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.

Kabila’s Repression: A Consequence of UN Inaction

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Friday, November 18, 2016
Congolese opposition supporters chant slogans during a march to press President Joseph Kabila to step down in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, September 19, 2016. (Katombe/Reuters) Congolese opposition supporters chant slogans during a march to press President Joseph Kabila to step down in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, September 19, 2016. (Katombe/Reuters)

Susanna Kalaris an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

As Americans flocked to polling stations on November 8, United Nations peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) were hit by a grenade blast that killed one and injured thirty-two others. Since 1999, the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), and its successor, MONUSCO, have deployed peacekeepers to implement a ceasefire, disarm combatants, and protect civilians following an international war that killed an estimated 5.4 million people between 1996 and 2003 and plunged the country into economic and political chaos. Yet despite more than seventeen years, twelve billion dollars spent, and twenty-thousand personnel dispatched across the country, the peacekeeping missions have left an unfulfilled mandate and a local government that recognizes and profits from its failures. President Joseph Kabila and his government are emboldened to maintain the political status quo; while peacekeeping troops struggle to contain violence, the government violates democratic processes and civil rights with impunity, knowing MONUSCO will not stop it anytime soon. Read more »

U.S. Airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, Versus Drone Strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia

by Micah Zenko Thursday, November 10, 2016
A U.S. Air Force MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle assigned to the California Air National Guard's 163rd Reconnaissance Wing undergoes a postflight inspection (Reuters/U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Effrain Lopez/Handout) A U.S. Air Force MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle assigned to the California Air National Guard's 163rd Reconnaissance Wing undergoes a postflight inspection (Reuters/U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Effrain Lopez/Handout)

Yesterday, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) published an updated estimate of civilian casualties from U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. Previously, the Pentagon had acknowledged just 55 civilian casualties for the air war that began in August 2014. The new CENTCOM estimate listed a total of 24 civilian casualty incidents, which “regrettably may have killed 64 civilians.” This makes the new official estimate of civilian fatalities 119. Read more »

How Everything Became War: A Conversation With Rosa Brooks

by Micah Zenko Monday, November 7, 2016
How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything, by Rosa Brooks (Simon & Schuster, 2016). How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything, by Rosa Brooks (Simon & Schuster, 2016).

I was lucky enough to speak with Rosa Brooks about her recent book, How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales From the Pentagon. Rosa is law professor at Georgetown University, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, and a fellow columnist for Foreign Policy. We talk about her unique and compelling experiences at the Pentagon, where she served as a counselor to the undersecretary of defense for policy. Rosa also shares her thoughts on the role of retired military officers in election politics, and the difficulties (or lack thereof) in addressing the most pressing challenges to U.S. national security policy and law. She also gives some important advice for young policy professionals starting their careers. Read more »

Five Ways Trump’s Foreign Policy Would Be a Disaster

by Micah Zenko Thursday, November 3, 2016
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton finish their third and final 2016 presidential campaign debate in Las Vegas, Nevada, October 19, 2016. (Blake/Reuters) Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton finish their third and final 2016 presidential campaign debate in Las Vegas, Nevada, October 19, 2016. (Blake/Reuters)

I have a new column today on Foreign Policy—“Trump Is Less Hawkish Than Hillary. Who Cares?”—which summarizes my evaluation of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s foreign-policy positions. I have published a number of pieces focusing on both candidates, from Clinton’s call for a no-fly zone in Syria, to Trump’s convenient amnesia about strongly endorsing a U.S. ground intervention in Libya in February 2011. This campaign has been marked more by perceptions of the candidates’ behavior, temperaments, and familial or professional connections than actual policies. Read more »

Understanding Atrocities: A Conversation with Dara Kay Cohen

by Micah Zenko Monday, October 31, 2016
Rape During Civil War, by Dara Kay Cohen (Cornell University Press 2016). Rape During Civil War, by Dara Kay Cohen (Cornell University Press 2016).

I spoke with Dara Kay Cohen, assistant professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, about her book, Rape During Civil War. To better understand this underexamined wartime atrocity, Dara built an original dataset and conducted extensive interviews in Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste, and El Salvador, including with perpetrators and victims. We discuss Dara’s research and her counterintuitive findings, which indicate that rape is often used as a tactic by some groups in civil wars to bond militants. We also talk about the role of academic research in informing policy, and Dara gives advice to young scholars considering a career in academia. A fascinating conversation with a thoughtful and brilliant scholar. Read more »

Military Endorsements and Civ-Mil Relations: A Conversation with Peter Feaver

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Retired USMC General John Allen is joined by veterans while addressing at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. (Audette/Reuters) Retired USMC General John Allen is joined by veterans while addressing at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. (Audette/Reuters)

Last week, I spoke with Peter Feaver, professor of political science and public policy at Duke University and fellow columnist on ForeignPolicy.com. We talk about how he became interested as a grad student in civil-military relations, and how that led to his seminal book on the subject, Armed Servants: Agency, Oversight, and Civil-Military Relations. We also discuss Peter’s two experiences on the National Security Council, his concerns about the dangers of military officers’ endorsements in presidential campaigns, and his advice to young scholars on balancing careers with personal lives. A timely discussion given the presidential candidates’ reliance on the non-partisan legitimacy of military officials, listen to my conversation with a leading expert in an important field. Read more »

Trump and the Makings of a Constitutional Crisis

by Micah Zenko Thursday, October 20, 2016
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the third and final debate with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton (not pictured) at UNLV in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., October 19, 2016.  (Reuters/Wilking) Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the third and final debate with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton (not pictured) at UNLV in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., October 19, 2016. (Reuters/Wilking)

During yesterday’s third and (mercifully) final presidential debate, Republican candidate Donald Trump stated explicitly what he has hinted at for months: he will not agree ahead of time to accept the results of the election on November 8. When asked directly by moderator Chris Wallace, Trump only promised: “I will look at it at the time.” Wallace pressed further by explaining the American tradition of a peaceful transition of power, and inquiring, “Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?” The candidate, trailing Hillary Clinton by 6.4 percent in averaged national polls and forecasted a 12.7 percent likelihood of winning, replied: “What I’m saying is I’ll tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense, okay?” Read more »

Is it Still 1968? A Conversation with Michael A. Cohen

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, October 18, 2016
American Maelstrom: The 1968 Election and the Politics of Division, by Michael A. Cohen (Oxford University Press 2016) American Maelstrom: The 1968 Election and the Politics of Division, by Michael A. Cohen (Oxford University Press 2016)

Today, I spoke with Michael A. Cohen, regular contributor at The Boston Globe, about his new book, American Maelstrom: The 1968 Election and the Politics of Division (also available on iTunes here). We talk about the chaotic U.S. presidential election of 1968, which not only bears a striking resemblance with the 2016 election, but sowed the seeds for many political currents running through the United States today. Michael also offers his advice to passionate aspiring journalists and writers. Listen to our conversation, check out his last book, Live From the Campaign Trail: The Greatest Presidential Campaign Speeches of the Twentieth Century and How They Shaped Modern America, and follow him on Twitter @speechboy71. Read more »

What Threats or Conflicts Will Emerge or Escalate in 2017?

by Micah Zenko Monday, October 10, 2016
A boy walks past damaged buildings in the northern Syrian rebel-held town of al-Waqf, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, October 9, 2016. (Ashawi/Reuters) A boy walks past damaged buildings in the northern Syrian rebel-held town of al-Waqf, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, October 9, 2016. (Ashawi/Reuters)

In last night’s presidential debate, it took little time for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to bring up the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Responding to moderator Anderson Cooper’s question about a leaked recording of Trump bragging about groping women, Trump promised that he would “knock the hell out of ISIS.” For the amount of time spent by both candidates talking about defeating terrorists, viewers might think that they pose the greatest threat to the United States. Read more »

A Literal Cold War: The EU-Russian Struggle Over Energy Security

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Thursday, October 6, 2016
An employee walks at Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom's Sudzha pumping station, January 13, 2009 (Sinyakov/Reuters). An employee walks at Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom's Sudzha pumping station, January 13, 2009 (Sinyakov/Reuters).

Niall Henderson is an Interdepartmental Program Assistant at the Council on Foreign Relations.

On September 14, Ukraine initiated arbitration against the Russian Federation for violations of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, with specific reference to access of energy resources off the coast of Ukraine and Russian-annexed Crimea. This development follows the Russian seizure of Crimean oil rigs in the Black Sea in late 2015, and the installation of rigs bearing Russian flags in the area more recently. Regardless of the outcome of the litigation, the escalation of Russian-Ukrainian tensions has serious consequences for European energy security. Ukraine lies at a critical juncture between Europe and Russia, and therefore its ability to resist Russian energy securitization has widespread implications for the European Union (EU) as well as for U.S. strategic options in the region. Read more »