Prague, 12 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- In Belgrade today, U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke was due to meet again with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in an attempt to reach an accord on Kosovo that might avoid the use of force. In Brussels, NATO's 16 ambassadors are meeting to authorize, either today or tomorrow, airstrikes against Serbia if no diplomatic agreement emerges. Western press commentators today and over the weekend assess the importance of possible NAT0 intervention in the Kosovo crisis.
FINANCIAL TIMES: Authorizing air attacks poses a huge moral dilemma
Britain's Financial Times says today that "authorizing air attacks against a country over its treatment of its own citizens is a step not to be taken lightly --indeed, it poses a huge moral dilemma." The paper's editorial continues: "It is nevertheless a step which, given the atrocities and the blatant non-compliance which followed September's UN Security Council resolution, NATO is justified in taking....The outside world cannot simply stand by and allow 50,000 ethnic-Albanian refugees to freeze and starve in the open because the Serbian army and special police have hounded them from their villages."
The FT also says: "Bombing Yugoslavia (would be) a clear snub to Moscow. There is also a danger that it will strengthen Mr. Milosevic at home in Belgrade, not weaken him. The difficult decision over whether to take military action will be followed only too rapidly by the need to demonstrate that it was worthwhile, and that NATO has a fair and effective exit strategy."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: It now seems the Yugoslav President will continue to play until the bitter end
In Germany, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung's editorial is titled "Slobodan Milosevic's Last Trump." The paper writes: "In the Balkan crisis, Slobodan Milosevic is often described as (a card) player. This is a cynical epithet because in this type of 'game,' where it is a case of war or peace, the stakes are human lives." The paper continues: "But Milosevic is a cynic, and it now seems that the Yugoslav President (will continue to play until) the bitter end.... His offer to find a political solution to the crisis has long been seen as a maneuver to divert attention. Since the Western alliance, led by Washington, does not want to leave any more doubts about its resolution, both sides are steering, without applying any brakes, toward a military confrontation."
The SZ also says: "Yet Slobodan Milosevic seems to still believe he has enough trumps in his hand. What is the Belgrade ruler betting on? Certainly he is trying to win time by exploiting weak points in the Western camp....Yet if today...the NATO Council gives the order for an attack on Kosovo, combat aircraft could take off any moment. Then Slobodan Milosevic (would be) risking the loss of his own military power. So his last trump is: He is the only one who can end the escalation with a credible retreat."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Time has now run out for NATO in Kosovo
Writing over the weekend (Oct. 10) in the Los Angeles Times, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Robert Hunter (1993-98) warns: "Don't let Milosevic win while the West temporizes." In a commentary, he writes: "Time has now run out for NATO in Kosovo. Unless it decides promptly to counter Serbian atrocities with military force, the alliance's credibility will be seriously damaged. This will send a telling message to everyone in the Balkans and beyond who is judging Western willpower to stop conflict and deal with the realities of post-Cold War instability."
Hunter's commentary goes on: "The case for NATO's turning bluff to battle is strengthened by experience. When the alliance did finally begin Bosnia airstrikes in August 1995, Milosevic and company rapidly backed down and the war stopped."
He concludes: "In Bosnia, 3,000 civilians had to die in Srebrenica before the allies finally agreed to use force to stop the slaughter. The Kosovars butchered (two weeks ago in the ethnic Albanian village of) Gornje Obrinje deserve no less respect."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Without action a grave humanitarian disaster will engulf many thousands
In the International Herald Tribune today Julia Taft, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, says that "without movement very soon --diplomatic preferably, but military if necessary-- a grave humanitarian disaster will engulf...many thousands of men, women and children (in Kosovo)."
Taft writes: "Access (for humanitarian organizations) and a secure atmosphere are critical because without them, tens of thousands could starve to death or freeze this winter....Mr. Milosevic (must) take steps to allow unfettered movement of internally displaced persons and full access for relief workers."
She adds: "It is not just a relief problem. The latest reports of civilian massacres show the potential for the situation in Kosovo to become even graver. Not all the atrocities have been committed by the Serbs...but it is clear that Serbian actions provoked the current crisis."
NEW YORK TIMES: The world's economic situation is perilous
The worrying state of the world's economy continues to evoke commentary in the Western press. In an editorial yesterday, the New York Times said: "The world's economic situation is perilous, and there is little doubt that there will be pain and suffering in many countries during the next few years. But the problems need not lead to world recession, let alone depression. With time and wisdom, the problems can be overcome."
The paper went on to say: "While there are no magic (cures), and the process will be slow, necessary steps to protect the world economy have emerged. Pro-growth policies will be needed in Europe and the United States. Central banks will have to lower interest rates, and major countries may have to cut taxes or raise spending to provide fiscal stimulus....Countries that had relied on overseas investors to finance large trade and budget deficits must deal with a newly hostile investment climate."
The NYT added: "At the same time, there are some policy prescriptions that should be avoided. The U. S. is running a huge trade deficit, as exports to Asia fall. There are cries for protectionism, particularly in steel and agriculture, that must be resisted. The trade deficit is a major reason that the dollar has started to decline, a fall that will help to ameliorate the problem over time."
WASHINGTON POST: Mr. Clinton missed a prime opportunity
In the Washington Post, foreign-affairs columnist Jim Hoagland writes that "the most important speech by (U.S.) President Bill Clinton to the world's bankers and financiers who assembled in Washington (last week) was the one he did not give. His analysis of the spreading global recession was a fitting prelude to a specific U.S. action plan that he did not offer."
Hoagland's commentary goes on: "The emergence of the much maligned welfare states of (Western) Europe as a zone of relative currency stability and a source of growth is a big economic change that official Washington is having trouble taking on board. It contradicts much of the conventional wisdom that developed about the global economy in the 1990s."
He adds: "Mr. Clinton missed a prime opportunity to lay out his own version of an action plan to (those) gathered in Washington. The turmoil that promptly engulfed the dollar and Wall Street is a clear signal to him that he needs to give the rest of that speech and put a plan into place, now."
WALL STREET JOURNAL: Complacency looks increasingly misguided
The Wall Street Journal Europe today carries a commentary by economic analyst Jean-Michel Paul that is far from being as optimistic about Western Europe's economic prospects as is Hoagland.
Paul writes: "Conventional wisdom still holds that the European Union will remain relatively untouched by the financial crisis sweeping the world's 'emerging' markets. That complacency looks increasingly misguided. EU banks hold the lion's share of the bad debt in these regions. Those bad debts will create a credit crunch in Europe, and therefore a serious policy dilemma, just as the EU introduces the euro (on Jan. 1)."
Paul goes on: "EU banks account for 68.5 percent of all lending to emerging and East European markets. These banks will thus transmit the major part of the credit crunch to their home countries precisely as the euro is introduced. Because of Europe's heavy exposure, even under optimistic assumptions, the credit crunch in Europe would wipe out more than 10 percent of lending capacity. "
"To make matters worse," Paul adds, "the exposure of each European country's banking system to international markets varies substantially --a serious dilemma under the (EU's) new single interest rate regime."
(Dora Slaba translated excerpts from the German press)