7.4.3 The Security Impact of Propaganda

The security impact of propaganda comes from increased resistance within a country under attack, and gathering sympathetic global support.

Propaganda, the broadcasting of emotive stories, is a political tool which has been used for centuries.  There are several ways of influencing political opinion within a country, nowadays using mainstream or social media, as described earlier (  Propaganda is also a key component of soft power in a country’s foreign policy (  In this chapter, the use of Ungoverned Power, it has already been mentioned as a component of hybrid warfare (7.3.5) – but here the focus is on the security impact of propaganda on the conduct of a war.

Using military force without UN agreement, to target people in another country, is illegal under international law (  It usually fails to meet the criteria of a ‘just war’ (, so it can also be condemned on that basis.  Civilian casualties are almost unavoidable, and they provide the raw material for condemnation.  They can be used to create propaganda that becomes a component of the war, as examined in the following sub-sections:

●  Leaders of a country being attacked can call for unity in the face of aggression, to stiffen people’s resistance (  This diminishes the effectiveness of military force as a tool of coercion.

●  Harm to civilians damages the reputation of the attackers and generates international pressure against them, recruiting support from potential allies (  For example, Israel [is] facing growing international criticism for Gaza war: “The diplomatic pressure on Israel is growing”.

●  Attackers can commit war crimes so that the propaganda impact of their actions intimidates the population being attacked, in the hope of persuading it to surrender (, although this tactic can backfire badly.

All the above effects of propaganda were clearly visible in the conduct of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, providing illustrations of their impact on that war.



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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/edition04/743.htm.