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.

Kunduz Airstrike and Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan

by Micah Zenko Saturday, October 3, 2015

This blog post updated an earlier post, and was again coauthored with my research associate, Amelia M. Wolf.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported that its hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan was attacked yesterday by air forces several times over the course of a thirty-minute period. The latest MSF communication stated, “At least 16 people died—nine MSF staff, 7 patients from Intensive care unit, among them three children.” Col. Brian Tribus, spokesperson for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, acknowledged airstrikes on Kunduz at 2:15 a.m., noting it was the twelfth in that vicinity since Tuesday, against “individuals threatening” Coalition forces, which “may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.” Read more »

Guest Post: Making Obama’s Peacekeeping Commitments a Reality

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Thursday, October 1, 2015
President Barack Obama delivers remarks during a Leaders Summit on Peacekeeping to coincide at the United Nations in New York on September 28, 2015. (Kelly/Reuters) President Barack Obama delivers remarks during a Leaders Summit on Peacekeeping to coincide at the United Nations in New York on September 28, 2015. (Kelly/Reuters)

Amelia M. Wolf is a research associate in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

While chairing Monday’s Leaders’ Summit on Peacekeeping, President Obama called on UN member states to increase their troop contributions, improve protection of civilians, and reform and modernize peace operations. The intent and outcome of the meeting is a positive step toward strengthening the ability of UN peacekeeping to work more effectively in complex environments. However, there are many issues left unaddressed, and what matters most is what comes next. Read more »

Guest Post: Setting the Boundaries in the South China Sea

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Wednesday, September 30, 2015
A crewman from the Vietnamese coastguard ship 8003 looks out at sea as Chinese coastguard vessels give chase to Vietnamese ships that came close to the Haiyang Shiyou 981, known in Vietnam as HD-981, oil rig in the South China Sea July 15, 2014. (Petty/Reuters) A crewman from the Vietnamese coastguard ship 8003 looks out at sea as Chinese coastguard vessels give chase to Vietnamese ships that came close to the Haiyang Shiyou 981, known in Vietnam as HD-981, oil rig in the South China Sea July 15, 2014. (Petty/Reuters)

Bogdan Belei is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Tensions between China and Vietnam over the South China Sea are rising and a miscalculation or miscommunication risks an outbreak of hostilities. Earlier this month, satellite imagery revealed that China is constructing its third airstrip in the disputed Spratly Islands, an archipelago of 750 reefs, cays, and islands claimed—in whole or in part—by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan. This news follows a tense summer, during which China deployed oil rigs in disputed waters and naval standoffs between China and Vietnam culminated in a ship ramming. Beijing’s construction establishes a permanent Chinese base in disputed waters, with airstrips that could be used to launch military missions against regional rivals. China has so far only used them to conduct surveillance missions, but this alone has increased tensions and resulted in political disagreements with the United States. As the intensity and frequency of disputes over territory in the South China Sea increase, the situation has the potential to escalate into militarized conflict. Read more »

Guest Post: Closing the Rhetoric-Reality Gap on R2P

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Monday, September 28, 2015
Migrants from Syria walk along a road in the village of Miratovac near the town of Presevo, Serbia on August 24, 2015. (Djurica/Reuters) Migrants from Syria walk along a road in the village of Miratovac near the town of Presevo, Serbia on August 24, 2015. (Djurica/Reuters)

Bruce W. Jentleson is a professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and the 2015-16 Kissinger chair at the Kluge Center in the Library of Congress.

Jenna Karp is a Duke University senior studying public policy and global health and an intern in the State Department Foreign Service Internship Program. Read more »

Where Are the Women in Foreign Policy Today?

by Micah Zenko Saturday, September 26, 2015
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington September 10, 2014. (Souza/White House Handout via Reuters) President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington September 10, 2014. (Souza/White House Handout via Reuters)

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

If you follow the republican presidential race, you’ll notice the feud brewing between candidates Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina. Remarking on Fiorina’s capacity to be President, Trump said, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?” Although Fiorina gave a cool-headed response by releasing an advertisement in which she says she is “proud of every year and every wrinkle,” Trump further perpetuated his faux pas in last week’s debate. “I think she’s got a beautiful face and she’s a beautiful woman.” Read more »

Obama’s War of Choice: Supporting the Saudi-led Air War in Yemen

by Micah Zenko Friday, September 25, 2015
A man who lost his relatives in a Saudi-led air strike cries at the site of the strike in Yemen's capital Sanaa on September 21, 2015. (Abdullah/Reuters) A man who lost his relatives in a Saudi-led air strike cries at the site of the strike in Yemen's capital Sanaa on September 21, 2015. (Abdullah/Reuters)

Six months ago today, the White House announced U.S. support for the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen via press release: “President Obama has authorized the provision of logistical and intelligence support to GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council]-led military operations.” As is true for all interventions, U.S. officials offered a buffet of justifications and objectives for backing the GCC side in Yemen’s chaotic civil war. In an earlier piece, I counted seven. Unsurprisingly, these are no longer mentioned by officials. Rather, they call upon all parties in the conflict to halt their fighting, failing to mention that the United States military is one of the parties by providing material support, without which the GCC would not be able sustain airstrikes over Yemen for any period of time. When pushed by reporters about U.S. responsibilities, they reply “we continue to discuss with Saudi authorities….We’re in constant and close communication with them,” or simply deflect, “I would refer you to the Saudis.” Read more »

Cooked Islamic State Intelligence and Red Teams

by Micah Zenko Thursday, September 24, 2015
U.S. President Barack Obama sits next to Commander of Central Command Gen. Lloyd Austin III during in a briefing from top military leaders while at U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida on September 17, 2014. (Downing/Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama sits next to Commander of Central Command Gen. Lloyd Austin III during in a briefing from top military leaders while at U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida on September 17, 2014. (Downing/Reuters)

The New York Times has an article that sheds further light upon what is apparently a disagreement within U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) about how successful the U.S.-led war, which is intended to “degrade, and ultimately destroy” the self-declared Islamic State, is progressing. Building upon earlier reporting by the Times and The Daily Beast, today’s article explicitly names the senior Iraq intelligence analyst at CENTCOM, Gregory Hooker, and reiterates the opposition of Hooker’s team to the Obama administration’s generally optimistic portrayal of progress in Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR). Read more »

The Realities of Using Force to Protect Civilians in Syria

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, September 15, 2015
A man holds a girl who survived what activists said was heavy shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus on June 16, 2015. (Khabieh/Reuters) A man holds a girl who survived what activists said was heavy shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus on June 16, 2015. (Khabieh/Reuters)

Yesterday, the New York Times published an infographic, “Death in Syria,” that presents the more than 200,000 combatants and noncombatants who have been killed in the four-and-a-half-year Syrian civil war. The Times’ website relies upon estimates “provided by the Violations Documentation Center [VDC] and are as of Sept. 9, 2015.” This non-governmental organization (NGO) claims to use a three-stage process for gathering and documenting information from within Syria, and verifying its accuracy to the best extent possible. The VDC notes that it strives for “conveying the truth as it is on the condition that those data and information are being regularly reviewed, checked and revised.” Read more »