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Western Press Review: Worries About International Institutions

  • Don Hill

Prague, 2 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Commentaries in the newspapers surveyed for today's press review address a variety of topics.


The "Financial Times" worries in an editorial that the European Union may not be ready to take in 10 new members as scheduled in May. "The European Union takes another leap into the unknown this year when its membership expands from 15 to 25. Enlargement on 1 May to include the former communist countries of Eastern and Central Europe, plus Cyprus and Malta, was always going to be a huge challenge. But whether a 25-member EU can actually work is more uncertain than ever."

The newspaper says: "Enlargement should be a cause for celebration, marking the end of the East-West divide imposed by the Cold War. Instead, the mood inside the EU has become steadily more sour since enlargement to 25 became a political reality at the Copenhagen summit of December 2002."

The "Financial Times" asks and answers: "Will the EU, so constituted, be able to work with 25 members? The glib answer is that it will have to."


An editorial in "The New York Times" discusses similar concerns over the continuing effectiveness of the United Nations. It says that what it calls the "taste for unilateral action" of the government of President George W. Bush has created or exacerbated conflicts across many multilateral institutions.

The editorial says: "The war in Iraq brought these conflicts to a new height. Washington's rush to invade split the Security Council in ways that have still not healed. Yet, the months since the Iraq invasion have shown how much the United States still needs the UN's unparalleled ability to confer international legitimacy and its growing experience in nation-building."

The newspaper continues: "Instead of complaining about the UN, Washington should smooth the path for its return. It should take up Secretary-General Kofi Annan's suggestion of a three-way meeting of UN officials, the American occupation administration and the Iraqi Governing Council later this month to clarify the role the UN can play in shaping the transition to a self-governing Iraq. One meeting would not resolve all the differences between Washington and the UN. But it would be a useful start."

The editorial concludes: "America needs the United Nations as an effective partner in Iraq, not as a whipping boy for the administration's continuing problems there. The UN needs to be involved, most immediately so it does not default on its responsibilities to the Iraqi people. By taking a strong role in shaping Iraq's return to the community of sovereign nations, the UN can also demonstrate that it is determined not to let its global influence be marginalized."


"The Guardian" of Britain says today in its lead editorial that Israel's announced plans to expand its settlements in the occupied Golan Heights are not nearly as clear cut as they initially appeared when first reported in the Israeli press this week. The scheme was immediately denounced by Syria, which lost the Golan in 1967 and wants all its territory returned. France, presuming to speak for the EU, issued its own warning. An alarmed United States requested clarification. But this contentious matter is perhaps better understood in terms of internal Israeli politicking.

It seems that Yisrael Katz, the hawkish agriculture minister, and others in the divided ruling coalition who favor new settlements, may be trying to force [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's hand. They may also be trying to derail an informal proposal last month by Syria's president, Hafez Assad, cautiously welcomed by Israel's foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, for renewed bilateral dialogue. If the road map for peace with the Palestinians continued to lead nowhere, Mr. Shalom said, Israel should pursue the Syrian track.

"It really is time for Mr. Assad [to make good on] his offer of talks, to tap into the proffered goodwill of countries like Britain, France and Germany, to pre-empt the hard-liners in the United States and Israel, to lead the Arab world by example rather than cling ever more irrelevantly to the political models, old grudges and bilious hate-speak of his father's era," the newspaper concludes.


An editorial in Britain's "The Times" expresses admiration for what it says is the courage of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in offering a compromise to India. "When Atal Bihari Vajpayee joins President Musharraf around the dinner table in Islamabad tomorrow, it will be the first time that the Indian and Pakistani leaders have met for more than two years, let alone exchanged pleasantries."

The editorial continues: "The basis for this guarded diplomatic optimism is the momentous and far-reaching decision by President Musharraf last month to drop Pakistan's demand for a plebiscite in Kashmir organized by the United Nations."

It says: "The move has certainly convinced Pakistan's Islamist nationalists that their cause no longer has official backing. The two attempts on the president's life last month underline not only his personal courage but also the determination of his enemies."

The newspaper says, "General Musharraf has been rewarded with an overwhelming vote of confidence in both houses of parliament." And it adds: "The vote is important in that it goes a long way to formal legitimization of his presidency. This [should] convince the outside world that President Musharraf needs all the support he can find to pursue his agenda in the face of opposition from those whose preferred policy option is assassination."


"The Wall Street Journal Europe" editorializes under the headline "Progress in Afghanistan" that "the successful conclusion of the Loya Jirga [now concluding its work in Kabul] will be critical to keeping up the momentum for democratization."

The editorial says, "Chief among the sticking points is the power of the presidency." The role of Islamic law, the newspaper adds, "is another crucial question."

It says: "Afghanistan still needs more outside help to promote security in the provinces and build up the national army. [However,] for now it's up to the delegates at the Constitutional Loya Jirga to make the compromises necessary so that Afghans can move another step toward stable self-rule."


In an editorial today, the "Los Angeles Times" examines the results of last month's election in Serbia. "What happens when radicals hijack democracy for their own anti-democratic ends? Serbia's election last Sunday, in which nationalists garnered the biggest share of the vote, offers a fresh reminder that it's easier to champion than to create viable democratic societies."

The editorial pairs Serbia and Iraq, saying that the tasks of nation-building and of introducing democracy will require patience and perseverance by Western sponsors, especially the United States.

The editorial says: "Upheaval and assassinations have hampered [Serbia's] path toward stability and a prosperous economy. As long as ultranationalism remains a serious force, international corporations will be reluctant to invest in Serbia, and its eventual entry into the European Union will be slowed."

It says: "Much of the blame falls on democratic forces themselves. Since nationalist thugs murdered Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in March, Serbia's democratic parties have been mired in scandals and power struggles rather than governing. The nationalists deftly exploited the squabbles by promising a quick economic recovery and an expansion of Serbia's borders at the expense of its neighbors."


"The Boston Globe" pairs another set of historical situations. It editorializes that there are some parallels worth contemplating between the late U.S. President Richard Nixon's backing for the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile and Bush's embracing of "tyrants and torturers" in his war on terrorism.

The newspaper says, "A nasty truth is that the U.S. government colluded with Pinochet's fascistic military dictatorship -- and all too many others -- out of a deluded belief that the Cold War left Washington no other choice."

It says that the memory of this recurrent fallacy "should serve as an antidote to President Bush's error of assuming that to fight Osama bin Laden's terrorist gang Bush needs to back any dictator and human rights abuser who wants U.S. solicitude for the crushing of his own local Islamists. Uzbekistan's ruler Islam Karimov is no gentler than Pinochet. The military-backed regime in Algeria is no more respectful of human rights. And Bush's tolerance of Vladimir Putin's dirty war in Chechnya shames America as much as [Nixon's] backing for Pinochet."