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Western Press Review: Kosovo, EU, Nigeria

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 1 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today and over the weekend touches on a variety of international problems. Among the chief subjects are the difficulties of achieving peace in Serbia's troubled southern Kosovo province, the European Union's so-far unsuccessful attempt to achieve essential internal reforms, China's human rights record, and yesterday's presidential elections in Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation.

GUARDIAN: The West must risk its own lives to prevent Serb massive reprisals

Britain's Guardian newspaper today urges the "use of [Western] troops to force peace" in Kosovo. In an editorial, the paper writes: "Exactly a year since the first Serb massacre of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo alerted the world to a new disaster looming in former Yugoslavia, the crisis remains unresolved. Two weeks of internationally sponsored talks in France on a political settlement," the paper adds, "made some progress last month but failed to reach agreement from either side."

The editorial continues: "The issue which can no longer be postponed is the need to consider using ground troops even if a deal is not struck. The West must draw up a sensible 'entry strategy' to impose peace. Air strikes on Serbia without an early follow-up with an intervention force on the ground make little sense."

"In two weeks time," the Guardian notes, "the negotiations which broke off in Rambouillet last Tuesday are due to resume. The first round failed largely because of blunders by the [ethnic] Albanian team...The latest word from Kosovo is that the Albanians realize their mistake [and] will accept the West's proposals. If that is borne out...the onus will be on the Serbs again....The only way to prevent [Serb] massive reprisals against ethnic Albanians," the paper concludes, " [for the West] to show we are willing to risk our own lives [which means sending professional troops into a 'hostile environment']."

NEW YORK TIMES: The West may yet have to go to war with Serbia

In a news analysis for the New York Times, Craig Whitney says that "Kosovo intransigence tests NATO credibility." He writes: "With Serbian troops disregarding a NATO ultimatum to stop fighting in Kosovo...or risk air attacks, the allies could face the gravest test of their credibility since they forced a settlement of the war in Bosnia three years ago."

The analysis goes on: "It took 60,000 NATO soldiers --led by about 20,000 Americans and an American general-- going into Bosnia in December 1995 to [implement] a peace accord....All the parties were exhausted after years of fighting....[But] in Kosovo," Whitney points out, "there is no such exhaustion, and there will be no such [large] American force..."

Whitney sums up: "The West decided last month that it would not tolerate war over the issue of independence for Kosovo. But it may yet have to go to war with Serbia to get it to accept autonomy for Kosovo."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: France and Germany are now at odds

Turning to European Union problems, the Wall Street Journal Europe today says "it was no real surprise that the EU summit meeting in [the Bonn suburb of] Petersberg, Germany, last Friday [Feb. 26] was an unalloyed failure. The budgetary differences separating the heads of state and government were so great and so many that they left Rhineland with none of them resolved."

The paper's editorial goes to says: "It was never likely that an agreement to lower EU spending on such politically sensitive sectors as agriculture would come before the clock ticks down to midnight on March 25, the deadline for the negotiations. After all, EU leaders have to be able to tell such noisy constituencies as the farmers that they fought [as hard as possible] to save their sacred handouts." The paper continues: "France and Germany, their axis long having been the main pillar of the Union, now are at odds over the EU's Common Agricultural Policy [CAP], making it startlingly clear how different the current France-German dynamic is from that which prevailed in the [Helmut] Kohl-[Francois] Mitterrand era....[And] CAP spending is only one of the EU's budgetary headaches. The so-called cohesion and structural funds, which aim to bring poorer regions into line with richer ones and, [like the CAP,] bleed the budget white, produced disagreement at Petersberg as well."

WASHINGTON POST: We seem to have ended with the worst of both possible worlds

On the eve of a visit to Beijing by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the Washington Post yesterday commented on the U.S. relations with China and the Communist government's continuing poor human-rights record. In an editorial the paper said: "When the Clinton Administration defended its policy of engagement with China [not long ago], it painted a bleak picture of the alternative. If the U.S. did not seek warmer relations with China, it warned, the Asian giant was more likely to become hostile. Democratization and human rights would suffer. China would not cooperate with the United States in trouble spots around the world."

"Well," the paper said, "President Clinton went to China to promote his 'strategic partnership,' and look what we have: a massive Chinese military buildup threatening Taiwan, according to a Pentagon report last week. A Chinese veto of a United Nations peacekeeping operation that had helped stabilize a key country in the Balkans [Macedonia], also last week."

The paper added: "And then there's human rights. Before the Administration's boasts on promoting openness and democracy in China had faded away last year, the Communist regime's latest roundup of democrats and dissidents had begun. As the State Department stated in its annual report on Friday [Feb. 26], China's government 'continued to commit widespread and well-documented human-rights abuses.'"

"We seem," the paper concluded, " have ended with the worst of both possible worlds. By flattering China and slighting traditional U.S. allies, Mr. Clinton has sowed nervousness among the Asian democracies whose friendship he should most value. Yet his eagerness to win friends in Beijing seems not have produced much improvement in the regime's domestic or international behavior."

LE MONDE: It's China that will isolate itself

France's national daily Le Monde also writes about Sino-American relations: "Once again, the U.S. [State Department] has determined that human rights are grossly violated in China. Once again, [President Clinton] has reminded the Beijing Government that it "cannot buy stability' --that is, its survival-- by depriving most Chinese of freedom. And once more, the Chinese Government has responded by pleading for greater world 'understanding.'"

The editorial calls this "a dialogue of the deaf." It says "that would hardly attract any attention if it didn't come after repeated efforts by Western leaders to attain through diplomacy what their own public opinions have not been able to obtain through indignant expression: that the Beijing Government accept governmental norms generally practiced in the West. [These include] that fundamental human rights be respected for all citizens, that a government of the rule of law replace the government of [very fallible] human beings, that the integrity of national minorities be protected." Le Monde adds: "The controversy in the West between those who have understood the necessity [for full human rights], and those who deny it because, they say, 'China must not be isolated' at any price, has gone on for far too long. It's China that will isolate itself if it allows its government exemptions from freedom."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: China is capable of wreaking havoc on ecosystems the world over

Two experts on China evoked another problem, that of the environment, in a commentary in yesterday's Los Angeles Times. Mark Hertsgaard and Zhenbing Zhou wrote: "The biggest environmental challenge in the world today is not global warming or ozone loss, as serious as those hazards are. Rather, it is poverty or, more precisely, the urge of thousands of millions of people around the world to escape poverty. No one can begrudge the poor a better life, but their aspirations raise a troubling question: Can the world's human majority ascend from poverty without overwhelming the ecosystems that make all life possible on this planet?

The commentators continue: "The answer may determine humanity's fate in the 21st century. Nowhere is the challenge more urgent than in China, one of the world's fastest-growing economies, not to mention its single most ravaged environment. Last summer, when floods roared through China's Yangtze and Songhua river valleys, they left an estimated 56 million least temporarily homeless."

"Remarkably," the commentators add, "China's central Government soon acknowledged that its own environmentally damaging logging policies had greatly contributed to the floods' severity. Even more surprising, Beijing pledged to reverse those policies. But that promise is unlikely to be kept, mainly because China's continuing struggle against poverty ends up taking precedence over environmental reform.

They conclude: "China exhibits both the large, growing population typical of poverty --nearly one of every four humans on Earth lives in China-- and the high-impact consumption patterns promoted by Western capitalism. This combustible mix makes China a sort of environmental superpower, capable of wreaking havoc on ecosystems the world over."

NEW YORK TIMES: Obasanjo must make his government the first stage of full civilian rule

Finally, Nigeria's presidential election yesterday elicits editorial comment both in the U.S. and Western Europe. The New York Times says: "Olusegun Obasanjo, a former general, will be the next president of Nigeria, according to preliminary election results. His selection reflects the complexities of power in Nigeria today. When the country's current leader, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, took over last June, he promised a transition to civilian rule after 15 years of disaster under general after general. Abubakar has kept his promise. But the transition is incomplete."

The paper goes on: "Military officers, who largely bankrolled Obasanjo's candidacy, will continue to loom over his government. Obasanjo will have to break with them to have any success in improving life in Africa's most populous nation..... Many Nigerians hope that Obasanjo's government will end the military's political role, but this is unlikely. Obasanjo, who was president from 1976 to 1979, is the only military ruler to leave office voluntarily. Yet he is still close to the armed forces. Military men finance his party....That money allowed Obasanjo to build a political machine that won a majority in both houses of parliament in elections earlier in February.

The paper concludes: "Desperately needed economic reforms and anti-corruption measures will anger officers, the main beneficiaries of the present morass....To have any success in tackling these daunting problems, Obasanjo must make his government not the last stage in a military transition, but the first stage of full civilian rule."

TRIBUNE DE GENEVE: Nigeria is worth supporting

In a signed editorial in Switzerland's Tribune de Geneve , Antoine Maurice says that the election results show that "Nigeria has signed a lease on democracy."

He writes: "After an [electoral] process of many months, power in Nigeria has returned to civilian hands. General Obasanjo has been elected president of an immense federation....Nigeria not only benefits from the continent's largest population, it has also oil reserves that make it the sixth largest producer in the world."

The editorial continues: "The country's image abroad is bound to improve. Both the Commonwealth and the U.S. sought this formal return to democratic processes. So did the big oil companies [with investments in Nigeria] and the international financial institutions. Although it is in bad economic shape, Nigeria is worth supporting because of its regional importance and its role as mediator in several nearby [African] conflicts."