By Thomas Schmidinger
It may be a marginal observation given the humanitarian catastrophe, global economic dislocation and cultural devastation, but it is nevertheless an interesting one for me as a political scientist: the Ukraine war is a new form of war, but in particular a new form of political communication of war. If Syria was/is the first civil war/transnational war of the social media age, then the Ukraine war is the first classic state war of the social media age, in which opinion-forming or propaganda functions very strongly via various social media channels, live broadcasts by politicians, etc. This will have several effects, and will have to be observed and analysed further. I consider three of them to be particularly dangerous:
- The suffering of civilians becomes even more of a currency on the propaganda front, which could lead to their deliberate acceptance. This does not mean that it does not exist or should not be reported, quite the contrary. But I see a danger here.
- The readiness of the civilian population to defend itself plays an important role. Again and again, military training is filmed and photographed by civilians… As understandable and legitimate as this is from the point of view of the individual civilians, it threatens to weaken the distinction between civilians and combatants, which is crucial for international humanitarian law.
- The targeted recruitment of volunteers on both sides leads to people getting combat experience that can later be used elsewhere, probably including right-wing extremists or other really problematic groups. And even those who are not extremists will return home severely psychologically damaged from the war and will perhaps only be able to do exactly that again: Fight somewhere else again. There is already a growing number of global mercenaries from war regions such as Sudan or Syria, who make warfare financially and politically cheaper. This could now be multiplied once again.
I share these observations here without being able to judge them conclusively, but I fear that this further development of war may contribute to a softening of previous rules of warfare and risk more civilian casualties and damage than before, and that future wars will once again be cheaper to wage, meaning that the risk can be taken more quickly. I hope I am wrong.