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The post-Cold War consensus appears to be breaking down. Trust in multi-lateral bodies to mediate international disputes is being replaced by assertive regional powers. Developments in Asia, the Middle East and Europe demonstrate the return of 'strong man' politics. The 'Brexit' vote and the possibility of a Trump presidency in the US are seen as evidence of 'nativism'. Internationalism seems to be in retreat. Such is the view of the London based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) at the launch of their annual Strategic Survey for 2016, which Nick Watts attended for Defence Viewpoints.


Across the world, international relations seem to be increasingly influenced by assertiveness; either from regional actors jostling for influence, or Russia seeking a renewal of 'respect'. International organisations such as ASEAN in Asia, the EU and NATO in Europe are all frustrated by an inability of powers to co-operate. The same appears to be the case with the US and its attempts to impose its will in foreign policy.

Churchill said that the truth needed a ‘bodyguard’ of lies. The propaganda campaign which was part of the effort by both sides during World War 2 has been resurrected for the modern era. During the Cold War Soviet propaganda was often clumsy, but a lot of it was very subtle. All that was required was to change the minds of the audience you are addressing. There were many in the West who felt that the Soviet regime was more sinned against than sinning.

The digital era of social media has added a whole new dimension to the meaning of ‘mass communications’. During World War 2 Goebbels understood the power of having a radio in every household; both to control the domestic audience, as well as influencing the minds of the enemy. Autocracies rely on uniformity of thought to sustain their legitimacy. In democracies, so the theory goes, pluralistic media outlets mean that Government cannot control what people think. The rise of social media, bloggers and smart phones has seen a decline in readership of mainstream ‘newspapers’; add to this a plethora of cable and satellite news channels and we are faced with a babel of choices.

A recent gathering of military and media figures took place at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London' including our correspondent Nick Watts, to consider the twin issues of War in the Information age and the role of Strategic Communications (StratCom). Politicians and commanders need to be aware of the changed media landscape when they are considering military operations. Communications has been seen as an add-on to campaign planning. The days when journalists could be corralled into briefings with a junior staff officer are long past. Apart from freelance journalists, photographers and bloggers in war zones, there is the chorus of social media. The advent of the mobile phone means that everybody is now a cameraman. The smart phone made the Arab spring possible, but it has also enabled Da’esh to promulgate its propaganda.

The Afghan elites in 2016 are characterised by magical thinking, of a kind all too drearily familiar to anyone who has travelled in the more hapless parts of the developing world, writes Anatol Lieven. For by far the greater part of them, nothing that has happened to Afghanistan is the fault of Afghans. The Taliban are entirely created and supported by Pakistan, the USA, or some bewildering combination of the two, and have no support among Afghans. The last elections were manipulated by the USA, and the near-paralysis of the resulting "national unity government" is due to a malign American plot to ruin Afghan democracy. Western complaints about corruption, misgovernment and drug dealing in the Afghan state are because since British colonial times, "the West has hated Afghanistan".


By the same token, the solution to Afghanistan's problems is also not the responsibility of the Afghans themselves. Read more below

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