In this Council Special Report, Senior Fellow Micah Zenko and Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow Sarah Kreps argue that it is essential to begin working now to expand and establish rules and norms governing armed drones. By doing so, they predict, the United States will create standards of behavior that other countries will be more likely to follow.
Dangerous incidents in outer space pose an increasing threat to U.S. assets and risk escalating into militarized crises. Douglas Dillon Fellow Micah Zenko details how the Obama administration could reduce the likelihood of such crises, or mitigate their consequences should they occur.
According to Micah Zenko, "We are deluding ourselves if we believe that we need more time to "think through" U.S. military intervention options for Syria. We have an excellent understanding of what those options are, and a vast majority of officials, policymakers, and the American people do not believe they are worth the effort."
In response President Obama's recent speech about drones Micah Zenko writes, "What matters now is whether the Obama administration will actually tell Congress and the American public how it is conducting targeted killings."
Micah Zenko examines U.S. President Barack Obama's May 23, 2013 speech on drone strike and counterterrorism policies. "The enduring impact of Mr. Obama's speech will not be what he says, but whether the new policies are reflected in how drone strikes are conducted, and whether his administration will finally and faithfully engage with the public, more than a decade after the operations began," Zenko writes.
Micah Zenko explains why the speech made by Harold Koh, former state department legal adviser, earlier this week is nothing more than a reiteration of the "fundamental myth of the Obama administration's targeted killing program."
Douglas Dillon Fellow Micah Zenko asserts that shifting lead executive authority for U.S. drone strikes from the CIA to the Pentagon is the essential first step toward greater transparency and oversight.
Micah Zenko argues, "The tolerance for threat inflation in the absence of plausible threats should be questioned and challenged by anyone interested in, or holding a stake in, the future of U.S. foreign policy."
Micah Zenko argues, "routine and unchallenged assertions highlight what is perhaps the most widely agreed-upon conventional wisdom in U.S. foreign and national security policymaking: the inherent power of signaling."
Due to the 9/11 attacks and the continued threat posed by international terrorism, the United States claims it is "currently at war with al-Qaeda and its associated forces," a conflict that extends beyond traditional battlefield settings to any country that is "unwilling or unable" to take action itself. The United States reserves the right to conduct targeted killings, although only against "senior" members of al-Qaeda who "pose an imminent threat the United States of America." Although the U.S. military has a vast array of tools in its arsenal, the primary vehicle for its targeted killings program are drones, which have been used in over 95 percent of the 420—and counting—targeted killings over the last decade.
Micah Zenko says, "Military officials increasingly believe that the Obama administration must think through its current practices and policies of targeted killings, and consider how they can be reformed, or risk others following in U.S. footsteps."
Micah Zenko says, "Most analysts and journalists have focused on President Obama's expanded scope, intensity, and institutionalization of targeted killings against suspected terrorists and militants. However, perhaps the enduring legacy of the Obama administration will be its sustained, rigorous effort to shape and define-down the idea of war."
With the recent revelation of a United Nations inquiry into U.S. drone strikes policies and practices, Micah Zenko says the UN has actually been investigating U.S. drones for ten years—but to no effect.
Director: Micah Zenko, Douglas Dillon Fellow April 2009—Present
The UN Roundtable meeting series seeks to organize high-level discussions with senior UN officials, including officials from member states and regional organizations, on timely issues related to conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and international security. A core group of selected invitees from member state governments, the private sector, and nongovernmental communities will participate in these discussions. The goal of these not-for-attribution meetings is to raise awareness of the role of the UN in addressing critical issues of peace and security. The UN Roundtable meeting series is cosponsored by the Center for Preventive Action and the Program on International Institutions and Global Governance, and made possible by the generous support of the Robina Foundation.
Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director, American Civil Liberties Union, Michael E. Leiter, Senior Counsel to the Chief Executive Officer, Palantir Technologies; Former Director, National Counterterrorism Center, Micah Zenko, Douglas Dillon Fellow, Center for Preventive Action, Council on Foreign Relations; Author, Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies, Council Special Report No. 65
Karen J. Greenberg, Director, Center on National Security, Fordham Law School
March 1, 201312:30-1:00 p.m. - Lunch 1:00-2:00 p.m. - Meeting
Next Steps in U.S. and Russian Nuclear Cooperation
Rose E. Gottemoeller, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, U.S. Department of State, Steven Pifer, Senior Fellow and Director, Arms Control Initiative, Brookings Institution, Micah Zenko, Fellow for Conflict Prevention, Center for Preventive Action, Council on Foreign Relations
Clifford A. Kupchan, Director, Europe and Eurasia, Eurasia Group
The U.S. is most vulnerable to a Chinese attack because 43 percent of all satellites in orbit belong to the U.S. military or U.S. companies, according to a Council on Foreign Relations report in May by Micah Zenko.
"There are hundreds of versions of crude, tactical drones that are freely available to purchase, and it would be more surprising if Hamas did not possess and deploy them," said Micah Zenko of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations. "Though I would bet, like its rockets and mortars, they provide little demonstrable military utility."
In an almost-invisible campaign that started modestly under Bush and expanded dramatically under Obama, the U.S. has launched more than 1,600 drone strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and even, in one case, in the Philippines, according to Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Zenko himself has expressed concern about drone proliferation, and argues that the US government should closely study the technology before considering large-scale sales. Others have more optimistic views.
In a report released this month, the Council on Foreign Relations' Micah Zenko and Sarah Kreps argue: "Russia, China, Iran, South Korea, and Taiwan, for example, have begun to develop increasingly sophisticated indigenous drone capabilities. Other countries, including Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have publicized their intent to purchase them."
In a new report called "Limiting Armed Drone Proliferation," published by the Council on Foreign Relations, Micah Zenko and Sarah Kreps argue that the time has arrived for the U.S. to set regulatory limits on the use of drones. Because drones do not have pilots, they write, the threshold for launching war is lower -- and the planes cannot avoid sudden danger as easily.
No wonder other countries are eager to develop their own drone programs. According to a new report from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), four other countries already possess military drones: Britain, Israel, China, and Iran. Others are moving forward with programs, including India and Pakistan. And a stealth drone called Neuron is being jointly developed by Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, Greece, and Sweden.
The United States is the most prolific user of armed drones in the world. That puts it in a position prevent widespread proliferation of them elsewhere, a Council on Foreign Relationsreport announced Friday concludes.
"Turkey has to decide what conditions and limitations it will place on how the US uses force in Iraq, which they did in great granular detail for the northern Iraq no-fly zone in 1991-2003," said Micah Zenko, an expert in counterterrorism at the Council on Foreign Relations, referring to the decade-long effort to police Iraqi airspace.
The two strikes in Pakistan were the first of 2014, breaking a nearly six-month pause in the CIA's drone campaign there. As Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations noted in a recent blog post, June 17th, 2014 marks 10 years of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. "Never before in U.S. history has such a lengthy and lethal military campaign been so inadequately described or justified by the government, which retains the fiction that these strikes are 'covert' and unworthy of public examination," wrote Zenko.
Over at Foreign Policy, Micah Zenko is wondering why discussion in the United States over how to respond to foreign policy crises always seems to center on a familiar choice: whether to bomb another country or else do nothing. Not only are other military options (including "boots on the ground") routinely taken off the table by politicians and their advisers, but nonmilitary alternatives for dealing with crises are too often given painfully short shrift. "The debate shrinks immediately around whether and how to use the tactic of force," Zenko laments.
Very few American citizens were killed by terrorist attacks in 2013, but that could change if these groups currently have, or eventually develop, a desire and an ability to attack American targets. "This is a huge debate within the [intelligence community] and the Pentagon," Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who studies threats to the US homeland, told me.
Micah Zenko and Amelia Wolf of the Council on Foreign Relations recently blogged that the actual number of people killed in Syria is vastly different from what is portrayed in the media. They suggest the level of civilian fatalities is in fact lower than what is being reported, and that pro-regime forces are dying in greater numbers than civilians. Their claims are not merely speculative, but based on data released by the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights (SOHR).
In and article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs – "The Next Drone Wars: Preparing for Proliferation" – Sarah Kreps and Micah Zenko argue that armed drones are here to stay and urge the U.S. to lead the establishment of international standards governing their use. Short of that, the authors fear both steady growth in the number of armed drone operations and a lowering of the threshold for drone strikes. More countries will employ more armed drones for more reasons, to the detriment of global stability.
A worrisome new memo from the Council on Foreign Relationsindicates that China, without warning, is poised to knock out U.S. satellites, especially those used by the Pentago "The threats to U.S. space assets are significant and growing," said the "contingency planning memo" titled "Dangerous Space Incidents." It also cited Iran, North Korea, space junk and electromagnetic pulse as threats.
American national security analyst Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations outlines these concerns in a new report on the growing threat of dangerous space incidents. He compares the problem to cybersecurity, another relatively new concern that has attracted attention from the world's security leaders. In comparison, he says that senior officials are not paying enough attention to potential problems in space, where there is much less room for error.
"Threats to U.S. satellites would reduce the country's ability to attack suspected terrorists with precision-guided munitions and conduct imagery analysis of nuclear weapons programs, and could interrupt non-cash economic activity depending on the severity of the attack and number of satellites disrupted," wrote Micah Zenko, the Douglas Dillon Fellow at the CFR's Center for Preventive Action and the report's author.
"Gravity," the Academy Award-winning film, portrays the dangers posed by space debris in a visually striking way – and depicts a scenario of catastrophic satellite destruction that could actually happen, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) said.
The report makes a not-crazy case that efforts by China and other powers to limit America's total military dominance of space could accidentally destroy an American satellite, inadvertently convincing the US that war was coming and prompting retaliation on Earth. Its author, Micah Zenko, has made a name for himself in report-after-report downplaying the threat to the United States from China, terrorists, and, really, most things. So that fact that Zenko is this concerned about spaceshould tell you something.
"The United States has strategic interests in preventing and mitigating dangerous space incidents, given its high reliance on satellites for a variety of national security missions and unparalleled global security commitments and responsibilities," writes Micah Zenko, the report's author. "The longer the United States delays preventive and mitigating efforts, the less dominant its position will be in shaping 'rules of the road' for space."
For example, if one of these hostile countries acquires advanced space capabilities, they could feasibly attack a U.S. satellite to gain an upper hand in negotiations, hold off potential hostile acts, or as an act of defense, says Micah Zenko, the Douglas Dillon fellow in the Center for Preventive Action at the CFR and the report's author. But, according to Zenko's report, terrorists take a back seat to another space threat: accidents.
Chinese defense planners, like their counterparts in the Pentagon, will be looking at capabilities more than stated intentions. Moreover, as my colleague Micah Zenko pointed out to me, there is often a disconnect between what policy makers and warfighters say.
"It's a pretty contentious fight" between the State Department's Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation and the Pentagon's Defense Technology Security Administration, said Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, in a March 17 interview. The State Department says that "if you pull at the thread of MTCR, you will weaken the nonproliferation regime as a whole. The other side says the international market is going to supply these UAVs anyway," Zenko said.
The dearth of women in US foreign policy is a subject of continual interest, mostly because it never changes. According to a 2011 survey by policy analyst Micah Zenko, women make up less than 30 percent of senior positions in the government, military, academy, and think tanks.
This lower-court ruling hasn't halted the US drone program. Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations says the White House's argument is that Pakistan's military "cannot or will not address the threat to US persons." By this logic, "it does not matter if the Pakistani Parliament or courts weigh in," he says.
Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations, who has argued that lead authority for drone strikes should be consolidated under the Defense Department, explains that placing the program under Pentagon control "would allow the program to be defended publicly," which is not the case for the covert drone program controlled by the CIA. He adds that the move would not necessarily have operational implications for how the program is carried out.
Micah Zenko was interviewed live on Press Pool on Sirius XM Radio to expand on his article "A Translation Guide to Foreign Policy Gibberish," which was published on ForeignPolicy.com (September 4, 2013).
As the United States attempts to battle terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), many have raised questions about the efficacy of drones strikes as part of a larger counter-terrorism strategy. Micah Zenko, the Douglas Dillon fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, evaluates how effective the U.S. counter-terrorism strategy is.
At the Heinrich Böll Foundation's14th Annual Foreign Policy Conference, Micah Zenko served on a panel titled, "Summary and outlook: on the issue of containing high-tech weapons in international political frameworks." Panelists discussed the challenges that new weapons and technologies pose to peace, security, and international law.
Micah Zenko spoke at the 2013 Alexander Hamilton Society Student Leader Conference on a panel discussion, "Drones, Kill-lists, and Accountability," in which he gave a response to a presentation by Gregory McNeal of Pepperdine University.
Yet while Obama described drone strikes in the same breath as "a necessary evil," defining unmanned aerial violence as indispensable to U.S. national security is wrongheaded. As Micah Zenko's special report for the Council on Foreign Relations on reforming drone policy notes, the drawbacks actually outweigh the benefits.
On The Takeaway with John Hockenberry, Micah Zenko, Douglas Dillon Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of a recent comprehensive report on drone strike policies, describes the diplomatic problems that arise from targeted killing.
On the Charlie Rose show, a panel of experts discussed President Obama's May 23, 2013 speech on drone strike and counterterrorism policies, including Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations; David Kilcullen, former advisor to Gen. Petraeus; David Ignatius of the Washington Post; Karen Greenberg of Fordham Law School;and Philip Mudd, former Deputy Director of the CIA and the FBI.
U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal regions are an ineffective solution to the problems they try to address, a new report by the International Crisis Group concludes...The questions raised by the International Group are reminiscent of concerns raised in a report by Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations called "Reforming Drone Strike Policy."
"Globally these operations are hated," said Micah Zenko, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations who wrote a major study of targeted killing this year. "It's the face of American foreign policy, and it's an ugly face."
President Obama says he is free to use drones to attack senior members of al Qaeda who are planning to attack the United States. So far drones may have killed as many as 4,700 people, including American citizens. What, if any, limitations should be placed on the president in using drones to target and kill suspected terrorists? Council on Foreign Relations fellow Micah Zenko tells Jim Zirin that definitive standards are necessary to prevent drone attacks from spinning out of control.
But Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations, who studies counterterrorism strikes, said that in the long run, a move away from the covert side of the C.I.A. might make sense, allowing Congress to discuss the strikes and their consequences far more fully in public. "If it's a priority of the president and the secretary of defense, the military can be far more open than the C.I.A.," Mr. Zenko said.
"The drones—the responsiveness, the persistence, and without putting your personnel at risk—is what makes it a different technology," Zenko said. "When other states have this technology, if they follow U.S. practice, it will lower the threshold for their uses of lethal force outside their borders. So they will be more likely to conduct targeted killings than they have in the past."
In Reforming the US Drone Strike Policy, published in January 2013 by the Council on Foreign relations, Micah Zenko compiles the number of US strikes and related casualties resulting from drone attacks between 2004 and 2012.
"The filibuster theater was representative of this administration's unwillingness to engage with Congress on targeted killings," says Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has followed the drone issue closely and wrote a blog post about Paul's filibuster.
"Some 3,500 people have died in 420 strikes, and Congress has yet to hold a single public hearing on this issue," said Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "It has happened in the dark because we have allowed it to, and the press has far and away been the lead actor in surfacing this issue."
The United States has conducted more than 400 total strikes in at least three countries — Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia — killing more than 3,000 people in its war on Al Qaeda, according to a report by Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
In her introductory comments to John Brennan's confirmation hearing to becoming director of central intelligence, Sen. Dianne Feinstein asserted that civilian casualties from U.S. drone strikes now number in the single digits annually. Those numbers are difficult to know with any certainty, and official U.S. estimates are secret. But some organizations do follow open-source reports on the strikes and attempt to track individual civilian casualties. At least some of their numbers, gathered by the scholar Micah Zenko for a Council on Foreign Relations report, appear to contradict Feinstein's assessment.
Micah Zenko at the Council on Foreign Relations believes that political pressure is now going to mount over drones, just as it once did for Mr. Bush over torture and wiretapping, leaving the Obama administration a choice between "drone policy reforms by design or drone policy reforms by default".
Micah Zenko, a Council on Foreign Relations Douglas Dillon Fellow who wrote a 2013 special report on drones, notes drones did not come up in hearings for previous CIA directors Michael Hayden or Leon Panetta.
But Zenko cautioned against those who would head into the Brennan hearing with high hopes for new information. Having read transcripts of the past 10 CIA director confirmation hearings, he said, "It would be unprecedented if there were an in-depth discussion about ongoing covert activities." The Senate Intelligence Committee "simply doesn't work that way, especially under chairman Sen. (Dianne) Feinstein" of California, he said.
On a practical basis, said Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Getting a missile from a computer screen to a terrorist on the ground is no casual exercise, but immensely complex and costly.
"The Pentagon has an obligation to the American people, and the world, to provide information and tell its story — if nothing else to counter myths and misinformation," Zenko said in an e-mail. "But it should only do so in an open and transparent way. Using third-party contractors to shape public opinion is dishonest and unethical."
The report's author, Micah Zenko, also urged an end to controversial "signature strikes" that kill supposed militants based on what they are observed doing and whose company they keep. Instead, he wrote, attacks should be limited to identified "leaders of transnational terrorist organisations and individuals with direct involvement in past or continuing plots against the United States and its allies".
Writers like George Friedman and Robert D. Kaplan don't really care about human institutions as much as geopolitics. He also assigned some interesting work by Joseph Parent & Paul McDonald, as well as Micah Zenko & Michael Cohen, on strategic restraint and threat inflation, respectively.
"In many ways, Brennan is a paradox: a devout Catholic who apparently opposes 'enhanced interrogations,' the death penalty at home, and those inside the government who want to expand the targeted-killing program further," said Micah Zenko.
Bonus follow-up on drones: "Same question: are we setting an equally dangerous precedent here? And do you agree with critics who say that current drone strikes are often counterproductive because they create as many extremists as they take out?"
Micah Zenko is interviewed to discuss "The Future of International Security Environment" at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, with Mathew Burrows, Michael S. Chase, and Peter W. Singer.
Blair said the Obama administration has only "partly thought through" the repercussions of its expanded drone attack campaign, including the inevitable proliferation of drone technology to other countries and organizations. He spoke Tuesday on a call organized by the Council on Foreign Relations, with senior analyst Micah Zenko.
That combination negatively impacts the U.S. mission in the countries it is trying to impact, Zenko argued. "Drones are the face of U.S. foreign policy" in Pakistan and Yemen, he said. "We allow the Taliban, and the Pakistani [intelligence agency], to tell the story of how our drones are being used."
"It's certainly cheaper," says Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has studied drone attacks. "The dichotomy the administration puts forward is that we can put 170,000 troops on the ground, or we can do drone strikes."
In a telephone conference call Tuesday, former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations voiced their concerns...ZENKO: "If the United States decides not to apply the playbook to Pakistan it is essentially meaningless because 85 percent of all the targeted killings that the U.S. has conducted in non-battlefield settings since September 11, 2001, have occurred in Pakistan. So the vast majority of targeted killings and drone strikes will not be covered under the playbook."
"The fact is, the U.S. might need to maintain and sustain this capability," Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations told The Huffington Post. "But there needs to be significant restraints and much more transparency" both in the legal justification for the killings and in how the strikes are conducted.
Micah Zenko of the Council of Foreign Relations makes this argument in a new report: A major risk is that of proliferation. Over the next decade, the U.S. near-monopoly on drone strikes will erode as more countries develop and hone this capability. In this uncharted territory, U.S. policy provides a powerful precedent for other states and nonstate actors that will increasingly deploy drones with potentially dangerous ramifications.
"Unless they were about to get on a flight to New York to conduct an attack, they were not an imminent threat to the United States," said Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who is a critic of the strikes. "We don't say that we're the counterinsurgency air force of Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, but we are."
"There is a recognition within the administration that the current trajectory of drone strikes is unsustainable," Zenko says. "They are opposed in countries where strikes occur and globally, and that opposition could lead to losing host-nation support for current or future drone bases or over-flight rights."
"If somebody could obtain reliable access to real-time Predator or Reaper video—without attribution or alerting U.S. military—that would a tremendous intel coup," says Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
"What I found most striking was his claim that legitimate targets are a 'threat that is serious and not speculative,' and engaged in 'some operational plot against the United States,' That is simply not true," emails the Council on Foreign Relations' Micah Zenko, who has tracked the drone war as closely as any outside analyst. "The claim that the 3,000+ people killed in roughly 375 nonbattlefield targeted killings were all engaged in actual operational plots against the U.S. defies any understanding of the scope of what America has been doing for the past ten years."
"There are more mentions of Osama bin Laden than unemployment in the Democratic national platform," says Micah Zenko, a fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations. "You play to what your strengths are."
Micah Zenko is the Douglas Dillon Fellow in the Center for Preventive Action (CPA) at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). He currently serves as vice chair of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Terrorism. Previously, he worked for five years at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, and in Washington, DC, at the Brookings Institution, Congressional Research Service, and State Department's Office of Policy Planning.
Dr. Zenko has published on a range of national security issues, including articles in Foreign Affairs, the Journal of Strategic Studies, Defense and Security Analysis, and Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, and op-eds in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and the New York Times. He writes the blog Politics, Power and Preventive Action, which covers U.S. national security policy, international security, and conflict prevention, and also has a column on ForeignPolicy.org. He tweets at @MicahZenko and was named by Foreign Policy as one of "The FPTwitterati 100" in 2011 and 2012.
He is the author or coauthor of four Council Special Reports (CSRs): Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies; Partners in Preventive Action: The United States and International Institutions; TowardDeeper Reductions in U.S. and Russian Nuclear Weapons; and Enhancing U.S. Preventive Action. His book, Between Threats and War: U.S. Discrete Military Operations in the Post-Cold War World, was published by Stanford University Press.
58 East 68th Street New York, New York 10065
CFR Douglas Dillon Fellow in the Center for Preventive Action.