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How and when is porpoganda used in foreign policy?

Propoganda is an instrument of policy that governments use to influence a particular

group, therefore maiking that group think what they want them to think, do what they

want them to do etc. Although the use of propoganda greatly increased during the

twentieth century through the use of mass media (especialy through the invention of

radio and television) it is not a new phenomenon. Propoganda earliest use was in used

connection with religous missionairy activities (indeed this is where the word

propoganda was first used). On of the earliest users of propoganda was Saint Paul,

who established the first Christian churches in Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy. It was

Pope Gregory XV who established the Congregation of Propoganda in 1622, hoping

that it would help direct the activities of the Roman Catholic Church throughout


Propoganda, before the nineteenth century, was not usually aimed at the population,

but at ruling elites. Policy was made by the ruling elites, normally the monarch, the

royal court and their diplomats who did not have to worry about foreign public

response – they had to impress their foreign counterparts, not foreign populations .1

However, since the nineteenth century, people have taken an increasing interest in

politics, states have become incresingly democratised, therefore giving more and more

people the vote so now that governments have to justify their actions to their

population. This means that propoganda, as a tool for foreign policy, has become

increasingly useful. For example, if Government X directed propoganda at the

population of Government Y, then that population may support Government X and

therefore Government Y may pursue a more supportive foreign policy towards

Government X. Holsti says that one of the unique aspects of modern international

political relations is the deliberate attempt by governments … to influence the attitudes

and behaiviour of foreign populations .2 However, it should be noted that public

opinion has greater influence on foreign policy in demorcracies than in authoritarian


Propoganda is also frequently used by governments on their own population so as to

create or sutain large public support for high defence expenditure. Therefore, Defence

policy and foreign policy have become clsoely cnnected as both demand public

support. For example, when Britians world-wide interests were threatened and she did

not have the military resources to defend them, between World War I and World War

II, Britain had to pursue a policy of appeasement until rearmament was adequate

enough to act. The problem this posed was how to convince a principally pacifist

Britian ravaged by World War I and the economic depression that the government (a

government that claimed to be peace loving ) needed to raise military expenditure

without worrying the poublic or alerting foreign governments to Britains real plight.

This was achieved by the British government pursuading people that reamament was

necessary, as Britain Must Be Strong to avoid war. In such an instance, as defence

involves a high degree of security, even in free societies, their is legislation involving

the curtailment of the press in matters of defence and security. This is considerably

easier for authoritarian countries. For example, in the Soviet bloc the media was state

controlled and therefore would always tow the official, governments line. However,

for this to be effective, the Soviets had to spend a lot of money in preventing Western

transmissions from seeping into the Soviet bloc. Methods used ranged from complex

signal jammers to prevent radio and television broadcasts being heard by their

population to a ban on certain books and the use of photocopiers3. Interestingly, the

invention of sattelite television meant that many people in Soviet Russia found out

about the Chernobyl nuclear accident of 1986 before the Communist government

admitted it to them (though they had already admitted the accident to the rest of the


Propoganda also works at the unofficial level, through pressure groups or movements.

Examples of this would be the large Cuban anti-Castro group that has kept pressure on

the US to maintian its sanctions on Cuba, the large Jewish lobby that helps make US

foreign policy in the Middle East more favourable towards Israel. Holsti sites the

example of when various black people from South Africa toured other countries

hoping to raise the awareness of the plight under apartheid. Their hope was that these

audiences would then put influence their governments to formulate foreign policy that

would put pressure on the South African government. This largely succeded, and many

governments around the world put economic sanctions on South Africa until it stopped

using apartheid.

Propoganda is used only when the particular body using propoganda can successfully

influence their target group. Holsti states that a person has two personaliies a nuclear

personality and a social personality. There are some beliefs that are instilled in us at an

early age by our families – these beliefs are very hard to change, they have effectivley

been engrained on us since birth. This is called our nuclear personality. An example of

a nuclear personality trait would be if a person was brought up in a racist or

homophobic family, they are likely to be either racist or homophobic and these traits

would be very hard to change. However, as an individual grows up, they form new

ideas and opinions, and these are likely to conform with th views of their social group.

This is called our social personality and it is much easier to influence the opinions of

our social personality than our nuclear personality. Furthermore, propoganda will be

more successful if the target group already shares at least the very basic belief that you

wish to capitalise on. For example Negro-lynching crowds exist because anti-Negro

feelings exist. 4 It is clear that the Nazis new that people were more suseptable in a

crowd as they organised big rallies in Nuremburg, where party doctrine and ideology

was preached – thus appealing to the crowd mentality.5

Holisti writes that the after choosing which group(s) would be most susseptable to

propoganda, they must get their attention. They do this by attempting to rouse emotion

in their target audience. One of the easiest emotions to exploit is hatred, and this is an

emotion particullarly exploited by propoganda during war time, when hatred of a

national enemy becomes a virtue . Indeed, this is evident in the propoganda of both

the Germans and the British during World War I, when each attempted to convince

their population that the other was evil, therefore justifying the continuation of war.

How governments spread their propoganda vaires. Most use newspapers, but their are

limitations to their success, as foreign governments can easily restrict, censor or ban

imports. Furthermore, to large illiterate populations, such propoganda would be

useless. However, radio suffers few of these limitaions, as jamming equiptment is

expensive and not 100% reliable, and almost everone now has access to a radio.

Therefore, there are many state run radio stations that only transmit to foreign

countries. For example, the United States run Radio Marti which is beamed to Cuba,

encouraging anti-Castro feelings in Cubas population, or Radio Free Europe , which

was aimed at the Communist countries of the Soviet bloc. Television ahs also had an

increased significance, which is evident in the fact that almost every state in the world

(apart from the United States) have state owned television channels. This clearly shows

that states believe television to be such an powerful medium that they must control it.

Indeed, during armed revolutions or coup d etat s television studios and transmitting

centers are prime targets to be taken over.

The most obvious type of propoganda is war time propoganda. As stated above,

governments use propoganda in such times to justify high government military

spending to their population. The easiest method of doing this is evoking strong

emotions such as hatred of the national enemy, or (more recently) pity for the enemies

victims. Therefore, during war, it is often the case for the media to dub the particular

enemies leader evil . For example, before the outbreak of the Persian Gulf Crisis, Iraq

was on reasonably good terms with the US, who supported them durin the Iran-Iraq

war. However, the moment Iraq invaded Kuwiat, the coalltions propoganda machines

immediatley went into action, condeming the invasion as the irrational rape of Kuwaits

independence and the beginnings of Iraqi desire for expansion and dominance of the

Middle-East. The general public began to believe that Suddam Hussein was an insane,

irrational and evil dictator. What the were not aware of was the situation in Iraq. After

the Iran-Iraq war, Iraq had three million unemployed men between 18 and 35 years

old, $230 billion of damage to repair, as well as $5 billion dollars needed for interest

collected on debt repayments, $15 billion to pay on loans etc. Hussein asked his oil

supplying Arab neighbours to stick to their quotas and not flood the western world

with oil, therefore decreasing the price of oil. For every dollar that was lost on the

price of one barrel of oil, Iraq would loose a potential $1 billion of income. However,

Kuwait, which owns nearly a third of the globes total oil supplies, continued to supply

above its quota. This, coupled with the fact that, with mounting debts the Iraqi

government needed an increased income, tat Iraq had an ancient claim to Kuwait and

that the Kuwaitis were illegally stealing Iraqi oil pushed Hussein into the invaision. If

the western world was made aware of this, do you think it would have been as easy to

justify an extremely expensive confrontation with Iraq on the grounds that Hussein was

evil and attacking a defenceless country? A phenomenon of labelling leaders of

countries evil is that now nations can claim that they are not attacking the enemy

nation, just the enemy leader. For example, during the Kosovo conflict of 1999, Nato

was not at war with Serbia and the Serbian people, but only (as they repeatedly

claimed) with Milosevich himself.

During the Kosovo conflict, it was also interesting to see the Serbian regeimes

attempts at influencing Nato members wit propoganda. For example, western reporters

were only allowed to go to sights that the Serbian officials would take them to.

Therefore, the news from the bombing campaign was always along the lines of a

school being bombed and many children dying or a hospital being obliterated. This was

the Serbian governments attempt to make the Alliance populations doubt the necessity

of the war. However, these reports were never really taken that seriously by the public

- perhaps because they had already been influenced by their own governments

propoganda, believing the Milosevich regieme to be liars and evil . However, when an

incident did occur where there was an accidental bombing of a convoy of refugees, the

press did take interest and Nato admitted its mistakes.

Military and war time propoganda has always been designed to evoke hatred of the

national enemy, symathy for those suffering because of the enemies actions (such as

refugees), and an increase of nationalism and support for the campaign. This is

acheived through such propoganda techniques as Name-Calling , Glittering

Generalities etc. For example the Free World and its fight against Iraqi aggression .

However, propoganda can also be used to improve foreign relations. For example,

British politicians frequently refer to our special relationship with the United States.

By doing so, they are hoping to influence the United States population to a pro-Anglo

view, therefore maintaining and improving good Anglo-American relationships.

It is clear that propoganda is a tool that is used in foreign relations frequently. There

are many kinds, internal external, as well as those that are military, economic or social


by Daniel Keys

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