In 2012, the Austrian Ministry of Defence and Sports, through its National Defence Academy and the Directorate General for Security Policy, resumed the scientific work done by the PfP Consortium of Defence Academies and Security Studies Institutes in the South Caucasus. This initiative built upon a Study Group which began already in 2001 but was discontinued due to internal strife in the region in 2005.
Past workshops held since 2012 in Reichenau and in the wider region (Tbilisi, Istanbul, Kyiv and Chisinau, Varna) have demonstrated that the Study Group had established a broad academic basis and cohesion necessary to undertake ambitious cooperative projects. The 12th workshop of the Study Group provided the opportunity for experts to present and develop ideas concerning the possibility of developing a sample media narrative and campaign that could prepare public opinion for the difficult decisions that South Caucasus political elite have to make regarding status and cooperation. Letting the media shape public opinion, even with biased information, is permissible as long as the result is in the public interest, and fosters the common good. In today’s climate of rampant disinformation and misinformation, even benign neglect of the truth has serious implications for stability.
There are at least three levels of inquiry where faulty information can have disastrous results on regional stability. First, disinformation can have a devastating impact on the principles of freedom of information, freedom of speech and opinion. These democratic principles continue to be under threat in the South Caucasus, and the current ambiguity about information makes the media all the more suspect, which in turn, makes the principles of freedom of speech that underpin them suspect as well. Therefore, the democratic institution of a free and unimpeded media is all the more fragile. At the individual level, the paucity of information prevents constituents and consumers from making informed choices. Suboptimal choices have clear negative implications in health, finances and lifestyle. The negative outcomes of suboptimal choices are generally blamed on elected officials, and not on one’s own decisions, leading to possible outbreaks of domestic instability. At the state level, disinformation can lead a government astray, and lead it to rely on ever more intrusive intelligence, raising the specter of a privileged bureaucratic class within the security establishment, erroneous or suboptimal decision-making, or worse, paralysis of decision-making. Any of these factors, or a combination thereof can aggravate regional tensions, and make regimes vulnerable to instability.
This is why the co-chairs are convening a workshop entitled “Between Fact and Fakery, Information and Instability in the South Caucasus and Beyond” in Reichenau, Austria, 9-11 November 2016.