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 (  It has also been mentioned as a component of hybrid warfare (7.3.5).  Here, though, the focus is on the impact of negative publicity 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.  Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 drew widespread condemnation and sanctions were imposed on it as a penalty.

The security impact of propaganda is examined further in the following sub-sections, which describe the different impacts of negative publicity:

●  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.

●  Some forms of harm to civilians are classified as war crimes, which damage the reputation of the attackers and generate international pressure against them ( Other countries might rally round to support the country being attacked.

●  Attackers can intentionally commit war crimes to intimidate the population being attacked, in the hope of persuading it to surrender ( This can have unintended side-effects.

As described earlier (6.3.7), Israel’s response to terror attacks by Hamas illustrated all of the above points.  It was politically damaging and counterproductive.



Next Section

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/edition04/743a.htm.