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Western Press Review: The Variety And Subtlety Of International Relations

  • Don Hill

Prague, 1 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- An usual number of commentaries in the Western press today pursue a common theme -- the variety, vagaries and subtleties of international relations.


The Wall Street Journal Europe entitles an editorial on the weakness of the European Union's common currency, the euro, "The Laughing Curve." That's a play on words based on the Laffer Curve, a demonstration in the 1960s by economist Arthur Laffer of diminishing returns in inflation-bloated taxation.

The editorial says: "If anyone still needed proof that the European Central Bank is between a rock and a hard place, [yesterday's] decision to raise rates -- and the market's reaction to it -- was it."

The newspaper said: "The market's reaction was a collective guffaw. The euro continued to sink throughout the afternoon." It said, "The European Central Bank may be doing an admirable job of balancing the needs of growth and the dangers of inflation. But that task may be impossible, given the level of 'dirigisme' in Europe. The prospect of this impossibility continuing is what is now being factored into the falling euro."


Sueddeutsche Zeitung commentator Thomas Urban, writing from Moscow, reports that the Russian press, accustomed to ignoring Poland, suddenly is asking -- on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Solidarity -- why the Poles are doing so much better economically than the Russians.

Urban writes that the Poles and Russians began in the early 1990s with similar privatization plans. The Polish leadership, he says, explained the plan to the people. The Russians imposed theirs.

The writer continues, "In Poland, all authorities in the new society promoted the reform project." Urban writes: "Again, the contrast in Russia was considerable. The new governing elite showed itself to be hardly less arrogant than its predecessors." He goes on: "The biggest asset the Poles had was their awareness of having thrown off a hated foreign power." He adds: "Russians saw the collapse of Communist Party rule as a major defeat."

Finally, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung commentary says, even under communism the Poles never completely threw out private institutions such as land ownership, the moral leadership of the church, and a functioning middle class.


In the International Herald Tribune today, international affairs commentator Flora Lewis urges that United Nations' peacekeeping missions become more goal-oriented and be judged by their results. She writes: "There are now14 peacekeeping operations around the world and 13 peace-building missions, [and] last March Secretary-General Kofi Annan convoked a panel to make practical recommendations on how to do better. The report from an impressively experienced international group now has been delivered in a remarkably short five-and-one-half months and its is remarkably clear and trenchant."

Lewis writes: "The report resounds with the get-tough attitude traditionally rejected in peace mantras." She says further: "It calls for robust rules of engagement for UN troops, implicitly evoking the shame of French blue berets shackled as hostages in Bosnia or Dutch watching the massacre at Srebenica."

The commentator sums up: "In other words, [the report] argues for a military mandate not so different from the way national military establishments organize their job. That is: Define the mission. Bring the force needed. Do what is necessary to achieve it."


In a commentary for the Christian Science Monitor, writer Dennis Jett calls the same document "a refreshingly honest report on how the UN can do a better job at peacekeeping." But Jett, dean of the International Center at the University of Florida, doubts whether the report's recommendations could ever bring about effective change in the international bureaucracy. He writes: "Secretary-General Kofi Annan is to be congratulated on having the courage to appoint commissions like this one. [And] if the propensity for candor and clear-headed analysis ever spread to the UN bureaucracy and is member states, one could be more optimistic."


The Wall Street Journal Europe marvels in an editorial at Russian President Vladimir Putin's logic in blaming the Russian press for everything from misrepresenting the Kursk submarine disaster and destroying the Russian military to threatening national security. The editorial suggests that Putin was driven to such extravagant rhetoric by the unnerving experience of meeting face-to-face with the widow of the Kursk's captain.

The editorial puts it this way: "Putin can go toe-to-toe with Chechen rebels and face down powerful oligarchs, but weeping widows cause him to lose his much admired aplomb. When he had to face the widow of the Kursk's last captain at the Vidayayevo naval base last week, Mr. Putin lost control. Rather than accept any blame for the military disarray that may have contributed [to the Kursk disaster], he attacked the press. 'They're lying. They're lying. They're lying," Mr. Putin shouted."


The Washington Post expresses approval in an editorial today that the candidates in the U.S. presidential race that will culminate in a November election are discussing, in the editorial's words, "foreign policy, military readiness and the U.S. role in the world."

The editorial goes on to put a question to Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney. The newspaper says: "Mr. Cheney yesterday suggested that a [George W.] Bush administration would consider withdrawing U.S. troops from Kosovo and Bosnia, 'to have our European friends and allies pick up a bigger share of the burden there.' Today," the paper notes, "4,600 U.S. troops are patrolling in Bosnia, out of 22,000 peacekeepers, and there are 6,200 Americans in a Kosovo peacekeeping force of 44,000. Are those 10,800 soldiers too big a burden for an armed force of 1.4 million?" it asks.

"To say yes," the editorial goes on, "to pull back from this modest U.S. commitment, would be to signal a dangerous lack of U.S. interest in completing the democratization of Europe. The Bush campaign is sounding more and more like the Republican isolationists in Congress, and less and less like the Reagan and Bush administrations whose spirit Mr. Cheney invoked. Is that really the message on U.S. leadership that the Bush campaign wants to send?"


In Denmark, the daily Information publishes a commentary by Ole Nyeng urging a close international watch on the Balkans over the next few months. The writer says: "The lethal medley of unsolved and half-solved conflicts [there], as well as the constantly explosive mixture of poverty and ethnic animosity, will be made even more dangerous by the holding of elections in the Balkan states' politically immature systems."

The commentary says, "In Yugoslavia, it is clear that the West wants opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica to win. In spite of what the opinion polls suggest, however, it is highly unlikely that incumbent President Slobodan Milosevic will just pack up and go to the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, where he has been indicted on war crimes charges.

Nyeng goes on: "Milosevic has a number of options to annul the polls' results. He could begin a mini-war with Montenegro to deflect public attention, or he could impose a state of emergency on Yugoslavia and declare the elections invalid. On a more gentle note," Nyeng concludes, Milosevic "may just tamper with the number of ballots cast."

(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to our report.)