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.

Questioning Obama’s Drone Deaths Data

by Micah Zenko Friday, July 1, 2016
Pre-flight inspection of an MQ-1B Predator unmanned drone aircraft on September 3, 2008 (Christopher  Griffin/Reuters). Pre-flight inspection of an MQ-1B Predator unmanned drone aircraft on September 3, 2008 (Christopher Griffin/Reuters).

Months after promising to release the number of civilians that have been killed in U.S. lethal counterterrorism operations outside of “areas of active hostilities,” the Obama Administration today released its count in a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. According to the numbers provided, there were 473 “strikes” [presumably this includes both manned and unmanned aircraft conducted by both the CIA and the U.S. military] which killed between 2,372 and 2,581 combatants, and between 64 and 116 civilians. Read more »

How Not To Estimate and Communicate Risks

by Micah Zenko Wednesday, June 29, 2016
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 »

Merkel’s Erdogan Problem

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Germany-Merkel-Turkey-Erdogan German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan address the media after talks in Berlin February 4, 2014 (Reuters/Tobias Schwarz).

Sabina Frizell is a research associate in the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

This week alone, Turkey jailed two journalists on trumped-up terrorism charges, threatened to sue a professor for insulting President Erdogan, and pushed forward the same construction project that sparked massive anti-government protests in 2013. As Turkey’s democracy deteriorates, German-Turkish relations have gone from tense to outright hostile. Chancellor Angela Merkel is vacillating on whether to hold firm to core European Union (EU) values of democracy and human rights or appease Turkey. She can either continue to waver, tacitly accepting Erdogan’s behavior, or send Turkey a strong signal that its human and civil rights violations are unacceptable. Read more »

Bargaining and Military Coercion: A Conversation with Todd Sechser

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Today, I spoke with Todd Sechser, Associate Professor in the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics at the University of Virginia. We spoke about his important new article in Journal of Conflict Resolution, “Reputations and Signaling in Coercive Bargaining,”  his next book with Matthew Fuhrman, Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming), and why the United States has such a poor record at coercive diplomacy. Todd also provides advice for young scholars in international relations. Listen to my conversation with one of the smartest scholars doing policy-relevant research on coercion, reputations, and U.S. foreign policy. Read more »

New Commander, New Rules

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Wednesday, June 15, 2016
AfghanistanPOE Incoming Commander of Resolute Support forces and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, U.S. Army General John Nicholson attends a change of command ceremony in Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, March 2, 2016. (Rahmat Gu/Reuters)

Harry Oppenheimer is a research associate for national security at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The U.S. military mission in Afghanistan has been subject to restrictive rules of engagement that prohibited targeting the Taliban directly unless they posed a threat to U.S. personnel, or an extreme threat to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). Reportedly, this has changed. The recent news was the first major policy change for the Afghan War since General John Nicholson took over command exactly one hundred days before the announcement on March 2, 2016. Combined with today’s story that North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bases will remain open in Afghanistan into 2017, Nicholson has latitude that would be the envy of his predecessors. Read more »

Austria’s Presidential Election and the Race for the White House

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Tuesday, June 14, 2016
VanDerBellen Former head of the Greens Alexander Van der Bellen addresses a news conference after he announced to run for President in the 2016 Austrian presidential election in Vienna, Austria, January 10, 2016. (Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters)

Anna-Sophia Haub is an Interdepartmental Program Assistant at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Just .6 percent was needed to defeat the far right candidate for the Austrian presidency. That was the difference of 31,000 votes in favor of Alexander Van der Bellen, an independent and former Green Party delegate, to defeat Norbert Hofer of the far right, anti-immigration Freedom Party. Although the Austrian presidential role is mostly ceremonial, it is nevertheless important to the development of the country’s national identity. Read more »

The Orlando Massacre and Global Terrorism

by Micah Zenko Monday, June 13, 2016
blogterrorism People gather at a vigil in solidarity for the victims of the Orlando nightclub mass shooting at Taylor Square in Sydney, Australia, June 13, 2016. (Stringer/Reuters)

A brief note to place Sunday morning’s horrific massacre in Orlando, Florida, within the broader global context of terrorism. In 2014, the last year for which there is complete data, there were eighty-two terror attacks around the world that killed more than fifty people—twenty-eight of them killed over 100 people. This is according to the Global Terrorism Database, which is maintained by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. The country and number of attacks with more than fifty fatalities is listed below. Read more »

What Clinton’s E-mails Reveal About Her Support for CIA Drone Strikes

by Micah Zenko Friday, June 10, 2016
Hillary-2011 U.S. Secretary of State Clinton talks before House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington (Larry Downing/Reuters)

A revelation today about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State may indicate her preference using military force over diplomatic considerations. It was known since January that the content of twenty-two emails that went through the private server were classified at the “top secret/SAP [special access programs]” level, referring to highly classified intelligence gathering or covert programs run by the Pentagon and CIA. At the time, Clinton told NPR, “the best we can determine” is that the emails in question consisted solely of a news article about drone strikes in Pakistan. As Clinton stated: “How a New York Times public article that goes around the world could be in any way viewed as classified, or the fact that it would be sent to other people off of the New York Times site, I think, is one of the difficulties that people have in understanding what this is about.” Read more »

Responding to Coast Guard Expansion in the South China Sea

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Thursday, June 9, 2016
RTR3U05T A Chinese Coast Guard vessel passes near a Chinese oil rig in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) from the coast of Vietnam June 13, 2014. (Nguyen Minh/Reuters)

Aaron Picozzi is the research associate for the military fellows and Lincoln Davidson (@dvdsndvdsn) is a research associate for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Read more »

The State of Global Terrorism in 2015

by Micah Zenko Thursday, June 2, 2016
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 »