Prague, 29 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Our selection of subjects touched on
by Western press commentary today and over the weekend ranges across
the entire continent of Europe -- from Russia in the east through
Serbia in the center to Northern Ireland in the west. There are
comments both on Russia and, some days before President Bill Clinton's
visit to Moscow, on U.S.-Russian relations. Analysts also look at the
latest crackdown on the independent press in Serbia by Yugoslav
President Slobodan Milosevic, and discuss the weekend's agreement by
Ulster unionists to resume autonomy in Northern Ireland.
NEW YORK TIMES:
In an editorial yesterday, the New York Times found Russian President Vladimir Putin's new tax plan, in the paper's word, "promising." It wrote: "Though Russia's new president has yet to chart a clear course on most domestic fronts, he made clear last week that he intends to move aggressively to mend the economy, ending years of meandering policies. The Putin government," the editorial went on, "asked parliament to replace the country's progressive but largely
dysfunctional personal income tax with a simple flat tax."
Putin, the paper argued, "is right that tax rates are too high. A
destructive competition to raise revenue rages among Russia's local,
regional and federal authorities. Indeed, local officials often help
businesses hide their local tax payments so that local governments can
avoid sharing the proceeds with Moscow as the law requires. Russia,"
the editorial states, "has created the worst of all tax worlds: high
rates and little revenue."
The paper said further: "It will not be easy to make the flat tax and other reforms work. Corruption and bureaucratic incompetence will not disappear overnight. But Putin is starting his economic reform in the right place. If Russia can get its tax system in order and the Kremlin can begin to count on a steady source of income for government
programs," the New York Times concluded, "the country can at last
begin to deal with some of its chronic problems, including a failing
health care system, erratic law enforcement and the poverty of
millions of elderly citizens."
LOS ANGELES TIMES:
On Sunday,the Los Angeles Times wrote of what it called "missile insecurity," one of the chief contentious issues between Washington and Moscow today. The paper's editorial said: "High on President Clinton's agenda when he meets with President Putin in Moscow next weekend is a proposal to amend the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile, or ABM, Treaty. It would allow the U.S. to deploy a national missile defense -- known often by its acronym NMD -- system designed to protect all 50 states against limited missile attacks."
The editorial argues that pushing ahead with NMD could mean scrapping the ABM treaty, inviting a new arms race, and souring relations with the U.S.' European allies, who see NMD as destabilizing. The paper then goes on to suggest that, in its words, "NMD could threaten rather than improve national security, especially if it leads China to expand its strategic missile force and develop countermeasures that it could sell to such states as North Korea, Iran and Iraq. These are the very countries," it notes, "whose so far nonexistent intercontinental missiles NMD is supposed to deter."
"Moscow," the editorial says further "-- which retains thousands of
nuclear warheads -- might be convinced that a missile defense system
using no more than 250 interceptors wouldn't affect the strategic
balance. But China, which has only 20 long-range and now largely
obsolescent missiles, could see a security threat." But, it concludes,
"what surely should be apparent is that the bigger the U.S. missile
defense system, the less inclined Russia will be to downsize its
nuclear stockpile. This supposed security enhancement could well leave
the U.S. farless secure than it is now."
In a news analysis for the Washington Post today, correspondent
Steven Mufson says that the idea that there are "rogue" states that
threaten the U.S. is itself increasingly being questioned by U.S. and
European security analysts and officials. He writes: "The existence of
such a threat has become an article of faith, widely accepted by the
Clinton administration and some of its Republican critics, but
questioned by some policy experts here and by many abroad."
Mufson goes on: "When President Clinton visits Moscow next weekend
for his first summit meeting with President Putin, rogue states will
be the ghosts at the negotiating table. Fear of their still-
theoretical capabilities has made winning Russia's agreement for a
limited U.S. missile defense the Clinton administration's top priority
in Russia policy, overshadowing the war in Chechnya, economic reform
and future NATO expansion." He adds: "Critics of the theory of rogue
states say the allegation that these countries are irrational or
suicidal is more questionable. Their leaders appear to be very
concerned about self-preservation, and the U.S. has successfully
employed diplomatic as well as military initiatives to engage or
Mufson sums up: "Yet fear of rogue states remains widespread. Many
policy-makers warn of letting concern about small rogue states prompt
the shredding of major accords, like the ABM Treaty that the
administration is trying to persuade Russia to amend. But national
missile defense remains an alluring prospect for those worried about
preserving America's latitude for action in a crisis, when a small
country with nuclear missiles might threaten to use them."
Turning to events in Serbia, the Danish daily Politiken says today:
"Serbia's free media are being assaulted on a daily basis by President
Slobodan Milosevic, whose means of preserving the power are becoming
increasingly dictatorial. But," the paper adds, Serbia's "relatively
independent media continue doing their best to stand up to the
propaganda put out by state-controlled organs."
"Still," the editorial goes on, "none of the independent media have
much faith in the ability of Serbia's organized political opposition
to win the increasingly aggravated internal conflict, in which
Milosevic's desperate power plays are continually making economic
conditions worse." Nor, the paper argues, is there must hope "that any
outside help for the independent media is forthcoming."
"The West," it says, "has supported freedom of speech in Serbia --
but mostly with words and resolutions. True, it has helped set up some
TV stations and radio stations and transmitters. Yet none of these
have had much effect. To make things work, Serbian voters must be
approached in a much more direct fashion by the West." The editorial
sums up: "It remains unclear how long Milosevic will be able to stay
in power. But the message from Serbia is nonetheless unequivocal: the
fight is worth fighting, and it will be fought."
Britain's daily Guardian sees additional dangers in Yugoslavia today.
The paper says: "The renewed fighting in the Presevo valley, in
southern Serbia, between Yugoslav army units and ethnic Albanians is
one of several recent reminders that the situation in the Balkans,
nearly a year after the 'liberation' of Kosovo, remains volatile." The
editorial lists other outstanding problems:
"The final status of Kosovo, a de facto UN-NATO protectorate but
still sovereign Yugoslav territory, is nowhere near being resolved. In
Serbia, the indicted war criminal Milosevic has been conducting a
crackdown on what his regime describes as 'Western-backed terrorists.'
This instability, which extends to Montenegro and is intensifying
ahead of scheduled local elections which Milosevic's party is expected
to lose, has been exacerbated by a spate of unexplained assassinations
of Milosevic associates and the continuing economic dislocation caused
by NATO bombing and Western sanctions."
The paper then hones in on Serbia: "The potentially explosive
situation," it writes, "and its worrying implications for overall,
European-led efforts to bring lasting political and economic stability
to the Balkans, will be on the agenda in Moscow today when Romano
Prodi, the European Commission president, and Antonio Guterres, the
Portuguese prime minister whose country holds the EU presidency, are
due to meet President Putin. Russia remains," it says, "deeply
ambivalent about methods employed by the West to force democratic
change in Serbia."
The Guardian concludes: "After their Moscow summit, Mr. Prodi and Mr.
Guterres visit Washington on Wednesday to meet President Clinton. They
will doubtless seek -- and receive -- assurances about the U.S.'s
Balkan commitment. But, increasingly, a lame-duck Clinton is not in a
position to deliver. Europe has to find a way to get out of this
Russian-Chinese-American squeeze. The only person it helps is the
deeply undeserving Slobodan Milosevic."
Finally, several papers today praise Saturday's accord by Northern Ireland's Ulster Unionist Party that will allow what is called "devolution" -- that is, the granting of autonomy -- to move forward in the province.
The Irish Times calls it "a good result for Trimble," recalling that it comes "two years and one week after the electorate -- North and South -- overwhelmingly ratified [the Belfast Agreement that provides for the province's autonomy]."
The editorial goes on to say: "With the path now cleared for the full implementation of the Belfast Agreement, it must be acknowledged that the British government's decision to suspend the Northern institutions last February has been, in some measure, vindicated. If the controversial suspension had not happened," the Irish Times sums up, "the IRA would not have come forward with its, Mr. Trimble would not have been in a position to go back to his party for endorsement, and the principle of guns-for-government would still be in deadlock. It is now imperative that all aspects of the Belfast Agreement are honored in the letter and the spirit."
In Norway, the daily Aftenposten writes in an editorial: "Northern
Ireland begins a new chapter of its history today as its government is
meeting for the first time since it was suspended by London in
February. The meeting," it notes, "was made possible after Trimble on
Saturday got the support he needed to conduct negotiations with what
the Irish Protestants call their arch-enemy: the Catholic Sinn Fein [the IRA's political arm]. Still," the paper concludes, "there is continuing skepticism whether the Northern Ireland political process, now resuscitated, will bring its people closer to the long-lasting peace they have desired for so long."
(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report.)