Editorial: Taking the battle into cyberspace

While F16s engage Serbian forces in the air, another war is being waged in cyberspace. Both the MoD and NATO are making use of the internet, publishing current information about the progress of Operation Allied Force. However, in the on-line PR battle at least, the allied forces are in danger of lagging behind the enemy.

While F16s engage Serbian forces in the air, another war is being

waged in cyberspace. Both the MoD and NATO are making use of the

internet, publishing current information about the progress of Operation

Allied Force. However, in the on-line PR battle at least, the allied

forces are in danger of lagging behind the enemy.



While NATO and the MoD wax lyrical about the precision of their

munitions, organisations ranging from the Federal Government of

Yugoslavia to the Serbian Orthodox Church are making full use of the

public access afforded by the internet. A range of ’colourful’ sites

present the so-called ’victimisation’ of Serbia in impassioned terms,

while also capitalising fully on the PR gift a dollars 43 million

stealth bomber which took a nose dive into Serbia.



At the same time an organisation called Black Hand appears to have been

systematically hacking into and removing ethnic Albanian sites, closing

down yet another avenue for their pleas for help.



It is a sign of the times that a conflict of almost medieval atrocity

can also be fought in the safety of cyberspace. But this is, of course,

a war of words. Rarely have the lives of so many hinged on the

interpretation of so few syllables. Conflict has become a sanitised

affair in the late 20th century, conducted from lofty heights, but what

we are facing now is the potential of unvarnished and bloody war.



Having so far failed to halt the Serbian ethnic cleansing programme

through clinical ’military strikes’, both the UK and US governments are

now faced with the task of convincing the public of the necessity of, at

worst, a ground war, or placing an international protectorate in

Kosovo.



The Government has already acknowledged that it will need to wheel out

the big guns in PR terms in order to overcome public self-interest.



Not only has Defence Secretary George Robertson embarked on a media

offensive backed by Tony Blair, but NATO has provided unprecedented

access to the media and chief of defence staff and General Sir Charles

Guthrie has even penned a column for the Sunday Times explaining the

complexities of forcing Milosevic back to the negotiating table.



However it is likely to be an uphill struggle to convince the UK public

that sending our boys to the Balkans would be in the national

interest.



Polls undertaken over the weekend show that while support for bombing

runs at two to one, only nine percent believe that Kosovo is worth the

life of a single British serviceman.



To sell the concept of a humanitarian war to the UK public, the

Government is going to need to engage the public on a still more

fundamental and emotional level.



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