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
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
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.