionally come across an assumption or claim that stands out. Yesterday, the Pentagon released a news article that summarized a speech given by Director of the Joint Staff Lt. Gen. David Goldfein at the Brookings Institution. The article included the line: “Last year was the most complex year since 1968, the general said.” Read more »

Guest Post: Preventing Cultural Destruction by ISIS

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
The Assyrian city of Nimrud before it was looted and bulldozed by Islamic State fighters. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons) The Assyrian city of Nimrud before it was looted and bulldozed by Islamic State fighters. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Aliza Litchman is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations. 

The U.S.-led coalition has been unsuccessful in halting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS or ISIL) second largest revenue stream: illegal artifacts. A March 6 UNESCO report attempted to call attention to the ISIS’ bulldozing of the three thousand-year-old city of Nimrud, and a February 25 video shows ISIS militants ransacking the central museum in Mosul. However, the most damage to Iraq and Syria’s cultural heritage is not inflicted with bulldozers and sledgehammers, but through illegal sales in foreign markets, which have thus far provided ISIS with over $100 million U.S. officials estimate. Antiquities dealings are ISIS’ second largest source of funding, and control of over four thousand archaeological sites ensures this revenue source will not expire. Read more »

Guess Who’s Bombing ISIS?

by Micah Zenko
UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond hosts a meeting with coalition members to discuss the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria on January 22, 2015. (Nicholls/Courtesy Reuters) UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond hosts a meeting with coalition members to discuss the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria on January 22, 2015. (Nicholls/Courtesy Reuters)

Today, the New York Times reported that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) suspended airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in December, “citing fears for its pilots’ safety after a Jordanian pilot was captured.” The article states that the UAE will not participate until U.S. V-22 Osprey aircraft are based in northern Iraq, rather than Kuwait where they reportedly are now, so they can respond faster to execute a combat search-and-rescue operation to recover a downed pilot. The reason those V-22s are not in northern Iraq is that the airbases located there cannot be adequately secured from the potential threats from ISIS rocket, mortar, and small-arms attacks. Raising the overall level of the security of an airbase, including the approach and departure corridors, in order to station such a valuable air asset would require an estimated three to four hundred American troops. Read more »

Should the United States Give Lethal Aid to Ukraine?

by Micah Zenko
Members of the Ukrainian armed forces drive armored vehicles in the town of Volnovakha, eastern Ukraine, on January 18, 2015. (Ermochenko/Courtesy Reuters) Members of the Ukrainian armed forces drive armored vehicles in the town of Volnovakha, eastern Ukraine, on January 18, 2015. (Ermochenko/Courtesy Reuters)

When reading the thoughtful report, Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must Do, ask: What political objective does it intend to achieve, and will the recommended policies achieve it? That objective is: “The United States and NATO should seek to create a situation in which the Kremlin considers the option of further military action in or against Ukraine too costly to pursue. The combination of closing off that option plus the cumulative impact of Western economic sanctions could produce conditions in which Moscow decides to negotiate a genuine settlement that allows Ukraine to reestablish full sovereignty over Donetsk and Luhansk.” Does the lethal and nonlethal assistance that the report recommends providing to Ukraine create this “situation” or produce these “conditions?” (There is another less concrete political objective—“preserving the credibility of security assurances for the future”—which credibility hawks can attempt to defend.) Read more »

Avoiding a U.S.-China Great Power War

by Micah Zenko
Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and Chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army General Fang Fenghui hold a joint news conference after their meeting at the Pentagon in Washington on May 15, 2014. (Gripas/Courtesy Reuters) Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and Chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army General Fang Fenghui hold a joint news conference after their meeting at the Pentagon in Washington on May 15, 2014. (Gripas/Courtesy Reuters)

In book one of The History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides provided his explanation for why the Spartans (or Lacedaemonians) broke the thirty years’ truce treaty with the Athenians after just fourteen years: “I consider the truest cause the one least openly expressed, that increasing Athenian greatness and the resulting fear among the Lacedaemonians made going to war inevitable.”  Thucydides reiterates later how the Spartans assembly voted “that the treaty had been broken and that they must go to war not so much because they were persuaded by the arguments of their allies as because they feared further increase in the power of the Athenians, seeing the greater part of Hellas under their control.” Read more »

Challenging the Terrorist Safe Haven Myth

by Micah Zenko
U.S. President George W. Bush during a briefing at the Pentagon on September 17, 2001, at which he said the United States wanted Osama bin Laden "dead or alive." (McNamee/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. President George W. Bush during a briefing at the Pentagon on September 17, 2001, at which he said the United States wanted Osama bin Laden "dead or alive." (McNamee/Courtesy Reuters)

This blog post was coauthored with my research associate, Amelia M. Wolf.

For thirteen years, U.S. counterterrorism strategy has relied on an assumption that arose after 9/11: international terrorist attacks against the United States require a safe haven. Denying safe havens in Iraq and Afghanistan took nearly seven thousand American lives and will have an eventual estimated cost of $4 to $6 trillion.  More recently, this assumption served as the rationale for launching an open-ended war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is nearing its sixth month of engagement. Read more »

What the Pentagon Wants in a New AUMF: Perpetual Warfare

by Micah Zenko

During his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress “to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant].” The White House has claimed repeatedly that such an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) is not legally required because the president already has the authority to conduct operations “against Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces” as provided in the 2001 AUMF. Given that the United States began bombing Iraq on August 8, it is clear that Congress tacitly accepts this interpretation and is in no hurry to pass an updated authorization for ISIL, just as they have never made serious efforts to reform the 2001 AUMF. Read more »

If Cyberattacks Are Terror, Who’s the Biggest Terrorist?

by Micah Zenko
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks about immigration reform at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on December 10, 2014. (Downing/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks about immigration reform at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on December 10, 2014. (Downing/Courtesy Reuters)

Yesterday, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appeared on CNN’s State of the Union where he proposed placing North Korea on the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list. Menendez contended that the additional sanctions announced by the White House last week were insufficient, and that “we need to look at putting North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, which would have far more pervasive consequences.” Beyond claiming this would have additional consequences for North Korea, he disagreed with President Obama’s characterization of the alleged Sony hack as “an act of cyber vandalism”: 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 »