From Tiananmen through Belgorod to Kosovo, the new face of war

Metodi Hadji-Janev / Photo: "Free Press" - Dragan Mitreski

Modern technologies in the past week, regionally and globally, were an accelerator and incubator of a counter-narrative and part of a counter-offensive as part of modern warfare, but they also showed in practice what it would all look like.

Propaganda is one of the most serious things that evolves as war evolves. On this forum, we have emphasized on several occasions that it is very naive if you understand warfare in its crudest form purely kinetically or the very act of using force. At the same time, we emphasized that all instruments of political power – diplomacy, economy, information, whether they are for influence, propaganda or cyberwarfare – are instruments that are used in parallel with the use of force as indirectly kinetic instruments for achieving the political goal. Indirectly because the consequences of using these instruments of power can have consequences that become fatal in terms of loss of human life or property damage. With the advancement of technology has come a serious deregulation of power in a sense.

The stratification of the monopoly of power formerly held by states as a form of ordering people has been accelerated by technology. Today, security has been reconceptualized in two directions. In the horizontal direction (not military threats) and in the vertical direction, deepening the focus of the actors, the protection of individuals and groups. Although this perception has recently been updated more and more often by redefining the concepts of national security, this phenomenon has been going on for thirty years. After the end of the Cold War, instead of the classic military operations state against state, the dominance of the liberal-democratic world influenced the intensification of globalization and the development of technology that had above all a good intention - the advancement of humanity in every respect. But as with everything in the world, when you have yang you must have yin as a counterbalance. The use of technology by non-state actors in such a world that was, and still is in certain segments, rushing towards ultralibertarianism created the conditions to exploit the dark side of that movement. Hence, technology, in addition to other malicious things, such as cybercrime in every form - economic (financial fraud and material damage), emotional or psychological (harassment, stalking, insults, etc.), all the way to personal security, is rapidly being used and for political purposes - propaganda, misinformation, sowing and installing truths and falsehoods with the aim of eroding faith in the state system, paralyzing institutions by doubling public opinion and thereby inhibiting the energy and processes institutionalized by the state.

We would add here that there is both a positive and a negative side to it. The positive is that the individual can be protected by the state (possible manipulation and abuse), and the negative is that such manipulation can come from outside. These days, we are bombarded with information and attempts to deal with misinformation, so as with everything, there are experts from all fields who try to make a contribution or profit from this phenomenon. All that aside, this weekend was kind of done for this topic. Much of social media has been awash with the "truth" or the attempt to market the truth about the Tiananmen Square massacre in China. If you might not remember the name, the pictures and the video surely will. For the West and for human rights activists, it is that footage of the man defying the tank, which precedes what they say is the massacre of the innocent population.

For a large number of Chinese profiles, but also for some who claim to be from the Western Hemisphere, this June 4 (the anniversary of the event) was an occasion to shed light on the "fabricated" story of Tiananmen. Briefly, the official world media reported that it was a student-led demonstration that took place in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, during 1989. According to these reports, Chinese government troops violently suppressed the demonstration, leaving bodies scattered across the square. Rare pictures of this unfortunate event were shared these days. The protests began on April 15 and were violently suppressed on June 4 when the government sent the People's Liberation Army to occupy parts of central Beijing. Estimates of the death toll vary from several hundred to several thousand, with thousands more injured. Just to clarify, the protests were prompted by the death of the pro-reform General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Hu Yaobang in April 1989 amid rapid economic development and social change in China.

The new images and scenarios that have been circulating, somehow massively and organized, give a different truth to that story. In an investigative spirit by quoting and referencing sources mostly of Western provenance, these articles attempted to show that what we think we know is not true. One of the many titles used as a counter narrative was that of Nicholas Kristof. Kristof was in Beijing at the time and reportedly wrote: "State television even showed a film of students marching peacefully from Tiananmen Square shortly before dawn as proof that the protesters were not massacred." In the article he also claimed that an unidentified student protester had sensationalized an article claiming that Chinese soldiers were firing machine guns at peaceful protesters in the square.

Graham Earnshaw of Reuters was also reportedly in Tiananmen Square on the night of June 3. He stayed the whole evening until June 4, and in his memoirs he allegedly wrote that the army did come, but was not violent but negotiated with the students, after which they all dispersed peacefully. However, the information says that there were victims, from 200 to 300 people. Those victims were part of the clashes in different parts of Beijing. But it is claimed that half of those who died were soldiers and policemen. A WikiLeaks source from the US Embassy in Beijing (sent in July 1989) is cited as a reinforcement of the argument about the manipulation. This statement discloses the information of a Latin American diplomat and his wife, who were allegedly eyewitnesses to the event. According to the diplomat's statement, there were no mass murders in the square as allegedly claimed.

Regardless of the truth, although it is certainly necessary and important, the point is that this event and the frequency of writing about the "truth" has another dimension, which, apart from the truth, aims at counter-offensive and counter-narrative. Namely, whenever China is attacked for violating human rights, this event is also pointed out. This campaign therefore has another dimension, which is sending a message that the information being spread is incorrect. It has a moral, but also another counter-narrative thread, which should be one of the lines of operations in the geostrategic conflicts and positionings that we hope will remain on this level.

In parallel, this weekend was interesting because according to a certain group of influential profiles about the war in Ukraine, the counter-offensive has probably begun. Although there were isolated articles about direct combat contact between Ukrainian resistance forces and Russian occupation forces, many serious analyzes indicated a breakthrough by Ukrainian forces in parts of the defense lines in Zaporozhye, on the Russian side. With that, most likely, the cloud about whether there will be a counteroffensive has cleared. What is interesting is that the emphasis in the information campaign of this counter-offensive was placed on two things. First, the hacking of television stations in Crimea, where the media campaign for the counteroffensive was broadcast in full swing. In the video, modern-looking soldiers of various genders make a bold gesture to keep quiet as the offensive begins, referring to it as "plans love silence" or more loosely - plans should be kept secret. Second, the operations that Polish volunteers together with Russian volunteers are carrying out on the territory of Russia in Belgorod, in which they captured several smaller settlements along the border with Ukraine on Russian territory.

This counter-offensive thus has its symbolism both in its uniqueness and in the attempt by diversifying its efforts to strike at more places in the defense of Russia, and even to force it to defend itself on its own territory. It should be added to this that the president of Moldova officially allowed the territory of Moldova to be used for a maneuver by the Ukrainian resistance forces. Whether the counter-offensive will succeed is a matter of time that we have yet to discuss.

What is interesting is that the information about these operations was neatly recorded and with a serious content of combat procedures emphasizing the inability of Russia to defend its territory - in other words creating an insecure terrain everywhere. In a large part of the recordings, there are also elements of influence operations on the population in order to spread insecurity and skepticism among the Russian population in the capacities of Moscow.

Finally, Kosovo, which caused a series of reactions in our country, is part of this mosaic. It is particularly relevant that disinformation or influence information had three aspects. The first one is that of the Kosovo authorities, who, like many Western diplomats who try to tell us the truth, have a problem with a time period – for which period of time or the specific problem they are talking about there is truth. Thus, Kurti is right when he claims that the West should not criticize him, because they said that the elections in those places where the situation is escalating are regular. Yes, that's right and he's right. But the problem is that he does not tell the truth until the end that he was advised and warned not to organize the elections due to the boycott of the Serbs because they will not be legitimate in that sense. The second line is that of Vucic, who seems to be starting to play simultanka. After resigning as head of the party, Vucic tried to create a narrative and image that in the story he is the best solution and that he is also fighting for a peaceful resolution of the dispute with Kosovo. The third is the opposition in Serbia, which has more and more chances to fall into Vucic's trap, according to which it will end up from pro-democracy to nationalist - to be more rigid than Vucic on the issue of Kosovo. Without going into the details and nuances - which for other purposes and analyzes are important - we would conclude that the modern technologies in the past week on the palm of the hand regionally and globally were an accelerator and incubator of a counter-narrative and part of a counter-offensive as part of modern warfare, but also in practice showed how it would all look like. Perhaps NATO is fully aware of the seriousness after Turkey's deployment of additional troops to the north of Kosovo, the forces of NATO's second largest army.

(The author is a university professor, associate professor at Arizona State University, USA)


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