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Are propagandists combatants? Analysing the ethical status of propagandists in warfare

This article was written by Marie Robin
This article was published on

In this short video abstract, author Marie Robin discusses the key arguments from her new Review of International Studies article - ‘Are propagandists combatants? Analysing the ethical status of propagandists in warfare'.

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Belligerents increasingly rely on media manipulation, propaganda, and communication to attain strategic advantages in conflict. Given the civilian propagandists’ clear role in creating tactical or strategic advantages for one side in the conflict, should these propagandists be considered combatants, and can they therefore be legitimately targeted because of their activities? This article overcomes traditional binary frameworks of distinction to argue that propagandists are indirectly participating civilians, i.e. participants who cannot be intentionally or directly killed in conflict. Because of their activities, propagandists, it argues, are liable to less-than-lethal harm, of which it identifies three types (destruction of property, privation of liberty, isolation). The article then proposes a necessary criterion – necessity – to decide if less-than-lethal harm is warranted against propagandists. It then creates four new criteria – denial of agency, falsehood, influence, gratification – to serve as assessment criteria able to decide what degree of harm a propagandist may maximally face. In making this argument, the article contributes to just war literature by proposing a novel way to evaluate the ethical status of a highly diverse, yet undoubtedly influential, category of war participants: those who undertake the ‘media battle’, outside of the military.

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