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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Highlights of the Worldwide Threats Hearing

by Micah Zenko

Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing, “Worldwide Threats,” witnesses: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, February 26, 2015.

CLAPPER:  2014 saw, for the first time, destructive cyberattacks carried out on U.S. soil by nation-state entities, marked first by the Iranian attack against the Las Vegas Sands Casino Corporation a year ago this month and the North Korean attack against Sony in November. Read more »

Guest Post: The Unknown Limits of Synthetic Biology

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
A technician poses for the media with a test tube for testing against pandemic influenza A (H1N1) virus in the national reference laboratory at the Robert Koch scientific institute in Berlin on October 2, 2009. (Bensch/Courtesy Reuters) A technician poses for the media with a test tube for testing against pandemic influenza A (H1N1) virus in the national reference laboratory at the Robert Koch scientific institute in Berlin on October 2, 2009. (Bensch/Courtesy Reuters)

Helia Ighani is a research associate in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Since 2001, major metropolitan cities have increasingly conducted gas and chemical attack simulations in subway systems. Police departments carry out these exercises with odorless, colorless, and non-toxic gases to determine how to evacuate passengers in the event of an actual biological or chemical attack, and identify safeguards that could be implemented to prevent potentially catastrophic consequences. Read more »

Preventive Priorities Survey for 2015

by Micah Zenko
Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), walk toward the Syrian border near Sinjar, Iraq, August 11, 2014. (Rodi Said/Courtesy Reuters) Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), walk toward the Syrian border near Sinjar, Iraq, August 11, 2014. (Rodi Said/Courtesy Reuters)

Today, we at the Center for Preventive Action released our Preventive Priorities Survey (PPS) for 2015. This is the seventh in our annual effort to harness crowd wisdom and foreign policy expertise in order to identify plausible sources of political instability and violence and to rank them into three tiers based on their impact to U.S. interests and likelihood of happening in the upcoming year. The goal of the PPS is to help officials and policymakers focus on the most important conflict prevention demands. Despite all the early warning analysis done in the U.S. government, there is neither a systematic process that does this, nor a routine system for bringing such information to the attention of senior officials. The PPS represents our best effort to provide this once a year and, given the feedback we receive from officials, the survey is highly coveted and widely read. 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 »

Obama Should Change his Counter-ISIS Strategy

by Micah Zenko

Last month, I wrote about how President Obama’s announced end state to “degrade, and ultimately destroy ISIL” would not be achieved, just as previous promises by Bush and Obama administration officials to “destroy” and “eliminate” Al Qaeda and the Taliban were not. I also noted how U.S. officials have offered contradictory end states since then, a practice that continues. For example, on September 22, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Gen. Martin Dempsey declared: “We want them to wake up every day realizing that they are being squeezed from multiple directions. If we can get [ISIS] looking in about five different directions, that’s the desired end state.” That is a plausible strategic objective given the relatively limited military and non-military resources that have been committed by the United States and coalition members. However, it is nowhere near as difficult as “destroy.” Read more »

Guest Post: Jokowi’s Small Victory Over Corruption in Indonesia

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
Indonesian presidential candidate Joko "Jokowi" Widodo attends a rally in Proklamasi Monument Park in Jakarta July 9, 2014. (Whiteside/Courtesy Reuters) Indonesian presidential candidate Joko "Jokowi" Widodo attends a rally in Proklamasi Monument Park in Jakarta July 9, 2014. (Whiteside/Courtesy Reuters)

This blog post was authored by Timothy F. Higgins, a graduate of the University of St. Andrews with an MA in political philosophy.

The recent presidential victory of Joko Widodo (popularly known as “Jokowi”) has the potential to be a watershed moment in Southeast Asian politics. For the first time in Indonesia’s (albeit short) history as an independent nation, control of its government will pass from one democratically elected leader to another in relative peace. Read more »

Evolving State Department-USAID Strategic Goals

by Micah Zenko

In August 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell and USAID administrator Andrew Natsios introduced the first joint State Department – USAID Strategic Plan. These plans are intended to better synchronize the direction of and priorities for the two agencies most responsible for developing and implementing U.S. foreign policy and development assistance programs.  Just yesterday, the fourth Strategic Plan was published, and like the preceding three it lists several broad strategic priorities that are intended to guide State and USAID’s own guidance documents, budgets, directives, and policies. To understand how U.S. foreign policy priorities have shifted between the Bush and Obama administrations in the past decade, please see below for a chart that lists those strategic goals
Read more »