School of Media and Communication

Phil Taylor's papers


The Media and UN 'Peacekeeping' since the Gulf War by Stephen Badsey

Journal of Conflict Studies, Vol. XVII No. 1, Spring 1997

The Media and UN "Peacekeeping"Since the Gulf War
by Stephen Badsey

Stephen Badsey is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of War Studies at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and a Senior Research Fellow of the Institute for the Study of War and Society at DeMontfort University.


The changes in United Nations (UN) "peacekeeping" operations within the last five years have been both dramatic and multifaceted. This article attempts to show that the media (particularly those of the United States, which are dominant within, and may under most circumstances be taken as virtually identical to, the international media) have in all their aspects become, and remain, critical elements in determining the success or failure of these operations. It points to three principal areas of current practice regarding the media which have contributed to the failure or partial failure of recent UN "peacekeeping" missions. One of these is a failure of understanding of the media exhibited by the government and military forces of the United States, as the result of doctrine established before the end of the Cold War. Another is the failure of the UN or its constituent members to respond effectively to anti-peacekeeper propaganda, especially that promulgated by political authorities in target countries for "peacekeeping," and including their ability to exploit the international media for propaganda purposes. The third is the failure of the UN to develop "peacekeeping" doctrine which takes the value of the media into account. The article calls for advances in international relations theory in this field as an aid to further understanding.


The very term "peacekeeping" is of course a problem in terminology. Prompted by the statement of Dr Boutros Boutros-Ghali in An Agenda for Peace that "the time of absolute and exclusive sovereignty has passed" to be replaced by "universal sovereignty,"2 UN "peacekeeping" efforts have seen a multiplication of terminology in search of a meaning, to explain the roles required by the UN of forces involved in sponsored or sanctioned intervention operations usually involving intra-state conflicts. Of the presently available choices, "Wider Peacekeeping" appears the most popular and "Humanitarian Intervention" the most sensible. While the term "peacekeeping" is clearly now unsatisfactory, it will be used in this article (without parentheses hereafter) to avoid the search for an alternative becoming an end in itself.3

Since 1990, the UN has mounted more peacekeeping operations than in the whole of its previous history: a total of 17 operations to the end of 1994 involving 70,000 personnel and requiring the doubling of the UN peacekeeping budget to US$3.3 billion from 1992 to 1994, with US$1.7 billion going to former Yugoslavia alone.4Whereas from the first UN peacekeeping operations (properly so called) in Suez in 1956, troops employed have been traditionally from lesser states, since 1990 every permanent member of the UN Security Council except China has contributed troops to an overseas peacekeeping or humanitarian mission either sanctioned or sponsored by the UN. In addition, the member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have taken on a new peacekeeping role under the terms of the Helsinki Final Document The Challenges of Change of July 1992. The basis of much of this new form of peacekeeping has been the challenge to Article 2.7 of the UN Charter on internal state sovereignty made by Security Council resolutions, which have linked humanitarian intervention with Chapter VII of the Charter, starting with Resolution 680 of March 1991 on Iraq, and followed by Resolution 794 of December 1992 on Somalia and Resolution 940 of September 1994 on Haiti.5

Most of the expansion in UN peacekeeping since 1990 has been driven ­ directly or indirectly ­ by the policies of the United States. Equally, in what is still a very confused field of research, there has been at least a consensus among practitioners of peacekeeping that international media coverage has played a significant part in the decisions of the United States whether or not to intervene in the intra-state disputes or wars of other countries, and the manner and duration of those interventions. This in turn has had a significant impact upon the policies of the few other countries with the military capacity to mount such intervention operations (at least in association with each other and at UN bequest) and the political will to do so. As identified by Boutros-Ghali, this effectively means the French and British, together with the Canadians (who have a long history of specialization in peacekeeping in its earlier sense).6Other middle ranking NATO or European Union powers may be added to this list in the future.

Following the failures and (at best) mixed successes of major UN peacekeeping and humanitarian operations in northern Iraq, former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Rwanda and Haiti, the idea is already spreading that the initial UN enthusiasm for intervention was little more than hubris in seeking to claim a new role for itself after the collapse of Soviet communism, and that the television images that are held to have prompted or stimulated intervention are already losing their power.7 In this optimistic model of the future the events of 1990-95 may be perceived as exceptional, an aftershock to the collapse of the Soviet world. A middle position, particularly after President Bill Clinton's statement to the UN of 27 September 1993 on American willingness to engage in future peacekeeping operations, (together with Presidential Decision Directive [PDD] 25 of 1995), is that the United States might supply logistics, transport and intelligence services, and possibly combat aircraft, for future operations, leaving the lesser NATO powers (or others) to supply the troops on the ground. The beginnings of this model have already been visible in the peacekeeping structures in Somalia 1992-94 and particularly former Yugoslavia 1992-95.8 A conservative or pessimistic position is that of a return almost to a Cold War status quo reminiscent of the 1970s, in which intra-state wars in the Third World will continue largely unchecked, and international media intrusion into foreign affairs will be disregarded once more by Western policy makers, as the American public in particular becomes educated in the realities of power, or develops a form of "compassion fatigue."

The American reluctance to commit troops to peacekeeping (and occasionally that of other NATO members) is often expressed in terms of a reluctance to suffer casualties, with the potential or actual loss of even one American becoming a major concern both in Somalia in October 1993 and Bosnia in September 1995. Although humanitarian instincts may play a part in this phenomenon, it is perhaps more accurate to say that American governments in particular are highly sensitive to casualties in military operations in which a vital national interest, a "reason to die for," may not be apparent. This sensitivity, in turn, depends upon international media reporting of these casualties and its impact upon domestic support for the operation in question. The apparent extent of this sensitivity is now such as to call into question the entire utility of the United States' massive armed forces (and those of some other NATO nations) other than for home defence or entirely symbolic purposes.9 One very apparent effect of American sensitivity toward the media's treatment of the casualty issue has been to expose and amplify divisions between the United States and other NATO members. Even in Britain, previously strong supporters of a close military connection with the United States have begun to reconsider their positions.10

That these various problems and failures are attributable to the effects of the media (domestic and international) upon governments may seem a rather large claim; and clearly there are other factors involved in policy-making. However, a wide acceptance exists among the policy makers themselves that changes in the nature of the media, and in particular the globalization of television news making possible instantaneous "real time" (or nearly "real time") reporting, does play a significant part in the decision-making process. At the time of the Gulf War the (then) Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, suggested that this was a new phenomenon in international politics: "we now have a Heisenberg physics of politics. As you observe a phenomenon with television, instantly you modify it somewhat."11 But 1991 was only the mid-period of rapidly developing global television transmissions and the miniaturization of equipment, to the extent that already in 1995 the media technology used to cover the Gulf War was considered to be out of date. Ease of reach and transmission is now such that any physical (as opposed to institutional) means of controlling television output from a war zone or crisis area is on the verge of becoming effectively impossible, other than by jamming (increasingly unlikely as commercial telephones will in the near future be used to transmit pictures) or physical intimidation and restraint of the crews and destruction of the apparatus.

The failure of academic theory and research in the field of international relations to keep pace with these rapid changes is understandable, if only because of the so many different facets of theory to which the study of the media must be related. Since the 1980s, the news media, both as a business and as a cultural phenomenon, have been at the forefront of the issue of globalization. At the same time, while international in reach and penetration, the news media of the United States in particular remains parochial in content; while studies of the news media of Europe lay stress on their continuing cultural fragmentation. The relationships between governments and media, and which parts of the media are judged significant in influencing policy, are also markedly different throughout the countries of NATO and of the European Union.12 Equally, seeking to combine "media studies" with "defence studies" does not at present sit comfortably with either discipline.13 Nuclear deterrence theory, the mainstay of academic defence studies until the end of the Cold War era, was the very epitome of an elite perspective upon decision-making, with the mass of the population seen usually in a passive role, and the role of the mass media as very indirect; and in which "warfighting" or military operations figured as a secondary consideration, if at all.

Nonetheless, the necessity for academic theory to integrate the role of the media with other aspects of international relations is now both evident and urgent. The armed forces of a state represent the most obvious (and perhaps the last) manifestation of its independent power and authority. Their interaction with a globalized media, and the impact of that interaction upon policy and action, is now an aspect of first importance in modern international studies.14 The failure or partial failure of recent peacekeeping operations undertaken with no theory or doctrine of media relations, or with a theory that is seriously flawed, may be taken as evidence of this assertion.


Present United States' policies and attitudes toward the media during peacekeeping and humanitarian operations sponsored or sanctioned by the UN have their roots in two highly controversial hypotheses, first promulgated in the 1970s. The first of these is the belief that in some (usually ill-defined) way the Vietnam War was "lost on the television screens of America;" amplified in some cases by the view that the role of the American media over first the bombing of Cambodia and then the Watergate scandal, in eventually bringing down President Richard Nixon, showed them to be in some way unpatriotic or untrustworthy.15 This distrust of the American media within the military and (at least) the right wing of the Republican Party has had implications that have been perhaps underestimated within the field of defence studies. While it is now a commonplace that, in any realistic sense, the American media played little or no part in losing the Vietnam War,16 the opposite belief was widely held at the time by politicians and newsmen as well as the American military,17 and has had a dominant effect upon American doctrine and posture for conventional wars ever since.

Adjustments to the American doctrine of "Limited War" in the conventional sense that have taken place since Vietnam, including the famous Weinberger Rules of 1984, and most completely expressed by General Colin L. Powell, have all favored the early and overwhelming use of American military force. This new doctrine of fighting short but highly aggressive wars was introduced very largely out of the realistic fear that American public opinion, as expressed through and by the media, would not support a protracted war or a more gradual use of military force (usually characterized as a "quagmire"). It was given military reality by the US Army Field Manual FM 100-5 Operations of 1982/86 under the name of 'AirLand Battle' (also adopted by the US Air Force in 1984), which, although intended as a global doctrine for all warfighting including the putative defence of Western Europe against the Warsaw Pact, contained many of the necessary military concepts to make a "short sharp war" elsewhere in the world practical. Although countries have made errors in their military doctrines through wish-fulfilment in the past (most obviously the French doctrine of the offensive before 1914) the scale of impact of what is essentially an error in media analysis upon America's military posture (and its transmission to other countries through shared military doctrines) may be without precedent.18 One of its more important side effects is that the troops of the United States, trained to take immediate and violent action, are presently widely regarded as unsuitable for peacekeeping operations, to their own evident irritation. As one British-based commentator has put it, "Most people tend to view the concept of Americans doing peacekeeping the way they might view using a Rottweiller as a seeing-eye dog."19

The second hypothesis to influence American official attitudes toward the media and peacekeeping also owes much to right-wing and military interpretations of the defeat in Vietnam. In one sense it contradicts the first hypothesis that television (and to a lesser extent newspaper) coverage of the war zone had a major impact upon attitudes to the war at home; however, it also arose in part from this earlier view, after statistical evidence failed to support the idea of a direct link between the media and mass public opinion on the war. This hypothesis postulates the existence within the United States of multiple and changing constituencies of elites (including of course members of government, of business, of the military and of the media) whose views largely dictate mass public opinion. Particularly in foreign affairs (for which there is abundant evidence of the indifference of the mass of the American public) a broad consensus of elites in support of government policy will be reflected in the media and will carry mass opinion with it; whereas divisions among the elites will produce similar divisions in the media and among the people. The implications of this hypothesis are that whatever influence the American media may have on foreign affairs, including military deployments overseas, rests not with instantaneous news broadcasts from the front line, but with appearances on ABC Television's Nightline current affairs program and with the power of editorials in the four main daily newspapers (The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal); coupled with the "op-ed" page, in theory open to all-comers but in practice often used by senior government officials to exert wider influence among the elites.20 The acceptance of this role by newspapers is reflected in a New York Times editorial shortly after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait arguing that "sophisticated citizens" understood the need for an American military deployment to Saudi Arabia, and that it was "up to the occupant of the bully pulpit to educate ordinary citizens," including relatives of the troops sent to the Gulf, "to these harsh realities."21

An acceptance of this hypothesis would appear also to involve a further acceptance that the impact of real-time television upon diplomacy and military operations ­ the often-feared "CNN Effect" ­ has little substance or significance other than as part of a panem et circenses act for a politically irrelevant voting public.22 Passing over the very serious implications of this for domestic politics, this hypothesis has the advantage, for those who believe that the commitment of military forces overseas both functions best and is best understood when decided by elites alone, of permitting a return once more to the theories and behavior of the Cold War. However, as with every other current hypothesis on the impact of the media, the elites hypothesis appears to represent at best a poor fit for reality, and has been effectively challenged in the aftermath of the Gulf War.23 Regardless of this debate, the political implication for governments including this view of the media in their decision processes is worthy of much further study.

As a legacy of these two hypotheses, the attitude of the American military and defence community toward its own media in covering military operations continues (despite cases of genuine good will on all sides) to be one of underlying suspicion and hostility, seeing media coverage of war zones in particular as something both useless and potentially dangerous. After a controversial attempt by the American government to exclude the media altogether from the military intervention in Grenada in 1983, an official investigation next year led to the creation of the "press pool," a group of representative journalists selected by prior agreement to work closely with the troops. Bedevilled by mutual suspicion and military assumptions as to what the impact of unrestricted reporting might be, this system functioned badly in the intervention in Panama in 1989, and then broke down altogether in mutual recrimination in the Gulf War.24 Meanwhile, from the start of the Gulf crisis in August 1990 the American government worked hard to control the media by exploiting their institutional vulnerabilities, particularly their commercial dependence upon a steady flow of good news stories. In mutual miscomprehension, each correct according to its own initial assumptions, the American defence establishment maintained that it had treated the media well, while the journalists protested vigorously at the manner in which they believed that the government had manipulated them. What both sides agreed upon was that the American government, before it had felt confident enough to employ military force against Iraq, had needed to create not just an international consensus but a suitable domestic environment by exploiting the media to influence public opinion.25

The damage caused by the Gulf War to American military-media and government-media relations appears to be both severe and long-lasting. Although senior American government officials and media executives met in Autumn 1991 to re-negotiate agreed guidelines for future conflicts, there was little expectation that the agreement would last, and it collapsed almost immediately.26 Indeed, critics of American media behavior in the Gulf War pointed out that, even in their own most basic terms, it was not in the interests of the major television networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) to cooperate with the military as closely as they had done, since all three had lost money in covering the war through loss of advertising revenue (CNN was the exception in selling its cable service). "If they wouldn't fight the Pentagon for love of Freedom," it was argued, "why didn't the networks and press fight the Administration for love of money?"27 The first signs that this might indeed be the networks' policy for the future, with any concern for the wishes of the government weighing less than the need for ratings and revenue, came in the unrestrained television coverage of the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

The view of the American military by this time was that their policy in the Gulf crisis and war had been a success, and that manipulation of an independent media was better than attempting to exert direct control, but that this manipulation took time and effort to achieve. Left to itself, the American media might still take an independent and unpredictable line, as it did in largely espousing the cause of the Bosnian government in former Yugoslavia (1992-94). American government and military relations with the media remained poor during the intervention in Somalia, to the extent that the first troops landing in December 1992 were not aware that the press was waiting, and briefly mistook camera flashlights at night for gunfire. In a disputed example of the "CNN Effect," television images of a dead US soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu on 3 October 1993 are also believed to have played a significant part in the American decision to withdraw from Somalia. General Colin Powell as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was quite explicit about this, writing that "We had been drawn to this place by television images; now we were being repelled by them. The President immediately conducted a policy review that resulted in a plan for withdrawal over the next six months."28 By the time of their deployment to Rwanda in July 1994, the Americans were so concerned about a possible "quagmire" that (like the French) they refused to allow their troops to come under direct UN command, and so restricted themselves in their actions as to earn their operation the epithet "mission shrink."29 However, despite dramatic American and international television coverage of the aftermath of the Rwanda massacres, events and international responses failed to fit any previous pattern or hypothesis of the impact of the media upon decision-making.

The breakdown in relations between the American government and its own media over the coverage of military operations finally came to a head in the planned intervention in Haiti as a humanitarian operation sanctioned by the UN, when American television networks gained access to the country days before the planned landings and threatened to transmit them live as they happened, regardless of any issues of military security or safety. Government attempts to re-establish guidelines by negotiation were only partly successful, with the networks clearly in the dominant position. The landings finally took place peacefully after negotiations with the incumbent Haitian authorities.30 To all appearances, American attempts to use force in the prosecution of a UN mandate had been thwarted or subverted by their own media. But events were not actually so one-sided. A complex campaign in support of the eventual landings on Haiti was mounted by American military psychological operations (PSYOPS) teams, stretching back over 140 days before the landings actually look place. Part of this campaign was radio and television beamed to Haiti itself, including political propaganda broadcasts from special American aircraft.31 Among the effects of this PSYOPS plan was that it captured the American media agenda for the operation, enabling the government to direct the content of domestic news regarding Haiti, very much as had happened in the Gulf War. A landing without fighting and with virtually no casualties, culminating in a broadly successful operation to restore the Haitian government, was also by no means an American defeat.

Further American military thinking has recently produced a fusion of such concepts of psychological operations and media manipulation together with an idea developed from the success of the initial air strikes against communications centres in Baghdad at the start of the Gulf War.32 Known as "Command and Control Warfare" (C2W), this was originally a concept for pre-emptive defence based on the idea that physical invasion and occupation of territory and large casualties (to either side) have become increasingly politically unacceptable. The idea of C2W is to strike either electronically or physically (by missiles or precision air-delivered weapons) at the enemy's communications systems, causing relatively few casualties but effectively paralyzing their military capabilities.33 A less radical use for C2W is that employed in the Gulf War, to disable the Iraqi army before a ground offensive destroyed it. It is probable that a similar effect was achieved by the American precision bombing attacks on Bosnian Serb positions in September 1995, prior to the successful Croat and Bosnian offensives which led to the peace settlement in Dayton, Ohio on 22 November.

At present even C2W has barely been assimilated into military thinking and practice following the Gulf War. But already a fusion of PSYOPS with C2W is being debated within the US Armed Forces, known as "Information Warfare" or INFOWAR. Like the "Star Wars" Strategic Defense Initiative, INFOWAR is highly speculative and based on concepts first developed in the science fiction and techno-fiction of the previous decade.34 INFOWAR combines propaganda, computer virus attacks through the internet, economic warfare and selective sanctions, missile attacks against economic or political targets, and media manipulation, to coerce or destabilize a target country while keeping physical damage and visible violence to a minimum. Ironically, some of its proponents are already concerned that the most vulnerable target for INFOWAR would be the United States itself, as the nation most dependent on electronics and information for its prosperity.35

The immediately obvious comparison is between INFOWAR and American attempts to "bomb back into the stone age" a North Vietnamese economy that was too underdeveloped to respond to such a form of attack in the manner expected of it. But from Vietnam onwards, the whole development of American military relations with the media, down to and including INFOWAR, has been rather more analogous to the development of nuclear weapons and subsequent deterrence theory. In both cases, strategies have been devised and actions taken on the basis of military assessment and necessity, and the availability of new technology, effectively without reference to any political values or the views of the voting population. The interesting distinction is that whereas deterrence theory dealt with weapons of mass destruction, INFOWAR postulates an ideal of victory without physical damage to the enemy.


Since 1990, the attitude of the United States' government toward its own media and people in the decision-making process relating to the use of military force has, in turn, generated a reciprocal attitude among other countries. There is an emerging belief among otherwise poor or militarily weak states that are under threat or even at war, that they can exploit American media influence in all its forms as a relatively cheap way of gaining a military advantage, or to subvert a UN peacekeeping operation in their own favor.

In one sense there is nothing very new about this. Weak states (or aspiring states) under military attack have always had little choice but to appeal for outside intervention (the Southern Confederacy 1861-65 being only one example). References to "world public opinion" in recent UN peacekeeping operations are virtually identical to the rhetoric of the League of Nations during the inter-war years, and in particular the appeals of Abyssinia in 1935-36 for outside support against Italy. The difference lies in successive attempts by states in crisis to identify effective world public opinion and direct their efforts more precisely to its mobilization. An important mid-point in the process was the ultimately unsuccessful attempt of the Biafran government during the Nigerian Civil War (1967-70) to mobilize support by seeking to exploit the famine within its own country as a propaganda weapon, directed through television and advertising consultancies at elite opinion in Britain in particular.36 Significantly, Biafran propaganda was sufficiently successful to lead to speculation in international law on the right of humanitarian intervention in cases of barbarism, which helped lay the foundation for the doctrine developed after the Gulf War.37

Probably the first true modern case of completely successful manipulation of elite opinion in another country toward support for the use of military force was that of the Kuwaiti government in exile following the Iraqi occupation of August 1990. With considerable political sophistication, the Kuwaitis successfully manipulated elite opinion within the United States toward supporting a war which led some six months later to their regaining their country. The Kuwaitis also enjoyed the advantage that, broadly, the United States' government supported their actions. Costing approximately US$11 million, employing a leading American public relations firm and the cover organization "Citizens for a Free Kuwait," the Kuwaiti strategy was to spend relatively little on overt advertising and concentrate on public relations and media manipulation aimed at the elites of the United States, on the well-known propaganda principles that the best propaganda comes from those who do not know they are propagandists. The Kuwaiti campaign included the use of fictitious atrocity propaganda, culminating in a special audio-visual presentation to the UN Security Council two days before the vote on the "all necessary means" Resolution 678 of 29 November.38

The case of Kuwait had many and obvious special features, and the extent to which the Kuwaiti propaganda campaign contributed to the eventual recovery of their country must (as with all propaganda endeavors) remain a matter of judgement and opinion. What is significant is that other countries have concluded from the experience that their slender resources might also be invested in a similar manner. Sometimes the discussion has been quite open. In Nicosia in August 1994 an American political lobbyist publicly promised the Cypriot government that in return for an outlay of US$150 million over three years to spend in Washington (compared to a Cypriot defence budget of about US$200 million a year) he could guarantee a change in American policy leading to the reunification of Cyprus.39 The Baltic states of the former Soviet Union have also developed similar plans. It has even been (unofficially and improbably) claimed that General Mohammed Farah Aideed of Somalia directed a deliberate campaign through global television to defeat the American and UN peacekeeping effort in his country.

In former Yugoslavia this form of directed propaganda was turned against the UN peacekeeping effort, as all sides exploited the media with the aim of influencing American elite opinion in particular. According to UN peacekeepers, this included armed forces deliberately staging attacks upon their own troops or even their own civilians. The UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) chief of staff and commander in Sarajevo in the first half of 1992, the Canadian Major-General Lewis MacKenzie, explained at his final press conference on 21 July that there was no ceasefire "because I can't keep the two sides from firing on their own positions for the benefit of CNN."40 MacKenzie and others believed that this was part of a deliberate political strategy by the Bosnian government in particular to discredit UNPROFOR and so bring about a large-scale American military intervention.

Part of the propaganda war was a successful Bosnian government campaign to discredit MacKenzie personally (including stories that his wife was a Serb). The UN's response was to ignore such stories, rather than take action to refute them, and by June they had reached such a level that MacKenzie asked to be relieved as he could no longer function without risk to his troops, identified as "MacKenzie's men." In November 1992, coinciding with the Islamic Conference in Saudi Arabia, the Bosnian government claimed that MacKenzie had raped and murdered three or four Muslim girls obtained for him at a Serb concentration camp. By 1995, this story was being reported as regular visits by MacKenzie to a Serb camp brothel stocked with Muslim girls.41 While such propaganda continued within Bosnia itself, the UN commander in Sarajevo from early 1994 onwards, the British Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, was also subject to a propaganda campaign directed outward, partly through the international media, aimed with some success at undermining his credibility in Washington and with the UN in New York. Again, this campaign was made more effective by the initial UN refusal to take it seriously, or to mount any form of countermeasures against it. Lieutenant-General Rose's own public comment after he in turn had left Sarajevo was that "It is of course understandable that a Government struggling for survival should have a propaganda machine. It is not understandable that the international media should become part of that machine."42 Certainly some correspondents in Sarajevo, particularly from the United States, became famous for aggressively challenging the UNPROFOR line at press conferences.43

A further tactic to which UN peacekeepers had no adequate response was the use of national or local media in Yugoslavia, principally radio and television, to issue hate propaganda either before or during a peacekeeping operation. In a manner reminiscent of INFOWAR, in the six months before the Bosnian declaration of independence of April 1992, the Serb-controlled Yugoslav National Army seized or destroyed eight out of eleven Bosnian main television transmitters, allowing inflammatory Serb propaganda to be broadcast over half of Bosnia. "The media space in Bosnia was shattered by force, before the territorial space was shattered by much greater force."44 In Rwanda, the Hutu-controlled propaganda station Radio Television Libre des Milles Collines played a similar role in stimulating the genocide in April 1994.45 The ability of such blatant (and often absurd) hate propaganda to incite apparently stable communities to violence is contrary to most classical theories of the impact of the media upon its recipients, and therefore something of a puzzle.46 A pessimistic view is that atrocities such as those in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda could not have occurred without hate propaganda first meeting a deep resonance of prior agreement among those toward which it was directed. If it is true that such propaganda only gives voice to a hatred that was already latent, then there is very little that peacekeeping forces can do to rectify the situation, or indeed to keep the peace.47 However, another hypothesis which may at least co-exist with the first is that in non-democratic countries control of the national media has always been one of the most important symbols and instruments of political power. How deeply people "believe" official pronouncements is less important than their acceptance that they represent the voice of authority, to be obeyed rather than challenged. (Indeed, the skills developed by many who lived under communist rule in eastern Europe in decoding the official media became a commonplace of the Cold War.) The power over the UN and the United States demonstrated by General Aideed to his own people dragging the bodies of his enemies through the streets of Mogadishu was at least as important as any effect that its reporting on American television might have had.

If this second hypothesis is even partly correct, then a proactive response by the UN or its member states both toward hate propaganda and its disseminators might have been effective on past peacekeeping operations, and may be so in the future. However, despite an awareness within the UN of the problem, there is at present no UN institution or doctrine for dealing with it, and responses of countries engaged in UN peacekeeping operations have been limited and slow. The British as part of their peacekeeping role in Bosnia took until late 1994 to formulate a "civil information" program, including radio and an "UNPROFOR TV" service to the region; while the UN radio station established by the United States in Somalia on PSYOPS lines proved unpopular and less than effective.48

The international media cannot be held responsible for the failure of UN peacekeeping in Bosnia or Somalia, any more than for the loss of the Vietnam War. Propaganda directed toward the American elite from within both countries has been crude in the extreme, particularly in the early stages of conflict. It has been effective only because it was allowed to persist unopposed.49 In contrast to the Gulf War, senior officers on UN peacekeeping duties in Bosnia and Croatia were often unaware of how much attention was being paid (particularly in the United States) to their remarks to the media on the spot, and what the possible effect might be. But the choice of an appropriate response to this phenomenon is self-evidently not an easy one for the UN or its member states. The United States, and some other NATO countries to a much lesser extent, possess the equipment and weaponry either to jam radio and television transmissions within a target country, or to destroy transmitters in a manner similar to the attacks on Baghdad in 1991. The obvious difficulty is the issue which this raises concerning state sovereignty when seen as part of UN peacekeeping, together with the problem of the effectiveness of bombing such targets. The use of UN troops on the ground for such an operation was tried by the Americans in Somalia in June 1993, following their decision to treat General Aideed as an enemy, with an attempt to capture his radio propaganda station (together with other targets) which failed with eighty Pakistani peacekeepers killed or wounded, and effectively undermined the UN position in Somalia.50 Such actions are also ineffective against some types of propaganda, such as newsprint and the circulation of audio or video cassettes (a familiar way of distributing politicized sermons in some Muslim countries).

A further evident problem for the UN in dealing with hate propaganda is that traditionally it has been a supporter of freedom of speech in all forms. It has even been suggested that the almost automatic blanket UN sanctions in response to war should include an exemption for newspapers, books and woodpulp, in order to permit the wider circulation of newspapers for discussion of the issues within the target country. A further suggestion is that the role of countering hate propaganda should be undertaken by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) such as Reporteurs sans Frontieres and the World Press Freedom Committee, carrying out what has been called "preventive journalism" in the UN's name.51 Although such suggestions hardly constitute a strong response to the problem, they are at present considered too radical to be implemented.


One of the chief concerns about the effect of the media upon humanitarian or peacekeeping deployments expressed in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War was the (misnamed) CNN Effect, or even "CNN Curve," of policy being driven by rapidly fluctuating public opinion.52 Since the initial alarm about this in 1991, further research and experience have cast increasing doubts upon the validity of the idea of a simple trigger mechanism whereby a live television report will at once generate a political response at the highest level.53 In particular, the violent events in Chechenya in December 1994 as relayed by international television, as well as those in Rwanda from April 1994 onwards, singularly failed to fit the expected pattern. So far the only viable conclusion is the rather trite one that, although the CNN Effect may happen, it is unusual, unpredictable, and part of a complex relationship of factors.

One early and clear example of the CNN Effect (although not generated by CNN but chiefly by the BBC) was the television broadcasts of the plight of the Kurds in northern Iraq shown in March 1991. The impact of these pictures on the British government was sufficient for it to push for a change in policy toward the Kurds, forcing (together with the French) a more interventionist approach from the United States, and the establishment of UN "Safe Havens" in northern Iraq.54 This was a critical event for the future development of peacekeeping operations, particularly in respect of their relation to the media. As far as is known, the American plan for war with Iraq, Operation Desert Storm, had no humanitarian annex or other provision for relief operations in the aftermath of the war, and stressed rapid withdrawal of United States' forces in keeping with American doctrine. In the event the Americans contributed a small majority of the 8,000 troops used to establish the Safe Havens, with the British and French providing most of the remainder.

The British had already had their own bad experience of military-media relations in the Falklands War of 1982, following which the British government and military had taken positive steps to improve their mutual understanding with their national media (which increasingly functioned into the 1980s as a junior partner to the American media on the international scene).55 Having partly absorbed American fears about the impact of the media, the British in the Gulf War also used a pool system for front-line journalists, but lacking the underlying mutual antagonism of the Americans this functioned reasonably well. As a result, the British emerged from the Gulf War with relations between their armed forces and their reporters still largely intact, and with little sense that the British government had tried to manipulate the media or public opinion, other than within the limits of normal British political tolerance.56 Indeed, one of the lessons that the British took from the Gulf War was that the public had a good understanding of the limitations of the media in covering a war.57 Lacking the prior experience of the British, the French forces and media in the Gulf War endured mutual problems and friction quite similar to those of the British in the Falklands. But in the improvised relief operation to establish the Safe Havens there was no time for either country's forces to attempt the elaborate controls of the media that had characterized the Gulf War itself. More importantly, the British and French armed forces at least found that their national media were very willing to act in support of a humanitarian operation, the need for which they had first brought to wider attention. In some cases at least, a sense of community developed between journalists and soldiers, together with a willingness to blame the United States rather than their own governments for the eventual withdrawal of their forces.58

This shared experience, and a belief that some parts of the international media at least would willingly act in support of peacekeeping operations, became important in the second of the UNPROFOR deployments, to Bosnia and Croatia in 1992. In highly dangerous conditions, reporters were actually more at risk than many of the UNPROFOR troops, and suffered a comparable casualty rate.59 The pool system, anathema to American journalists after the Gulf War, was revived unofficially by the journalists themselves as a means of self-protection. In Sarajevo a self-organized television pool system ran from July 1992 until August 1995, while live direct broadcasting from the front lines was abandoned by many television journalists as too dangerous, in favor of the common practice of broadcasts recorded a few hours before transmission. The first large British Army deployment to Bosnia as part of UNPROFOR also introduced an unofficial convoy system for journalists, giving them a degree of military protection to which, in strict interpretation of UN rules, they were not entitled.60 All this was done since, despite the problems suffered by UNPROFOR commanders as the subject of attacks from both the regional and international media, the international media could also on occasion be of great value to the same UNPROFOR commanders, who found that they could use television film (strictly speaking videotape) taken of an event such as a local ceasefire agreement as a permanent record, almost in the form of a treaty, to confront ceasefire violators with "world public opinion," and even to face down governments and leaders of the warring factions by threatening them with media exposure. Major-General MacKenzie later expressed the view that the media was "the only major weapon system that I had" in his attempt to keep the peace in Sarajevo.61

At least in the early stages of the UNPROFOR peacekeeping operation in Bosnia, therefore, there was a community of interest between the peacekeepers of the NATO countries (Canada, France and Britain in particular) and the international media (in which contingents from these countries were all represented under American dominance) that was potentially available to strengthen the peacekeeping process. Over the period 1992-94 this potential failed to be realized for many reasons, not all of them directly connected with military-media relations, with the result that some parts of the international media, at least, began to turn against UNPROFOR and its commanders. Among the problems most directly related to the media, the general failure of the UN to be proactive in its approach, and its failure to protect peacekeepers from propaganda attacks, have already been noted. Institutionally, the UN is presently ill-suited to make such a response, since its doctrines of "even-handedness" and "impartiality" make it theoretically impossible for its peacekeepers to associate themselves with the journalists of any particular country, even those of their own nationality or of international status. In former Yugoslavia this rule was widely violated by both the peacekeepers and the media for entirely practical reasons, and has fallen into disuse and disrepute. However, officers of the UNPROFOR contingents who made ­ often successful ­ use of the international media in their peacekeeping efforts also developed the strong impression (rightly or wrongly) that both the UN in New York and their own governments did not approve of their behavior, and that the eventual result was damaging to their personal careers.62

Even more importantly, the threat of "world public opinion," whether relayed through satellite direct television broadcasting or not, is only of value if it produces some form of positive response from the "world" at which it is aimed (in this case very largely the elite opinion of the NATO powers and the United States in particular). Over the twelve months from spring 1992, leaders of the various governments and factions in former Yugoslavia learned that the UN's threats might be defied with impunity, while the original consensus between UNPROFOR and the international media began to collapse as journalists in Sarajevo became increasingly critical of the UN's failure. The situation may not have been helped by the fact that senior UNPROFOR commanders in the early stages were from countries whose armed forces had relatively little previous experience in dealing with the media; while the international media remained dominated by American journalists, who transferred some of their traditional hostility and suspicion of their own government and military onto the UN peacekeepers.

This deteriorating relationship between the UN and the international press in Sarajevo culminated in early 1993 in a rare attempt by UNPROFOR to use the media proactively on an international scale, which backfired with unforeseen and very damaging results. In April, Bosnian Serb forces were on the verge of capturing the town of Srebenica, held by Bosnian government forces, and agreed to a UN ceasefire only if the town were demilitarized. With the Sarajevo press corps already talking of a "UN surrender" to the Serbs, the UNPROFOR commander Lieutenant-General Philippe Morillon, after a dramatic personal visit to Srebenica, chose to break the news of a ceasefire agreement through the UN New York press office, briefing reporters there by radio before talking to the journalists in Sarajevo. The intention was to limit media criticism of the UN; the result was the exact opposite. In another example of the CNN Effect, the shock in New York of the Srebenica story was the direct cause of a revolt among the non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, which led to Resolution 819 of 16 April, declaring the town a "Safe Area" (a term which unlike "Safe Haven" has no recognized legal meaning).63 The assumption of responsibility for the "Safe Areas" marked the beginning of the failure of UN peacekeeping policy in Bosnia, culminating in the crisis of summer 1995. This was as much a product of the lack of familiarity with the problems and potential of the international media at all levels in the UN as any other factor. The "Safe Areas" episode is also a good example of the manner in which the international media acts upon, and interconnects, all action in a peacekeeping operation from the very front lines to the highest levels of policy decision-making.

The failure to develop successful cooperation between UN peacekeepers and the international media in former Yugoslavia has led some to a pessimistic view that gradual or highly limited humanitarian interventions in other countries may be effectively impossible. Military men in particular have begun to argue that if a policy is insufficiently "resolute" (their code for an early use of extreme force on the American model), then the long-term effects of the international media coupled with the propaganda of the target states will combine to subvert the peacekeeping process. Major-General MacKenzie has endorsed this view, arguing that "in the absence of policy or principle, UN actions are often driven by the media."64 In the most recent peacekeeping deployment, to Rwanda in 1994, neither the British nor the French made any significant provision for cooperation with the media, nor to address the problem of hostile propaganda.


The problem of military-media relations in UN peacekeeping operations clearly goes much deeper than the single bad experience of Bosnia. Current UN theories and doctrines of peacekeeping, particularly as reflected in such ideas as "Wider Peacekeeping," depend heavily upon the peacekeeping force being able to create a major impression upon the inhabitants of the target country with the provision of only minimum forces, by exploiting the authority of the UN and the threat of further action, including military action. In short, "Wider Peacekeeping" has some similarities with deterrence theory, in that it depends very heavily upon the perceptions created in the minds of the target audience. Logically, it should have followed that such a doctrine would also be based very heavily upon a proactive approach to the various forms of the media that may be available to create such a perception, and that the appropriate institutions, equipment and procedures should have been created either by the UN or by countries (such as those of NATO) taking part in peacekeeping operations, or by both. This has not happened over the last five years, partly because of institutional problems within the UN in accepting the need for such reforms; and partly because the dominant country within both NATO and the UN, the United States, holds to a significantly different doctrine based on military force and the manipulation of the media.


1. This is a revised version of a paper presented in December 1995 to the annual conference of the British International Studies Association (BISA) at Southampton University.

2. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, An Agenda for Peace (New York: United Nations, 1992), p. 8

3. The UN presently uses five terms for humanitarian intervention: peacekeeping, peace enforcement, preventative diplomacy, peacemaking and peacebuilding. See Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Improving the capacity of the United Nations for Peacekeeping (New York: United Nations, 1994). Compare this with the British Army doctrinal manual Wider Peacekeeping (London: Ministry of Defence, 1995), which incorporates many of the UN ideas.

4. Figures taken from James D.D. Smith, "Canada in Croatia: Peacekeeping and UN Reform ­ the View From the Ground," SCSI Occasional Series, Number 15 (Camberley, UK: Army Staff College, 1995) p. 3; and from Fred Eckhard, "More United Nations," Spokesman, no. 002 (Autumn 1995), p. 18.

5. The argument is that international law within the last fifty years has established any Security Council resolution as carrying the ultimate force of law, there being no authority competent to review or overturn it, including the Charter itself. See Richard Lillich, "Humanitarian Intervention and International Law," unpublished paper given to the USAFE Conference on 'Planning and Conducting Large Scale Emergency Operations,' Heidelberg, 1995; Richard Connaughton, The Nature of Future Conflict (London: Leo Cooper, 1995), pp. 72-75.

6. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Channel BBC2, Interview with Dr Boutros Boutros-Ghali in the television program "A Soldier's Peace," Part 1, (7 January 1995).

7. Connaughton, The Nature of Future Conflict, p. 32.

8. This model is strongly supported by the former UNPROFOR chief of staff and commander of Sector Sarajevo, the Canadian Major-General Lewis MacKenzie. See Lewis MacKenzie, Peacekeeper, the Road to Sarajevo (Vancouver/Toronto: Douglas and McIntyre, 1993) pp. 332-33; and Connaughton, The Nature of Future Conflict, p. 62. However, according to MacKenzie in the television program "A Soldier's Peace," the present American guidelines "boil down to: 'don't call us, we'll call you'."

9. See Stephen Badsey, "Modern Military Operations and the Media," SCSI Occasional Series, Number 8 (Camberley, UK: Army Staff College, 1994) pp. 13-15; John E. Mueller, War, Presidents and Public Opinion (New York and London: Lanham, 1985), pp. 59-64; "Americans asked to buy death-free war," The Guardian, 7 October 1995. For the surprising and repeated view among American commanders that even in the Gulf War of 1991 there was "nothing worth dying for in Iraq," see Rick Atkinson, Crusade (New York and London: HarperCollins, 1994), passim.

10. See, in particular, Lawrence Freedman, "Alliance and the British way in warfare," Review of International Studies, 21, no. 2 (April 1995), pp. 145-55; Lawrence Freedman and Efraim Karsh, The Gulf Conflict, rev. ed., (London and Boston: Faber, 1994), p. 110.

11. Quoted as the frontispiece to Philip M. Taylor, War and the Media, Propaganda and Persuasion in the Gulf War (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1992). See also Alan D. Campden, ed., The First Information War (Fairfax, VA: AFCEA, 1992), for a description of the new technology.

12. Kevin d'Arcy, "War in France," Spokesman, no. 002, (Autumn 1995), p. 34; David Halberstaum, "Television and the Instant Enemy," in Micah L. Sifry and Christopher Cerf, eds., The Gulf War Reader (New York and Toronto: Times Books/Random House, 1991), p. 386; Hans J. Kleinsteuber, Tosten Rossmann and Vokert Weisner, "The Mass Media," in Margaret Shelley and Monica Wiunk, eds., Aspects of European Cultural Diversity (Milton Keynes, UK: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 121-88.

13. For a wider discussion of this and some of the problems involved, see Badsey, "Modern Military Operations and the Media," passim.

14. It is of course possible that the study of this interaction in all its forms, including its history, is actually a separate but related discipline rather than a branch of international studies; but that seems to be going too far at present.

15. For this belief, see Sydney H. Schanberg, "A Muzzle for the Press," in Sifry and Cerf, eds., The Gulf War Reader, p. 373; for the context of Schanberg's views, see William Shawcross, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia (New York and London: Andre Deutsch, 1979), and Fred Emery, Watergate: the Corruption and Fall of Richard Nixon (London: Jonathan Cape, 1994).

16. The literature on this point is now massive, and it would hardly be worth making were it not for the persistence of the myth to the contrary. For a general discussion and a guide to further reading, see Stephen Badsey, "The Media War," in John Pimlott and Stephen Badsey, eds., The Gulf War Assessed (London: Arms and Armour, 1992), pp. 219-45.

17. Including even President Lyndon Johnson. See John R. MacArthur, Second Front, Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War (New York: Wang and Hill, 1992) p. 138. For a British acceptance of the same view, see Robert Harris, Gotcha! The Government, the Media and the Falklands Crisis (reprinted as part of The Media Trilogy), (London: Faber and Faber, 1994), pp. 71-74, and Brigadier Christopher Elliott, "The impact of the media on modern warfare," Despatches, no. 4 (Autumn 1993), pp. 21-32.

18. See Betty Glad, "Limited War and Learning: the American Experience," in Betty Glad, ed., Psychological Dimensions of War (Newbury Park and London: Sage, 1990), pp. 264-74; Robin Brown, "Limited War," in Colin McInness and G.D. Sheffield, eds., Warfare in the Twentieth Century, Theory and Practice (London: Unwin Hyman, 1988), pp. 164-93; US Army Field Manual FM 100-5 Operations: Blueprint for AirLand Battle (New York and London: Brassey's, 1986); Eugene J. Carol Jr. and Gene R. La Roque, "Victory in the Desert: Superior Technology or Brute Force?" in Victoria Brittain, ed., The Gulf Between Us, the Gulf War and Beyond (London: Virago, 1991), pp. 43-60; Stephen Badsey, "The Doctrines of the Coalition Forces," in Pimlott and Badsey, The Gulf War Assessed, pp. 57-79; Colin Powell with Joseph E. Persico, A Soldier's Way, An Autobiography (New York and London: Hutchinson, 1995), US title, My American Journey.

19. Comment from Smith, "Canada in Croatia," p. 24.

20. See Powell with Persico, A Soldier's Way, pp. 558-59 for the use of the "op-ed" system by General Powell when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to influence public opinion on American policy toward peacekeeping in Bosnia. For the "op-ed" system itself (literally "opposite editorial page"), which is largely unique to the United States, see James Alan Fox and Jack Levin, How to Work with the Media (Newbury Park and London: Sage, 1993), pp. 67-77.

21. New York Times editorial 12 August 1990, quoted by James Bennett, "How the Media missed the Story," in Sifry and Cerf, eds., The Gulf War Reader, p. 363.

22. For emphatic and accusatorial statements of this view delivered from the academic tradition of "media studies," see Hamid Mowlana, George Gerbner and Herbert I. Schiller, eds., Triumph of the Image, The Media's War in the Persian Gulf, a Global Perspective (Boulder, CO and Oxford: Worldnews, 1992); and Jeffrey Walsh, ed., The Gulf War Did Not Happen. Politics, Culture and Warfare Post-Vietnam (London: Arena, 1995).

23. See, in particular, John Zaller, "Elite Leadership of Mass Opinion," and "Strategic Politicians, Public Opinion and the Gulf Crisis," in W. Lance Bennett and David L. Paletz, eds., Taken By Storm. The Media, Public Opinion and U.S. Foreign Policy in the Gulf War (Chicago, IL and London: University of Chicago Press, 1994), pp. 186-209 and 250-76. For an overview of the current theories of this relationship, see Stephen Badsey, "The Media, The Military, and Public Opinion," paper given in September 1995 to the RMA Sandhurst Conference on 'The Media and International Security,' (publication forthcoming).

24. For an overview, see Badsey, "The Media War," pp. 218-29.

25. Compare the account in Powell with Persico, A Soldier's Way, pp. 494-530 with that in MacArthur, Second Front, pp. 3-37.

26. Nicholas Hopkinson, "The Media and International Affairs After the Cold War," Wilton Park Papers, no. 74 (London: HMSO, 1993) pp. 8-9; Richard F. Machamer Jr., "Avoiding a Military Media War in the Next Armed Conflict," Military Review, 73, no. 4 (April 1993), pp. 43-54.

27. MacArthur, Second Front, p. 220.

28. Powell with Persico, A Soldier's Way, p. 588. See also Connaughton, The Nature of Future Conflict, pp. 191-96; Nik Gowing, "Real Time Television Coverage of Armed Conflict and Diplomatic Crises: Does it pressure or distort foreign policy decisions?" Working Paper, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, pp. 66-69.

29. R.M. Connaughton, "Military Support and Protection for Humanitarian Assistance: Rwanda April 1994-December 1994," SCSI Occasional Series, Number 18 (Camberley, UK: Staff College, 1996) p. 61.

30 . "Real-time television wins a war," Independent, 27 September 1994.

31. "Haiti president speaks to people via US C-130," Jane's Defence Weekly, 6 August 1994.

32. Conduct of the Persian Gulf Conflict, an interim report to Congress, US Department of Defense, Washington, July 1992, pp. 4-1 to 4-11 and Map 7. James Blackwell, Thunder in the Desert, The Strategy and Tactics of the Persian Gulf War (New York: Bantam, 1991), pp. 114-35. For the conceptual basis of this idea, see John A. Warden, The Air Campaign. Planning for Combat (New York: Pergaman-Brassey, 1989).

33. U.S. Department of Defense Dictionary of Military Terms (London and Mechanicsurg, PA: Greenhill/Stackpole, 1995), p. 84; C. Kenneth Allard, "The Future of Command and Control: towards a paradigm of information warfare," in L. Benjamin Ederington and Michael J. Mazarr, eds., Turning Point. The Gulf War and U.S. Military Strategy (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1994), pp. 161-92; Richard P. Hallion, Storm Over Iraq, Air Power and the Gulf War (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992), pp. 263-65.

34. In particular the "cyberspace" novels of William Gibson. This does not, of course, invalidate the concept, cf. H.G. Wells' story "The Land Ironclads" and the development of the tank.

35. "Dawn of the Cyber Soldiers," The Sunday Times, 15 October 1995; "Breaking Free: a survey of defence in the 21st century," The Economist, 5 September 1992; "The Software Revolution, a survey of defence technology," The Economist, 10 June 1995; Frank J. Stetch, "Winning CNN Wars," Parameters, 124, no. 3 (Autumn 1994), pp. 37-56; Alvin and Heidi Toffler, War and Anti-War. Making sense of today's global chaos (New York and London: Little, Brown, 1993); see also the BBC2 television programme, 'The i-Bomb,' Horizon, 27 March 1995.

36. John de St. Jorre, The Nigerian Civil War (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1972), pp. 284-87, 305-7, 345-57; Suzanne Cronje, The World and Nigeria (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1972), pp. 210-24; John L. Stremlau, The International Politics of the Nigerian Civil War 1967-1970 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977), pp. 109-17, 256-63.

37. Taken from Li

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