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Why Limited Force Rarely Works

A talk by Micah Zenko, Fellow for Conflict Prevention in the Center for Preventive Action (CPA), Council on Foreign Relations

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Duration: 56:46

Limited military force—using enough force to resolve a problem while minimizing U.S. military deaths, local civilian casualties, and collateral damage—has increased since the end of the Cold War despite its ineffectiveness. Zenko examines thirty-six such cases, which he terms Discrete Military Operations (DMOs), undertaken by the United States over the past twenty years, and demonstrates that they have achieved just over half of their military objectives and less than 6 percent of their political objectives.


Micah Zenko is Fellow for Conflict Prevention in the Center for Preventive Action (CPA) at the Council on Foreign Relations. Previously, he worked for five years at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in a number of research positions, and in Washington, DC, at the Brookings Institution, Congressional Research Service, Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, and State Department's Office of Policy Planning. Dr. Zenko received a PhD in political science from Brandeis University. His book, Between Threats and War: U.S. Discrete Military Operations in the Post-Cold War World, was published by Stanford University Press in August 2010.

Burkle Center for International Relations