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Western Press Review: German Press Roams World; U.S. Stays Home

  • Don Hill



Prague, 11 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The Christian Science Monitor, published in Boston, is a small U.S. newspaper, subsidized by a religious denomination, but highly regarded as a serious and independent voice of high quality. Monitor columnist David D. Newsom worries today that U.S. disengagement from international issues threatens American credibility and diminishes its influence in world affairs.

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Insistence that America can go it alone is a disturbing step backward

Newsom, a former U.S. ambassador and undersecretary of state, takes as his case in point U.S. Senate rejection last month of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. It represents, in the writer's words, "a disturbing step backward from American engagement in today's world."

But the columnist doesn't rest his case on the treaty alone. As Newsom puts it: "At the base of opposition to the treaty is the idea that the United States has the power unilaterally to deter any threat -- that neither this treaty nor any other is necessary."

He cites three other recent development: U.S. insistence on a missile defense system, which he says is creating problems not only in U.S.-Russian relations, but also with U.S. allies; a report issued last week by a committee of corporate executives, military officers, and diplomats that the American diplomatic presence abroad is nearing a state of crisis; and refusal by Congress to appropriate sufficient funds for conduct of foreign policy.

In the words of columnist Newsom: "The U.S. diplomat today, seeking to deal with any of these issues, is severely handicapped by an impression abroad, reinforced by the CTBT rejection, that whatever the US agrees to, even with congressional consultation, is unlikely to gain the approval of legislators who insist that America can go it alone."



Commentary in The Washington Post, The New York Times and other leading U.S. newspapers today also seem to illustrate Newsom's point. They turn to a variety of domestic matters virtually to the exclusion of international commentary.

The German press, by contrast, examines issues around the world. A German press agency sampling of editorial comment ranges over Chechnya, Turkey, the Balkans, the war crimes tribunal in the Hague, and leadership turnover at the International Monetary Fund.

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: A new treaty over conventional forces in Europe is endangered

In the Frankfurter Rundschau, commentator Pierre Simonitsch writes from Moscow that Russia is deploying more tanks and guns in Chechnya than is permissible under international arms control conventions. Simonitsch goes on to write, in his words: "This means that a new treaty over conventional forces in Europe is endangered. The treaty is scheduled to be signed at the summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Istanbul on November 19."

The German commentator says that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin admits that the Russian Federation is violating the upper limits for battle tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery in the Caucasus, but says it's to fight terrorism.

In Simonitsch's words: "The breach of the treaty is in the meantime the final episode in the program of efforts to control traditional weapons which began in 1973. The summit in Istanbul will show if the west can bring itself to show any understanding for Russia's attitude of -- if necessary -- re-taking separatist republics and for that purpose, redeploying its troops."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The positive side of the new rebel strategy is evident -- less bloodshed, more chance for a peaceful solution

From Istanbul, Wolfgang Koydl writes in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the sudden pacification of Kurdish rebels in Turkey's Southeast evidently seems more apparent than real to several entrenched groups. As Koydl puts it: "What do feudal Kurdish landowners, weapons-crazy Turkish generals and peace activist German Green politicians have in common? All of them have trouble warming to the idea that the Kurdish conflict in south-east Turkey might be over. For even if their motives could not be more different, they all have a panicky fear of loss. The agas would lose their source of income, and the Greens and their followers would lose a useful stick with which to beat Turkey."

Koydl writes, in his words: "Some people are sticking to old ideas and prejudices as stiffly as a Turkish Guards officer. The discussion on this issue in the Bundestag has once again shown how difficult it is to break away from convenient patterns of thinking."

The commentator says that Kurdish rebel faction leader Abdullah Ocalan has brought about the Kurdish quietness in a shrewd attempt to put his opponents on the defensive. Ocalan is in Turkish custody awaiting results of his appeal of a death sentence.

As Koydl puts it: "It is Ocalan who is attempting to put his opponents, if not in a tight spot, then into a position to have to explain themselves." But even so, the writer says, the positive side of the new rebel strategy is evident, in Koydl's phrase, "less bloodshed, more chance for a peaceful solution." Koydl, writing as a German, then asks this: "So would it not be better to support this line than to make ourselves the unwitting helpers of the Turkish military with these old ways of thinking?"

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Millosevic wants to win back Opposition strongholds in local government

Frankfurter Rundschau commentator Stephan Israel writes from Vienna that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has taken the measure of his political opposition and finds it several centimeters short of what it would take to outsmart him. Israel writes this: "The Serbian Opposition is demanding new parliamentary elections but the regime under [Milosevic] is concentrating on more provincial electoral goals: it wants to pass election regulations which would help it win back Opposition strongholds in local government."

Milosevic and his allies are going right for the throats of centers where their problems fester, the writer says. As Israel puts it: "The Opposition-run town halls are a thorn in the side of the Belgrade regime. The central government may have massively cut local authorities' powers, and Opposition mayors generally wait in vain for funds from Belgrade. But whoever controls the town hall, also controls a local radio and television station. The Opposition has used these broadcast bases in the provinces to organize demonstrations against the regime."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: A German could once again fill the top IMF job

According to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung's columnist Oliver Schumacher, German officials are reacting to the news of the impending resignation of the International Monetary Fund's Managing Director Michel Camdessus like a small boy who hears that Big Brother is going off to university: "Ohhh, we'll miss him, can I have his room?"

Schumacher writes that Camdessus's announcement that he'll leave early next year, in the writer's words, "has given the German government reason to hope that after a long interval a German could once again fill the top job in such a key international organization." Camdessus is French and has held the post for 13 years.

Although the Germany government maintains characteristic diplomatic silence, Schumacher says informed sources in Berlin can even name their prospective little brother. As the writer puts it: the person with the best "prospects of being appointed IMF managing director is Caio K. Koch-Weser, a state secretary in the ministry of finance." The commentator says that Koch-Weser, who was born in Brazil, holds dual German and Brazilian citizenship and has been active on the international finance scene and as a currency expert for more than 20 years.

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