The first major post-Cold War conflict, the 1991 Gulf war, indicated how much had already changed. Saddam Hussein had enjoyed Western support in Iraq's war against Iran in the 1980s, but was abruptly cast as the 'new Hitler' after his invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. This book is about how the media have interpreted conflict and international intervention in the years after the Cold War. By comparing press coverage of a number of different wars and crises, it seeks to establish which have been the dominant themes in explaining the post-Cold War international order and to discover how far the patterns established prior to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks have subsequently changed. The key concern is with the legitimacy of Western intervention: the aim is to investigate the extent to which Western military action is represented in news reporting as justifiable and necessary. The book presents a study that looks at UK press coverage of six conflicts and the international response to them: two instances of 'humanitarian military intervention' (Somalia and Kosovo); two cases in which the international community was criticised for not intervening (Bosnia and Rwanda); and two post-9/11 interventions (Afghanistan and Iraq). There were a number of overlapping UN and US interventions in Somalia in the early 1990s. Operation Restore Hope was the first major instance of post-Cold War humanitarian military intervention, following the precedent set by the establishment of 'safe havens' for Iraqi Kurds and other minorities at the end of the 1991 Gulf war.
Throughout the Cold War era, Western governments were generally clear about who their enemies were and whom they could count on as allies. One of the most common ideas about post-Cold War conflicts is that the collapse of communism unleashed pent-up tensions. Understandings of the media's role in post-Cold War conflicts and interventions range from the view that news reporting has the power to shape foreign policy, through to the argument that it serves as a conduit for official misinformation and spin. This chapter outlines a number of key debates which have been influential in shaping how the post-Cold War world has been understood, before going on to examine the role played by the news media. It is clear from the public debate surrounding the conflict with Iraq in 2003 that the legitimacy of intervention remains a crucial and controversial issue. Finally, the chapter presents an outline of this book.
There were a number of overlapping UN and US interventions in Somalia in the early 1990s. During 1993, the US military became involved in a manhunt for the Somali 'warlord' General Mohammed Farah Aidid, culminating in an abortive raid which resulted in the deaths of 18 US troops in October 1993. The event which prompted the greatest number of articles critically evaluating the role of the media was the landing of US troops at the start of Operation Restore Hope. Operation Restore Hope was the first major instance of post-Cold War humanitarian military intervention, following the precedent set by the establishment of 'safe havens' for Iraqi Kurds and other minorities at the end of the 1991 Gulf war. The crisis in Somalia tended to be understood as a problem of disorder and division. Even more marginal was criticism of the fact that the military intervention undermined Somalia's sovereignty.
Recognition of Bosnian independence in 1992 followed the secession of the republics of Croatia and Slovenia from the federal Yugoslav state the previous year. The accusations and counter-accusations of bias among both reporters and analysts of the Bosnian war can sometimes become exaggerated because of a fundamental disagreement about the legitimacy of Western intervention in the post-Cold War world. Susan Woodward identifies two competing views of the causes of the Bosnian war, both of which informed the policies of Western governments. First understood it as an 'ethnic' conflict, arising from longstanding mutual antagonisms which had been given free rein with the end of the Cold War. Second explained the war as the result of Serbia's aggressive territorial ambitions. Woodward argues that Western accusations of war crimes were 'a servant of American policy toward the conflict'.
US reluctance to intervene in Rwanda 1994 is seen as a consequence of America's recent experience in Somalia, but it may also indicate that the US had calculated that the best outcome would be a decisive Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) victory. There was certainly conflict between Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda in the past, including largescale massacres, but this was the product of post-colonial politics rather than of centuries-old tribal hatred. Analyses which emphasise Hutu cultural difference and deference to authority, and which take little account of the circumstances of civil war and international intervention which polarised Rwandan society, tend to see the refugees in a wholly negative light. In a 25 July 1994 commentary for the Guardian, Germaine Greer railed against coverage of the refugee exodus, describing the media as a collective 'parasite' and accusing them of 'stripping the Rwandan refugees of their last shred of dignity'.
The status of Kosovo had been raised as an international issue at the time of the Bosnian war, but Western interest in Kosovo increased from late 1997. This chapter focuses on Operation Allied Force, the Nato air campaign against Yugoslavia from 24 March to 10 June 1999. The fact that Nato intervention meant interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign state was not perceived as a major problem by most press commentators. The Guardian's Ian Black noted that 'since the end of the cold war, the case for humanitarian intervention inside sovereign states has gained ground in 1991'. Nato's intervention was in response to the conflict in the Serbian province of Kosovo and was triggered by the Yugoslav government's failure to sign a peace agreement with representatives of Kosovo's ethnic-Albanian majority. Critics have accused mainstream Western media of acting as propaganda mouthpieces for Nato during the Kosovo campaign.
This chapter focuses on Operation Enduring Freedom: the US-led military action in Afghanistan, undertaken in response to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the US. The 'war on terror' discourse which developed in the wake of 9/11 was more than just a way of framing the conflict in Afghanistan. Commentators have suggested that it was more like the Cold War framework, in that it purported to explain a host of domestic and international developments, and offered a comprehensive model for making sense of diverse events. Karim H. Karim said that previous US involvement in Afghanistan was 'hardly ever mentioned in the media, which instead presented the US as a savior for the long-suffering Afghans'. The Guardian saw some hope that the future direction of international intervention in Afghanistan might follow a more Blairite 'humanitarian' agenda.
After its defeat in the 1991 Gulf war, Iraq was subjected to international economic sanctions, which caused large-scale suffering. In 1998, according to former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, the US used the inspections programme to gather intelligence and to provoke a conflict by demanding greater access than that agreed between Iraq and the UN. In 1999 the Independent had used the example of Iraq as an argument in favour of intervention in Kosovo. Military action was launched by a US-led coalition on 20 March 2003 as a 'pre-emptive' strike, justified mainly through allegations that Iraq possessed 'weapons of mass destruction' (WMD). A secondary justification presented intervention as part of the 'war on terrorism', in that it was claimed that Saddam Hussein's regime had connections with al-Qaeda. Media commentators sometimes combined an anti-war stance with an emphasis on the need for tough intervention.
The disturbing feature of many accounts, including those in the media, which explain post-Cold War conflicts in terms of genocide is that the quest for moral simplicity involves distortion. Many critics have suggested that a new model of 'ethnic' or 'tribal' conflict became dominant in the 1990s, a model which offered misleading explanations of why conflict had broken out in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and which apparently justified inaction rather than intervention. At least as far as the 'ethical' interventions of the 1990s are concerned, journalists were active collaborators in writing the script rather than simply colluding with the presentation offered by official sources. The legitimacy of Western military intervention was almost never questioned in the press. In this respect, whatever explanations were adopted in relation to particular conflicts, the key organising idea was that of sovereign inequality.