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"

How Not To Estimate and Communicate Risks

by Micah Zenko
An unmanned Space Exploration Technologies Falcon 9 rocket launches in Cape Canaveral, Florida, June 28, 2015 (Michael Berrigan/Reuters). An unmanned Space Exploration Technologies Falcon 9 rocket launches in Cape Canaveral, Florida, June 28, 2015 (Michael Berrigan/Reuters).

Estimating and translating the probability of an event for decision-makers is among the most difficult challenges in government and the private sector. The person making the estimate must be able to categorize or quantify a likelihood, and willing to relay that analysis to the decision-maker in a way that is comprehensible and timely. The decision-maker then must consider the probability within the context of other information, and subsequently consider the trade-offs between one course of action over another. The ultimate goal of perceiving and communicating risks is to best assure any institution has managed those risks and made the most sound choice possible in the time allotted. Read more »

The State of Global Terrorism in 2015

by Micah Zenko
Jamaat-ud-Dawa-burn-flag-protest Supporters of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa Islamic organization burn a mock U.S. flag during a protest in Peshawar, Pakistan, May 27, 2016. (Fayaz Aziz/Reuters)

Today, the U.S. State Department published its Country Reports on Terrorism: 2015—a congressionally mandated analytical and statistical review of global terrorism. It is important to understand how the U.S. government defines this subjective phenomena: “The term ‘terrorism’ means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.” Read more »

Will Killing Mullah Mansour Work?

by Micah Zenko
Mullah Mansour, Taliban militants' new leader, is seen in this undated handout photograph by the Taliban. (Handout via Reuters). Mullah Mansour, Taliban militants' new leader, is seen in this undated handout photograph by the Taliban. (Handout via Reuters).

On Saturday, the Pentagon released a remarkable statement: “Today, the Department of Defense conducted an airstrike that targeted Taliban leader Mullah Mansur.” Soon after, a tweet from the Office of the Chief Executive of Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah, read, “#Taliban leader #AkhtarMansoor was killed in a drone strike in Quetta, #Pakistan at 04:30 pm yesterday. His car was attacked in Dahl Bandin.” An anonymous U.S. official stated, “Mansour was the target and was likely killed,” while the Pentagon press release noted, “We are still assessing the results of the strike.” As of Monday afternoon, the Taliban had yet to release any statement. Read more »

Podcast: The 1990 U.S. Pledge to the Soviet Union on NATO Expansion

by Micah Zenko

I speak with Joshua Itzkowitz Shifrinson, an assistant professor at Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government and Public Service and author of “Deal or No Deal? The End of the Cold War and the U.S. Offer to Limit NATO Expansion,” published in the current edition of International Security. We discuss what the United States pledged about NATO expansion to the Soviet Union in 1990, and why the way this is remembered shapes how we perceive of Russian intentions today. Shifrinson also explains why this debate matters for international relations theory, and provides inspiring advice for political science students. Read more »

Guest Post: Has Myanmar Fully Transitioned to a Democracy?

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
A woman walks among debris after fire destroyed shelters at a camp for internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in the western Rakhine State near Sittwe, Myanmar on May 3, 2016. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters) A woman walks among debris after fire destroyed shelters at a camp for internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in the western Rakhine State near Sittwe, Myanmar on May 3, 2016. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

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

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won a majority of the votes after a landslide election in November 2015, becoming the first fully civilian-led government in Myanmar’s history. Once in power in April 2016, the NLD government released nearly two hundred political prisoners detained by the former military junta government, demonstrating Suu Kyi’s commitment to democratizing the country. However, the new NLD government has not yet attempted to reconcile animosity among Myanmar’s various ethnic groups—in particular, its Rohingya population. Up to 1.1 million Rohingya live in Myanmar, facing serious human rights violations, and thousands have been displaced due to violence with Buddhist nationalists (see CFR’s Global Conflict Tracker for an overview of the sectarian violence in Myanmar). Many have criticized Suu Kyi for refusing to touch the Rohingya issue, including the Dalai Lama. Read more »

Podcast: Anxious Politics: A Conversation with Shana Kushner Gadarian

by Micah Zenko
Anxious Politics: Democratic Citizenship in a Threatening World  by Shana Kushner Gadarian and Bethany Albertson (Cambridge University Press, 2015). Anxious Politics: Democratic Citizenship in a Threatening World by Shana Kushner Gadarian and Bethany Albertson (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

How do threats portrayed in the media imprint on the human mind? Why do people seek out threatening information in the news? How do they perceive of these threats and what protective policies do they expect from politicians? I discuss these questions, social science methodologies, and career advice with Shana Kushner Gadarian, assistant professor of political science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Read more »

Guest Post: Is American Fear of Islamic Terrorism Grounded in Evidence?

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
Members of the New York City Police Department's newly formed Critical Response Command anti-terrorism unit stand in formation as they gather for their first deployment outside their headquarters on Randall's Island in New York City on November 16, 2015. (Mike Segar/Reuters) Members of the New York City Police Department's newly formed Critical Response Command anti-terrorism unit stand in formation as they gather for their first deployment outside their headquarters on Randall's Island in New York City on November 16, 2015. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Tina Huang in an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Five months, three countries, one hundred and seventy-six dead. The self-proclaimed Islamic State has left a trail of carnage in the Western hemisphere (as well as tens of thousands of victims in the Middle East and North Africa). Subsequently, 51 percent of Americans fear that they or a family member will be killed in a terror attack. This level of fear among Americans is nearly equivalent to that experienced after 9/11, when 2,699 Americans died. The tragedy of 9/11 and more recent Islamic extremism attacks are also correlated with a rise of anti-Islamic hate crimes, which have more than doubled since 2008. Read more »

Are Drones More Precise Than Manned Aircraft?

by Micah Zenko
A U.S. airman guides a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone as it taxis to the runway at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan on March 9, 2016. (Josh Smith/Reuters) A U.S. airman guides a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone as it taxis to the runway at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan on March 9, 2016. (Josh Smith/Reuters)

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

In our latest piece at ForeignPolicy.com, we evaluate the Obama administration’s long-standing claim that drone strikes are more “precise” and cause fewer civilian fatalities than airstrikes by manned aircraft. We approach this challenge recognizing the limits of understanding who is being targeted and killed by all U.S. aerial operations. In addition, we admit that there are no wholly reliable or independently verifiable data sources, either from the U.S. government or research NGOs. Read more »

Obama’s Latest Admission on Drone Strikes

by Micah Zenko
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Chicago Law School in Chicago, Illinois, on April 7, 2016. (Young/Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Chicago Law School in Chicago, Illinois, on April 7, 2016. (Young/Reuters)

Yesterday, President Obama was asked a revealing question at the end of an appearance at the University of Chicago defending the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.  A student inquired about the president’s unilateral authority to authorize drone strikes outside of traditional battlefields, asking specifically:  “How are these killings morally and legally justified, and what kind of message does this drone program send about American values to the world, the American people, and to law students like myself who refuse to put trust in an opaque process.”  Naturally, Obama did not respond directly to the student’s question, but this twelve minute video segment (starting at 1:10:42) is worth reviewing in its entirety, as it is Obama’s longest unscripted reflection of the drone strikes that have come to define his approach to counterterrorism. Read more »

Guest Post: Mounting Pressure Threatens Stability in Jordan

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
Syrian refugees stuck between the Jordanian and Syrian borders, wait to cross into Jordan after a group of them crossed into Jordanian territory, near the town of Ruwaished, east of the capital Amman, on January 14, 2016. (Reuters/Hamed) Syrian refugees stuck between the Jordanian and Syrian borders, wait to cross into Jordan after a group of them crossed into Jordanian territory, near the town of Ruwaished, east of the capital Amman, on January 14, 2016. (Reuters/Hamed)

Tina Huang is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

As the Syrian civil war continues at lower levels of violence, neighboring countries face enduring security threats and international pressures to protect refugees pouring across their borders. In a new Center for Preventive Action (CPA) Contingency Planning Memorandum Update, “Growing Stress on Jordan,” Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), and David Schenker, director of the Program on Arab Politics at WINEP, discuss the implications of Jordan reaching its “saturation point” for accepting Syrian refugees. Satloff and Schenker state that the risk of domestic unrest stemming from economic privatization, corruption, and a lack of reform—which was the focus on their 2013 report, “Political Instability in Jordan”—has since diminished, while spillover from the Syrian civil war is an increasing threat. They offer policy recommendations for how the U.S. government can support its partner in the Middle East. Read more »