Reputational Damage

A government which has launched attacks against people in another country loses legitimacy with its own population, suffers damage to its international reputation and provides other countries with propaganda that they can use in several ways.

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 diminished America’s ‘soft power’ (, reducing its capacity to influence other countries.  The propaganda material can be 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 is a current page, updated since publication of Patterns of Power Edition 3a.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/7432a.htm