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Western Press Review: Commentary Targets International Institutions

  • Don Hill



Prague, 23 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A strain of criticism toward international institutions runs through Western press commentary today. NATO is one target.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Entities who demand more authority must also accept their duty

German commentator Peter Muench, writing in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, examines U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen's report to NATO defense ministers in Toronto on NATO's recent Kosovo operations. Cohen said Europeans must take greater responsibility for maintaining security in Europe. This time, Cohen is right, Muench says. In Muench's words: "Entities who demand more authority (as European states are doing) must also accept their duty."

Muench's commentary says European nations are constricted by tight budgets. As he puts it: "The Europeans' problem has become clear in the Balkans, where they now are offsetting one involvement against another. [In other words,] what they need in Kosovo, they withdraw from Bosnia." Muench adds: "That is a realistic formula. But it's the sort of contortion which makes it easy for the Americans to be bitingly critical."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The measures NATO is discussing risk falling into a pit of democracy

Britain's Financial Times publishes an analysis by Alexander Nicoll, who says the Kosovo victory exposed gaps in the alliance's military effectiveness. Nicoll says that NATO, in his words, "is trying to do something about them." European defense collaboration historically has been problematic, the writer says. He adds this: "The measures [that] NATO is discussing risk falling into a pit of democracy."

WASHINGTON POST: Acknowledgment of the difficulties is more attractive than Clinton's earlier glib assurances

The Washington Post frowns on aspects of both NATO and the UN in an editorial. The newspaper says the United States, too, is forced to 'triage' its international commitments. That is, it is being forced by limited resources to select only the most urgent and important problems for prompt attention. The editorial recalls U.S. President Bill Clinton's remarks several months ago that wherever and whenever innocent civilians are exposed to attacks en masse, "We will stop it." In his speech this week to the UN General Assembly, in the editorial's words, "Clinton scaled back that promise." The Washington Post adds this: "Mr. Clinton still hasn't come up with an unassailable doctrine [on foreign intervention], but his acknowledgment of the difficulties and complications is more attractive than his earlier glib assurances."

The editorial concludes: "The East Timor peacekeeping force arrived too late, but its deployment with UN blessing is a good sign; so is the precedent that the United States need not be in the forefront each and every time. It's also true that much of the answer lies, as Mr. Annan said, in preventive diplomacy; NATO's stark choice in Kosovo between force and abdication in itself resulted from earlier failures of resolve. But that NATO was right to act, even without UN blessing, cannot be doubted. It's encouraging that the United Nations is now reflecting on its inability to rise to that challenge."

NEW YORK TIMES: Annan is better at describing problems than at offering solutions



UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is himself a critic of the United Nations. But international analyst and author David Rieff, writing in The New York Times, says that Annan is better at describing problems than at offering solutions. Rieff says it may be too much to hope, as Annan appears to do, that nations far away from a crisis always will be ready to make great sacrifices to deal with it. But, he says, as in the case of Australian leadership in the UN response to the East Timor crisis, "It is not unrealistic to expect neighbors to help neighbors. That course offers a realistic prospect of peace."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Australia has a vital strategic interest in promoting peace

The International Herald Tribune confirms Rieff's thesis in a commentary adapted from a statement by Australian Defense Minister John Moore to the Australian Parliament. Moore tells his parliament that Australia, in his words: "has a vital strategic interest in promoting peace and stability in East Timor. Without it, we cannot be confident of our own security." He adds that Australia's leadership is: "not only about being a good international citizen. It is equally about promoting regional peace, security and Australia's national interests."

DIE WELT: IMF lacks independence to control its own operations

German commentator Inga Michler, writing in Die Welt, takes on the International Monetary Fund. Michler writes: "Recent allegations that billions of dollars in aid to Russia have been siphoned off into numbered Swiss bank accounts is again awakening widespread public interest in -- and criticism of -- the IMF." The writer says the IMF has done too little to give the private sector a bigger role in responding to international financial crises. Michler adds this: "Also unresolved is an even more fundamental problem, which is the IMF's lack of independence to control its own operations. The political interests of its main contributing countries inevitably affect decisions on which countries receive credit, and how much. The most recent IMF credit to Russia, for example, was linked to Moscow's cooperation over Kosovo." Michler places some of his criticism at the feet of the United States: "Another obstacle to this reform is the United States, which is very fond of the case-by-case assessment method. As the biggest contributor to the IMF, which gives it the biggest bloc of votes, Washington has found that the current set-up allows American leverage to be maximized for its broader political and economic purposes."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: America needs to give Russia and its suffering people greater weight and less lip service

Joining the band of critical commentators is U.S. presidential aspirant, U.S. Senator Bill Bradley. Writing in the Wall Street Journal Europe, Bradley says: "The financial looting, urban bombing and the growing violence in the Caucasus don't mean that Russia is inevitably falling apart. But they remind us that for the first time in history, a nuclear nation faces severe internal threats." Bradley adds: "The situation reflects serious policy failures in Washington as well as Moscow."

In his Wall Street Journal commentary, Bradley writes: "America needs to give Russia and its suffering people greater weight and less lip service, put more effort into nuclear safeguards and more honesty into economic relations. And America needs to use the power of its example in ways that speak to ordinary Russians."

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