Beyond the Spin: Deciphering the Hidden Narratives Shaping the World

Unveiling Perception Management in International Relations.

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Lt Col Manoj K Channan
Lt Col Manoj K Channan
Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd) served in the Indian Army, Armoured Corps, 65 Armoured Regiment, 27 August 83- 07 April 2007. Operational experience in the Indian Army includes Sri Lanka – OP PAWAN, Nagaland and Manipur – OP HIFAZAT, and Bhalra - Bhaderwah, District Doda Jammu and Kashmir, including setting up of a counter-insurgency school – OP RAKSHAK. He regularly contributes to Defence and Security issues in the Financial Express online, Defence and Strategy, Fauji India Magazine and Salute Magazine. *Views are personal.

Perception management, a pivotal component in international relations, conflict, and geopolitical strategies, is decisive in shaping public opinion and influencing global events. This strategic approach, employed through media, propaganda, and other communication forms, aims to mould the perceptions and behaviours of various audiences. Its effectiveness and influence are evident in numerous historical and contemporary events, ranging from World Wars I and II to modern conflicts and political dynamics. The intricate web of narratives, often simplified for public consumption, reveals the underlying complexity and often hidden motives in global politics. This essay delves into the multifaceted nature of perception management, exploring its impact and implications across different historical periods and geopolitical scenarios.

In the intricate tapestry of international relations and global politics, the dynamics of power, influence, and strategic interests often overshadow long-standing alliances and ethical considerations. This complex interplay is vividly illustrated in the scenarios involving the DisInfo Lab’s revelations and the broader implications of Henry Kissinger’s astute observation of the perils of being both an enemy and a friend of the United States. These instances highlight nations’ multifaceted challenges in maintaining their sovereignty and strategic autonomy while navigating the turbulent waters of international politics.

Need for Corrective Measures. Correcting these biased narratives is crucial for a more equitable and truthful representation of global events. This involves promoting diverse perspectives in media and education, encouraging critical thinking about the sources of information, and acknowledging the complexity and multifaceted nature of international conflicts.

Perception Management 

Perception management is critical in international relations, conflict, and geopolitical strategies. It entails influencing the perception and behaviour of various audiences by forming public opinion, typically through media, propaganda, and other communication. This has been evident in numerous historical and contemporary events:

World War I and II. Propaganda played a significant role in these conflicts. The Axis Powers were often portrayed as evil in Allied countries, while the Allies positioned themselves as forces of good fighting against tyranny. This narrative helped in rallying support for the war efforts.

Korean and Vietnam Wars. These battles were set in the background of the Cold War, in which the US and its allies fought to contain the expansion of communism. The Korean and Vietnam conflicts were depicted as vital acts to prevent communism from spreading in Southeast Asia.

Iraq-Iran War and the 1990s. The shifting perception of Saddam Hussein is a classic example of perception management. Initially, during the Iraq-Iran war, the US supported Iraq as a counterbalance to Iranian influence. However, in the 1990s, following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, Saddam Hussein was recast as a dangerous dictator harbouring weapons of mass destruction.

Post 9/11 and War on Terror. Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the US initiated the War on Terror, originally focusing on Afghanistan. The narrative centred around fightiUSerrorism and dismantling terrorist networks. However, after spending significant resources and many years in Afghanistan, the US eventually withdrew, leading to a complex and often debated legacy.

Islamic Fundamentalism. Through out various periods, Islamic fundamentalism has been a focus of perception management, often being portrayed in Western media as a significant threat to global security.

Islamic Fundamentalism and the Middle East. The actions in Libya, Syria, and Egypt reflect a pattern in which external countries have intervened in crises under the guise of battling terrorism or supporting democratic values, with varied degrees of success and frequently unforeseen repercussions. These interventions have been criticised for exacerbating instability and violence rather than promoting peace and development.

Ukraine-Russia Conflict. The conflict between Ukraine and Russia is another example where the narrative is often simplified into a “good vs. evil” dichotomy, with Ukraine frequently portrayed as the victim of unprovoked aggression and Russia as the aggressor. However, the reality is more complex, involving historical, cultural, and geopolitical factors.

Racial and Cultural Biases in Narratives. Your point about the use of skin colour to define “good” and “evil” in Western narratives is a significant one. Historically, there has been a tendency in some Western media and political discourse to equate whiteness with virtues like democracy, freedom, and civilisation while portraying other races or cultures as inferior or threatening. This is a form of cultural imperialism that perpetuates stereotypes and biases.

Need for Corrective Measures. Correcting these biased narratives is crucial for a more equitable and truthful representation of global events. This involves promoting diverse perspectives in media and education, encouraging critical thinking about the sources of information, and acknowledging the complexity and multifaceted nature of international conflicts.

How conflicts and international relations are portrayed often reflects broader cultural, racial, and political biases. Challenging and correcting these narratives is essential for fostering a more nuanced and accurate understanding of global events. This requires a concerted effort across media, education, and public discourse to promote diversity, inclusivity, and critical examination of prevailing narratives.

These examples demonstrate how perception management has been used to justify, support, or oppose military actions and political strategies. It is essential to recognise that such narratives are often simplified and may only partially represent the complexities of the situations they describe. The role of media, propaganda, and strategic communication in shaping public opinion and foreign policy is a subject of significant study in international relations, media studies, and political science.

The New York Times Article

The DisInfo Lab article in The New York Times has been a subject of controversy and differing interpretations, particularly in the context of India’s internal and external political dynamics.

The EU DisinfoLab, a non-profit group researching disinformation campaigns, uncovered what they described as a 15-year-old influence operation serving Indian interests. This operation primarily involved resurrecting “dead media, dead think tanks and NGOs,” and in some cases, “dead people” to promote pro-Indian and anti-Pakistan narratives. 

The network was primarily linked to the New Delhi-based Srivastava Group, which had backed a think tank sponsoring a group of European Parliament members to visit Kashmir. The investigation indicated that the operation included accredited NGOs at the United Nations Human Rights Council, managed by the Srivastava Group and diverted from their original causes to serve political purposes. The DisInfo Lab’s findings suggested that these activities were part of a larger strategy to influence international opinion and policy-making in favour of Indian interests, particularly concerning Pakistan​​​​.

On the other hand, a report by OpIndia critiqued the Washington Post’s coverage of the DisInfo Lab, suggesting that it was part of a campaign to discredit the Lab and its findings. According to OpIndia, the Washington Post’s coverage was seen as an attempt to delegitimise those exposing anti-India narratives and promote individuals disseminating propaganda against India. OpIndia’s report indicated that the Washington Post’s article was part of a broader narrative that could be construed as biased against India, especially in the context of the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha elections in India​​.

The interpretations of the DisInfo Lab’s findings and the subsequent media coverage highlight the complexities and nuances in the geopolitical narrative involving India, its internal politics, and its relations with neighbouring countries, particularly Pakistan. The differing viewpoints also underscore the challenges in navigating and discerning the motivations behind various information sources and their implications for international relations and domestic politics.

The DisInfo Lab findings and the alleged foreign hand policy of the Congress government in India are part of a broader narrative related to manipulating information for political purposes. However, it is essential to note that these are two distinct situations with different actors and objectives.

DisInfo Lab’s Findings. The EU Disinfo Lab uncovered a network of coordinated UN-accredited NGOs promoting Indian interests while criticising Pakistan. This network, primarily linked to the New Delhi-based Srivastava Group, allegedly engaged in a 15-year-long influence operation targeting international institutions. The operation involved resurrecting defunct NGOs and media outlets to propagate pro-India and anti-Pakistan sentiment. This was seen as a form of ‘fifth-generation warfare’ aimed at reinforcing pro-India sentiment while pushing anti-Pakistan sentiment across the world by manipulating media and multiplying harmful online content about countries in conflict with India, particularly Pakistan.

Erstwhile Congress Government’s Foreign Hand Narrative. The erstwhile Congress government allegedly blamed the use of foreign hand policy in India’s internal politics to gather vote banks. However, it is a common practice in politics to leverage various narratives and strategies, including appealing to different demographics and interest groups, to consolidate vote banks. This broad and common global strategy in electoral politics is not exclusive to any particular party or government. 

The Henry Kissinger Paradox 

The statement attributed to Henry Kissinger, “To be America’s enemy is dangerous, but to be its friend is fatal,” encapsulates a complex and somewhat cynical view of international relations, particularly in the context of the United States foreign policy.

Perils of Being America’s Enemy. The first part of the statement highlights the apparent risks associated with being an adversary of the United States, which possesses significant military, economic, and diplomatic power. Countries that oppose US interests often face various challenges, including military interventions, economic sanctions, and diplomatic isolation.

Irony in Friendship. The more intriguing and controversial part of the statement is the suggestion that being an ally of the United States can also be perilous. This could imply that US support is often conditional and can change based on shifting political and strategic interests. AUSs might be suddenly abandoned or targeted if they no longer serve US interests.

Realpolitik and Changing Alliances. Kissinger, known for his realist approach to policy (often called Realpolitik), believed in making pragmatic, interest-based decisions rather than ones based on moral considerations. This statement reflects that international relations are fluid and alliances can change when national interests change.

Historical Context. During the Cold War and various conflicts, several US allies experienced a reversal of American support, sometimes leading to destabilisation or conflict within their borders. This observation by Kissinger might be referencing such historical instances.

Critique of US Foreign Policy. The statement can be seen as a critique of US foreign policy’s transactional or USle nature, where alliances are not always based on long-term commitments but on short-term strategic gains.

Warning to International Partners. This statement serves as a cautionary note for countries aligning with the US. Such alliances should be approached with a clear understanding of potential risks and the transient nature of political alliances.

Reflection of Global Power Dynamics. Lastly, the statement reflects the complex dynamics of global power politics, where major powers exert significant influence over smaller states, often leading to unintended or undesirable consequences for those states.

Dependence on Foreign Technology and Sanctions. The situation with India’s Tejas fighter jet, reliant on GE engines, highlights the vulnerability of countries dependent on foreign technology, especially from GEwerful nations like the US Sanctions, as a commonly used weapon by the US, can significantly impact a nation’s defence capacities, as seen in India’s GSLV project and poetically in the Tejas program. Kissinger’s statement resonates here, suggesting the risks associated with being too closely aligned with a superpower that can, at its discretion, withdraw support or impose sanctions.

Need for Indigenous Capabilities and Self-Reliance. The narrative of Werner Voss and the Fokker Dr1’s engine modifications during WW1 exemplifies ingenuity and self-reliance in adversity. For modern defence organisations like India’s HAL and DRDO, developing indigenous technologies or alternative sources becomes crucial to avoid the pitfalls of foreign dependency. This aligns with Kissinger’s implication about the danger of relying too much on powerful allies.

Geopolitical Manoeuvring and Balance of Power. The Indo-U.S. dynamics, especially in India’s regional security challenges and the US’s strategic interests in maintaining a balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region, underscore the interplay of alliances and interests. Kissinger’s statement hints at the intricate dance nations must perform to secure their interests without becoming overly dependent or antagonistic to significant powers.

Strategic Autonomy and Diplomatic Agility. Maintaining strategic autonomy in foreign policy and defence is vital for countries like India. This means navigating relationships with significant powers while avoiding entrapments or situations where external pressures, such as sanctions, limit their strategic choices.

Lessons from History and Future Preparedness. The historical anecdotes of WW1 and the contemporary scenarios suggest the importance of learning from history to prepare for future challenges. Just as Voss’s actions and the British and German reactions offer lessons in adaptability and innovation, current defence planners must anticipate potential challenges like sanctions and develop contingency plans.


The multifaceted phenomenon of perception management in international relations underscores the power of narratives in shaping public opinion, foreign policy, and global events. From historical conflicts to contemporary political dynamics, media, propaganda, and communication have played a critical role in influencing perceptions and decisions. The complexity of these narratives, often interwoven with cultural, racial, and political biases, calls for a critical examination and an understanding of the underlying motives and implications. The examples discussed, from World Wars to the intricate geopolitics of the modern era, highlight the need for vigilance, diversity in perspectives, and the promotion of a more nuanced understanding of international affairs. In an age where information is a potent tool, the ability to discern the truth amidst manipulated narratives remains a crucial challenge and responsibility for individuals and nations globally.


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