Changing technology and old fashioned propaganda in Nagorno-Karabakh

  • Simone Neads
  • 23.11.2020 16:58

The conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia has illustrated the availability of weaponized technology. Social media information campaigns and drone attacks were carried out by both sides, giving some insight into what future wars might look like.

The peace deal 

The peace deal, which was signed by both sides on November 9th seems to have ended the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, which broke out on September 27th. The deal stipulated that Armenia withdraw from all of their - previously disputed - territories surrounding the region. Plus, allow for a new transit corridor to be created between Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan region, a historically important location.

Although the agreement is neutral in some of its terms such as the return of prisoners of war, it is being criticized by Armenia as being unfair.


Challenges to the peace agreement 

There is reason to be skeptical about the longevity of the agreement given the previous attempts at ceasefires have been broken within days. This peace agreement seems to be relatively stable however, and both Russia and Turkey have promised to send in peacekeepers to maintain the peace.

The peace agreement is being celebrated in Azerbaijan as the return of illegally occupied territory, however in Yerevan, it led to almost immediate protest. Citizens, families of the deceased, and displaced people, all criticize the deal which was signed in secret as being a betrayal of the Armenian people. The protests are calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Pashinyan. The protests are perhaps unsurprising given the use of strategic messaging or propaganda by both sides throughout the conflict.

Protesters broke into the Armenian parliament building on November 10. 


Strategic Messaging 

Many in Yerevan were taken aback by the agreement, because up to that point they had only received positive news about the conflict. This, despite the fact Azerbaijan had been steadily gaining territory for the previous six weeks. The use of deceptive and nationalistic messaging was not unique to Armenia, both sides have taken to social media to promote the war. The messaging has included flashy patriotic music videos, as well as supposed combat footage showing each side’s military victories.

Many of the videos show the use of technology and especially drones to destroy the enemy’s equipment. These videos have let not just civilians within each country, but people around the world, view the combat up close. This may be a good indicator for the future of warfare.


Drones and the demise of the tank?

There have been many commentators who have viewed the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as proof the drones have made tanks obsolete. Recent development in technology has meant that drones are becoming simultaneously, cheaper, easier to manufacture and more dangerous. This means that the weapon that was once only possible for superpower militaries to possess, can now be manufactured and sold at a much cheaper price to any warring group.


A data source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute 

It should be noted that one of the reasons for Azerbaijan's military victory was their much larger military budget, and Turkey’s willingness to supply the country with both equipment and training. This allowed the country access to a fleet of drones that likely determined the outcome. 

There were early reports of kamikaze drones being used by Azerbaijan even against civilian infrastructure targets. These were likely Israeli-made Harop drones, light weight vehicles that can be loaded with a 15kg warhead. These drones can be lethal even to armoured vehicles and could be produced almost anywhere.

Turkey also supplied Azerbaijan with high powered Bayraktar TB2 drones, comparable to the US reaper. These drones were a key component to the Azeri advances, as they were able to maintain superior surveillance of opponents movements, and have more precise targeting for long range missile strikes.


“This means that warfare of the future may be increasingly long range with combatants relying on drones and missiles to defeat the enemy”


While the drones are by no means a new military technology, the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict illustrates how much the technology is transforming warfare. Neither country has the finances to maintain a competitive air force, but for both countries drones provided an effective and lethal alternative. Territorial gains are no longer being made by ground forces, as tanks can be taken out from above. 

This means that warfare of the future may be increasingly long range with combatants relying on drones and missiles to defeat the enemy. This is not new to western militaries, as the US has long relied on air superiority. However, the current proliferation of drones may mean that any combatant can have access to this similar lethal potential as drones become increasingly easy and cheap to manufacture. There is potential to even modify commercially available drones to be used in warfare. 

The implications of this are worrying. It could mean that the combat territory would increasingly include civilian targets as there would be no “front” where the conflict would take place. This is already being seen in other conflicts such as Syria and Afghanistan, where drones have proven to be effective at taking out precise targets but not at ending the conflicts. 


Technology post conflict

Both of the technologies mentioned, may also have their place in conflict resolution. The use of strategic messaging was used on both sides to increase support of the conflict and recruit fighters to the front. Now, that same strategic messaging may be needed to prevent the war from returning to a long drawn out frozen conflict, prone to returning to violence. This will be especially important for the Armenian side, where currently the peace agreement is seen as a betrayal. If there is no improvement in communication between the government and civilians, this may result in further protests, the end of the current government, and potentially even a return to conflict. 


“The strategic messaging may be needed to prevent the war from returning to a long drawn out frozen conflict, prone to returning to violence”


Drones also may have their place in maintaining the peace. Turkey has promised to use their surveillance technology to monitor any breaches of the peace agreement. However, this raises many ethical and legal questions, as Turkey was never neutral, always showning strong support for Azerbaijan. Maintaining the peace agreement through military equipment makes it feel much more like an occupation than a genuine attempt at peace.   


About author: Simone Neads


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