2019 11 22
Vadim Volovoj. The importance of information environment in the “frozen” conflicts

informaciniai_karaiInformation today plays an outstanding role. One can even say that more and more often we live not in real world, but in reality created by media, social networks and other means of information. Once the  main battles were fought on the ground for territories and resources. Nowadays the biggest battles take place in the information space for the human mind, and it is very easy to explain this fact. Over time it was realized that obedience through violence is not an effective way to win public sympathy, because even the most brutal repression often does not break the will of free thinking. Therefore, it is necessary to make the person truly believe in what he hears or what he does, and this is important both internally and in the international arena.

Image is everything

In the international context information instrument is extremely important creating a positive image of the state abroad, which is economically and politically significant. Whether it is worth to deal with and to trust you often depends on how you look like. For instance, after the collapse of the authoritarian Soviet Union each of its former republics had to demonstrate that it had got rid of the undemocratic heritage and to overcome non-objective prejudices in regard to their development that badly informed (and sometimes deliberately tendentious) foreign media still loves to exaggerate in some cases.

International conflict is a specific case in terms of information environment. It can be “hot” (active military confrontation) and “cold” (the so-called “cold peace”). In both cases information advantage is of major importance. As an example we can take the second U.S. military operation against Iraq: chemical weapons have not been found there, but American information campaign before the war (remember at least the test-tube in the hands of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in the United Nations) has convinced many of Washington’s reasoning. During the “Cold War” both American and Soviet propaganda machines were working at full power seeking to recruit as many ideological allies as possible.

“Frozen” conflict in the “hot”-“cold” conflict scale is somewhere in the middle: active phase of the confrontation is over, but there is no guarantee that the war will not restart any time – and informative presentation of the situation is crucially important during both “frozen” and “hot” phase of the conflict.

As an example in this case we can take the Russia’s war with Georgia in 2008. In fact today it is still not clear who started it. Supposedly it was Georgia, but the version of provocations from the side of Russia and/or separatists, which Tbilisi could not ignore, should not be rejected either. Anyway, in the West at the beginning of the conflict the biased opinion that Kremlin started the war was being formed, and Russia had to do a lot to “break” this discourse and prove that situation is not so unambiguous. If Moscow failed to change the negative interpretative trend, in the Western eyes it would remain aggressor, what would further complicate Russia’s relations with the Western community.

But Kremlin still managed to complicate those relations, recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Now Russia’s propaganda tries to justify this decision as well as the legitimacy of the militarization of the separatist regions. For its part Georgia in the international arena in every possible way seeks to make the world remember its territorial problems. Also in this context we can mention the case of Kosovo separation from Serbia. There the West actively worked in the information area in order to justify its military intervention in the conflict, and now it forms the discourse that its decision to recognize the independence of Kosovo was legitimate, although situation is ambiguous.

These examples clearly show how important is the creation of conducive information environment during the conflict, and the term of “information warfare”, which may also continue after the end of military phase, is often used in this case.

In the conditions of “frozen” conflict active information effort is significant, because when the tension calms down it can objectively demonstrate how it all started and help to cancel the protracted confrontation. But it is clear that if someone is right, someone is wrong, and the latter, not wanting to lose the position it has or seeking to get back what he lost, will try to prove his “truth” and discredit his opponent’s interpretation. In this way dialogue deteriorates into “infowar”, and the party, which tried to act honestly but saw that the partner had been using dirty political techniques to distort the truth, begins doing the same.

Foreign powers, which support different parties of the conflict, in this situation try to strengthen the discourse of their ally, and neutral representatives of the international community begin to distrust both conflict participants. Finally the situation reaches an impasse.

Hereby, it can be concluded that, despite the temptation to use advanced “black” information warfare techniques, if you are convinced of your righteousness it is better to avoid them, because sooner or later the lie will see the light. And then your influential partners will disappoint in you, what your opponent dreams about (especially if his positions in “frozen” conflict are superior). Therefore, the strategy of fair informing seems to be more effective than that of unfair persuasion. A few things are necessary in order to be successful.

How to win fairly

First, you need to understand who (which state or states) can solve your problem in a fundamental way. Second, watch if this state is your ally (then there is no need to inform it, as it stands on your side), your opponent (again no need to inform it, as it is pointless) or the country holding neutral position. In the latter case it is important to know what kind of state you deal with. If it is an authoritarian country, informing effort has no big sense, because the main decisions in it are made by the elite whose individual interest (personal benefit or imperial ambitions) must be satisfied in the first way. Then you need to make a value choice – get entangled in the cynical “trade” or not. Democratic countries also have interests, but they have civil society too, and they listen to its voice. Therefore, if their elite is reluctant to support your position, their people should become the main target audience of your information campaign.

Then you need to choose measures. Today Internet (especially social networks) is becoming more and more influential. Acting through it is simple and difficult at the same time, because Internet users are usually well informed and feel deception (propaganda). It is interesting that recently it became increasingly popular to create opinion through comments, employing news ”commentators” to shape the position some state or company need. This instrument is not fully democratic, but it is worth to be used at least in order not to let your opponent go unresponsive in his effort to spread false information (simply trace who does this and punish him is very difficult).

The second measure – TV, which is still the main communication tool in the world for its easier access and understanding. For example, everyone knows the power of CNN. Russia in turn specifically for foreign viewers set up channel “Russia Today” in English. However, such activities require a considerable amount of money and professional human resources. Therefore, not everyone can afford it, but still there are conferences, forums, joint research projects and studies etc. Extremely important, speaking about information spread measures, is Diaspora.

As a practical example, which could illustrate the defined strategy, we can be briefly discuss Karabakh conflict from Azerbaijan side. So, much in this case depends on Russia. It is not an ally of Baku, on the contrary – more of Armenia. But it is not an opponent either. However, it is an authoritarian state, which understands only the language of benefit and has unhealthy imperial ambitions. In other words, Azerbaijan of course can try to give up some of its sovereignty in order to regain Karabakh (to join the Eurasian Union, as Moscow indirectly offers Moldova for Transnistria), but a) – there is no guarantee of success, b ) it is hardly worth paying such a price.

Thereby, remains only the West, which – if wished – could help (press Russia), but it is passive. However, Western countries are democratic countries, and it means that their position may be changed through their societies, using all information spread measures mentioned above. In fact, they should become the main target audience of Azerbaijan’s information campaign, especially in Germany, France, Great Britain or the United States. And Azerbaijani Diaspora should do its best of course in this case.

In sum, it can be said that information rules the modern world, so it is vital to manage it, especially in case of (“frozen”) conflict. It may be presented differently: distorting the truth and hoping that the audience will believe everything shown or said; or fairly, without using “black” information warfare techniques. The first option is seductive and very popular, but not as promising as the second, because finally nobody will believe you, and even your friends may turn their back on you. Therefore, it is necessary to inform, not to persuade, but do it, using all possible democratic means, consistently and purposefully. Mission possible.

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