There have been various events and political processes in the last year that have caught many observers and analysts of international relations and geopolitics by surprise, when perhaps they should not have done so, given the benefit of hindsight. Europe has witnessed the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine War on the 24th of February 2022, later the shocking event of the destruction of the Nordstream Pipeline on the Baltic Sea floor and in Asia there are increasing tensions in the South China Sea and over Taiwan in the East China Sea. There is seemingly little to no ‘good’ or positive news to be gleaned from any of this at this moment in time. These events should not be taken in isolation from each other and, once this becomes clear, the logic of the propaganda that supports the United States’ geostrategy becomes more obvious and even somewhat predictable.

What is Geostrategy and How is it Waged?

Geopolitics concerns the role and influence of geography on the (in)ability of various actors to project and protect their interests and aspirations. Geostrategy is a branch of geopolitics that engages with strategy, it is the combination of strategic and geopolitical factors at play within a geographic space. Therefore, it concerns government strategic policy as seen through the lens of geopolitics. It is the goal of geostrategy to attain a desired effect of the policy maker in international relations, for example to consolidate or expand one’s own power and/or influence or to contain or weaken an opponent’s. This is achieved through deliberate actions (but can cause unintended effects) in the physical and information realms of international relations in terms of the geopolitical balances of influence and power.

The Decline and Rise of Global Orders

In the late 20th century with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States found itself to be a unipolar power that was the head of the Western order. The predictable reactions among American policymakers was to try and shape the rest of the world in their image, legitimized through the complicity of the centres of cultural production, such as academia, and the creation of the idea of democratic peace. Instead, the era of Never Ending Wars began at the start of the 21st century. There have been consequences from the over extension (politically, militarily and economically) of the US-led West’s wars of choice.

A consequence is the debate on the relative decline of the US and the Western world, which is not only concerning the events and processes at play in the physical realm, but also the cognitive realm and what people believe to be true. When polled recently, the majority of US respondents believe the US is in a crisis and a state of relative decline. In contrast to the relative decline of the US-led Western world, there is the relative rise of a non-Western multipolar order, which is based on the pursuit of interests and pragmatism rather than the messianic ideology of values and identity politics.

A state in relative decline can either choose to accept and manage its fate or else it can try to resist it. In 2020, Joseph Biden announced the intention to reclaim US global hegemony. This was rhetorically announced through the use of propaganda to prime mass public emotions (such as hope, nostalgia, fear and loathing).

The Fear of ‘Controlled Chaos’

Public conformity through the engineering of consensus is being attempted through the creation of a moral panic in international relations, where the sources of the panic are state actors that have been labelled as the enemy of ‘our’ values and ways of life. A public that is emotionally primed and uncritically thinking as a mass is much more prone to acts of psychological manipulation in their herd mentality state of mind. In this respect, the manufacturing of actual or imagined crises is the way forward to mass psychological manipulation, where an ill-defined or poorly understood risk/hazard (tangible or intangible) is introduced to the public as the first step in creating the demand for a political solution to the named crisis. Therefore, a crisis has both physical and informational dimensions to it. Something cherished is projected as being at risk (democracy, freedom, security, way of life, identity); the next step is to have the mass public accept the risk is real in order to present an already existing policy, such as geostrategy in international relations. In a state of fear (where a risk is seen as realistic and that it can affect them personally) the mass public will instinctively choose the proposed policy, even if it goes against their self-interest.

What is the Aim of the US Geostrategy, and How does Propaganda Support it?

The current US geostrategic imperatives follow those outlined by Brzezinski in 1997, which back then concerned the US ability to consolidate and expand its global influence. In the contemporary circumstance, the aim is to contain its geopolitical rivals to arrest the rise of the non-Western multipolar global order. Currently, the dilemma concerns the challenges to the US dominance and hegemony by China in the Indo-Pacific region, Iran in the Middle East and Russia in Europe. Rather than take on these challengers consecutively, the geostrategic approach has been to engage them simultaneously.

Bandwagon propaganda plays a central part of US geostrategy, attempting to exploit information as the fifth dimension of strategy to constrain and contain its targets. Brand and reputation management plays a key role in this aspect of the strategy, such as the rebranding of the Western order from one based on the principles of international law to a ‘rules-based order’. There is a subtle and important distinction between an established formal set of laws and unestablished informal sets of rules.

This is seen in the approach to manage great power relations in an age of the transformation of the geopolitical order. A crisis needed to be manufactured and established, which was initially done through evoking the brand of the New Cold War, to engineer public perception and consent. Propaganda of the word has been transformed into propaganda of the deed through an attempted aggressive expansion of US power and influence that was justified by the propaganda narrative of a ‘just defence’, firstly against Russia, but expanded to include China and Iran.

The war in Ukraine was seen as an opportunity to contain and even roll back Russian influence and power. Rhetorically, the conflict is narrated in a typical binary fashion of good against evil, democracy versus autocracy by mainstream politics and mainstream mass media. A crisis of values and norms has been engineered to enforce conformity and through this, the false impression of consensus. The bandwagon propaganda paints a simplistic picture of the rules-based order and the ‘world are standing against Russia’. Specific propaganda buzzwords, such as the ‘international community’ or ‘isolated Russia’, are important in the fifth dimension of strategy creating the impression of an ethical righteous unity and a condemned pariah.

The intention of the propaganda is to justify the geostrategic policy and otherwise unjustifiable actions during ordinary times through the creation of an extraordinary circumstance, where the suggested political resolution to the mediated crisis includes arming a belligerent client state, funding them, not to mention various levels of non-transparent and unaccountable involvement in sabotage operations such as the attack on the Crimean Bridge and the Nordstream pipelines. The climate of fear, together with information domain dominance through gatekeeping and engineered consensus initially manufactures consent among the emotionally primed public that admire Ukraine, hate Russia and are fearful that their values, identity and way of life are under attack. Therefore, giving consent to foreign policy that threatens and undermines their self-interest, security, economic well-being and standard of living.

However, with time and the physical reality more strongly contradicting the propaganda projections, it shall become increasingly difficult for the US and its system of vassals to mask the lie. Another war of choice, where Ukraine as a proxy was intended to weaken and contain Russia, will likely fail and achieve the result of destroying Ukraine and accelerating the US order’s decline instead.

(Featured Image: “Playing ‘Risk’” by Tambako the Jaguar is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.)


  • Greg Simons

    Dr. Greg Simons is an Associate Professor based at Uppsala University in Sweden. His research is focused upon a number of interrelated areas, namely the communicated interpretation and representation of people, places, events and processes in international relations. This includes the use of the disciplinary lenses as political marketing, crisis communications, propaganda, PR, information warfare, political warfare and geopolitics to uncover the 21st century transformations in global politics and geopolitics. A number of his publications can be found here - (8) Greg Simons | Uppsala University -