Chapter 7: Media Warfare, Propaganda and the Law of War
Soft War: The Ethics of Unarmed Conflict, 2016
25 Pages Posted: 12 May 2016
Date Written: May 11, 2016
In today’s 24/7 media and Internet culture, warfare does not take place only in the kinetic arena of the battlespace. Airstrikes, artillery barrages and infantry maneuvers are accompanied by equally intense debates and discourse in the media about the legality and legitimacy of military action, with allegations of war crimes and justifications for attacks flying as quickly as drone strikes. With the involvement of international, regional and national courts, commissions of inquiry, other judicial and quasi-judicial entities — and, perhaps most of all, the court of world opinion — this battle of words can often seem to be as important as military capabilities. Numerous factors form, sway and cement that public opinion, including the efforts of militaries and armed groups to control information flows and of journalists, advocacy groups, fact-finding missions and ordinary civilians to seek, publicize and comment on information. This complex mix leads to a combustible arena of media warfare that has significant consequences not only for the way wars are fought and won, but for the legal framework that governs conflicts.
This chapter explores how propaganda and media warfare intersect with the international law framework governing conflict, focusing on how information operations and media coverage link back to legal compliance — specifically claims of law violations or compliance — and legitimacy. In essence, the information battlespace has a significant effect on the application and interpretation of the law of armed conflict, including the very definitions that form the heart of the legal framework. Media coverage is an essential tool for the protection of persons and the enforcement of legal and moral norms At the same time, in order to preserve LOAC’s principles and processes, it is helpful to understand how the two interrelate and, in particular, how media coverage’s impact on public discourse can have significant and problematic consequences for the interpretation and development of LOAC.
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