Reputational Damage from the Use of Force

A government suffers reputational damage from the use of force against people in another country; propaganda widens resistance against it.

For example, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government appears to have wilfully ignored the inevitable condemnation resulting from what John Mearsheimer described as Death and Destruction in Gaza: “What Israel is doing in Gaza to the Palestinian civilian population ..is a crime against humanity that serves no meaningful military purpose”.  He summarised the ways in which Israel’s action can be criticised.  Britain’s Ben Wallace warned of its impact on Muslims:

“In fact, I believe his tactics will fuel the conflict for another 50 years. His actions are radicalising Muslim youth across the globe.”

And that is in addition to a report on How the surge in antisemitism is affecting countries around the world.

Bad publicity saps both domestic and international support for a government which is using force.  Wars invariably cause civilian deaths, provoking moral outrage – especially in extreme cases.  The My Lai Massacre, as reported by history.com for example, “fueled anti-war sentiment and further divided the United States over the Vietnam War” and it also sparked a “firestorm of international outrage”.

This reputational damage from the use of force diminished America’s ‘soft power’ (, reducing its capacity to influence other countries.  The propaganda material was used by other countries for their own purposes, as reported by Quartz for example in 2016: From My Lai to Ferguson, China blasts US human rights abuses in a new documentary.  The same report cited hundreds of “Civilian victims in US drone strikes” (  America has often criticised China’s record on human rights, but China has been able to contest America’s right to make such criticisms.  Chinese leaders are also politically strengthened by positioning the US as an enemy (6.3.6).

Russia’s brutality in the invasion of Ukraine caused reputational damage that has harmed President Putin and his country.  He was able to prevent most of the Russian population from knowing what he was doing, which might otherwise have undermined domestic support for him as described earlier (, but he couldn’t stop the outside world from hearing all about it.  His actions have increased the West’s opposition to him and caused the NATO allies to work more closely together.  As reported by the BBC, “Russia has warned Finland and Sweden against joining Nato, arguing the move would not bring stability to Europe …but the war has led to the deployment of more Nato troops on its eastern flank and a rise in public support for Swedish and Finnish membership.”



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/7432.htm.