The conflict with Russia proves that public opinion must be controlled, French Army Chief of Staff Pierre Schill has said French Army Chief of Staff Pierre Schill (left) inspects UK officer cadets last April in Surrey, England. © Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has shown that today’s warfare necessitates controlling public opinion by dictating what information is made available to people, the French Army’s chief of staff has concluded.

Speaking in an interview posted on Sunday by Defense News in advance of this week’s Eurosatory defense and security conference in Paris, French Army General Pierre Schill said the conflict in Eastern Europe has “changed the dynamics of combat.” He added that in addition to key advances on the battlefield – such as more extensive use of drones and military adaptation of civilian technologies – the crisis has proven that the flow of information must be controlled “to influence both national and international public opinion.”

“The army plays a crucial role in the information domain,” Schill said. “Without the capacity to convince and to counter adverse influence, any military engagement can fail. The emergence of social networks has reinforced this notion and has significantly accelerated the dissemination of information, whether true or false, while increasing its volume, reach and resonance.”

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While Western media outlets and governments have walked largely in lockstep on their Ukraine messaging, public support for funding the conflict has waned. A Harris Poll report released in February showed that about 70% of Americans want their government to push Ukraine toward a negotiated peace deal with Russia. Former US diplomats Michael Gfoeller and David Rundell wrote last year in a Newsweek op-ed that the West’s “propaganda machine” had “overplayed its hand” in the former Soviet republic.

Schill said other lessons learned in Ukraine included the importance of long-range drone surveillance, electronic warfare, and the use of weapons with greater lethality. Militaries also face more pressure to protect high-value targets, such as command posts, in an era when technological advances make it easier to detect their locations.

France deployed more than 500 troops to NATO’s eastern flank in Romania, serving as the bloc’s “spearhead” battalion, just four days after the Russia-Ukraine conflict began in February 2022, Schill noted. Those forces were later expanded to over 1,000 soldiers, including an air defense detachment and a forward command element.

“These successive deployments show the reactivity and preparedness of our troops,” the French general said. “The difficulties in the administrative, customs, interoperability, and training domains have been overcome. We’re drawing the lessons with our European partners.”

Eurosatory is Europe’s largest defense show. This year’s conference is billed as taking “the full measure” of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.