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Western Press Review: Commentary Looks Ahead -- In All Directions

  • Don Hill

Prague, 2 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- As is fitting for the first day of the New Year -- some would say the New Millennium -- some Western commentators attempt today to gauge the near future.


The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung's Werner Adam predicts boldly that the birth of an international criminal court is imminent. Werner writes, "The United States finally gave up on the last day of 2000, just hours before the deadline, its resistance to the idea and signed the treaty [to create] the International Criminal Court, and also managed to convince Israel to sign as well."

Well, actually, it was outgoing President Bill Clinton who signed, not exactly the United States, as Adam concedes. He says: "The U.S. Senate could still reject this decision by [Clinton], who is now under time pressure in every way. Although Israel also signed up to the court, it did so with reservations and only after a period of the confusing vacillation typical for its politicians at the moment." The commentator writes: "Almost 140 countries now have signed the document, and it now seems just a matter of time before 60 states ratify the agreement, as required before the court formally can begin its work."


Irish Times Washington correspondent Patrick Smyth writes that human rights campaigners welcomed Clinton's signature but that the move was more symbolic than hopeful. Smyth says, "The largely symbolic move, as Mr. Clinton made clear, does not yet signal a U.S. willingness to submit to the jurisdiction of such a court when it finally is established. In the face of bitter hostility from his own and the incoming defense secretaries, as well as the Republican Party, which claim it will allow the politically inspired prosecution of U.S. servicemen serving on peacekeeping missions abroad, Mr. Clinton said the treaty should not be submitted to the Senate for ratification until the United States has received more assurances." Smyth points out that Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Jesse Helms has said he will work to assure that the decision is reversed.


In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, commentator Wolfgang Koydl suggests that president Clinton's motive may have been in part mischievous, to confound the Republicans. Koydl: "Like many of his predecessors who have had to turn over the keys to the White House to the opposite political party, [Clinton] has busily been seeing to it that his successor, George W. Bush, and his conservative Republican Party associates face a fait accompli, a tangled thicket of laws, executive orders and political decision that run contrary to almost everything the stand for."

Koydl continues: "Now the new administration has to decide how much of Clinton's legacy to keep and how much to chuck out. So far, Bush has kept his reaction to Clinton's flurry of activity under control, as befits the president-elect. 'Our nation speaks with one voice,' Bush said recently, looking like he'd just bitten into a sour apple, 'and until I take my oath of office on January 20, that voice belongs to Bill Clinton.'"

The German commentator writes: "But when Clinton signed a treaty late on Sunday to create the world's first permanent international criminal court designed to bring to justice individuals accused of the world's worst atrocities, he may have found the straw that broke the Republic elephant's back. Many of the Republicans in Bush's entourage and in Congress view the 1998 Rome treaty [to establish] the International Criminal Court as the treaty from hell."


In an essay in the Washington Post, James Steinberg, Clinton's deputy national security advisor for three-and a-half years until August 2000, looks both forward and back -- assessing the U.S. foreign policy apparatus, which, he says, is outdated, and proposing a new approach.

Steinberg says, "President Clinton issued an order setting up an integrated interagency approach for linking national security, law enforcement and disaster-response functions. But we need to go further. President Bush should erase the artificial line that separates the various international staffs at the White House, and create a single international policy staff that spans the four basic areas: national security, international economics, international law enforcement and science-technology policy."

The commentator says, "Organization cannot replace strategic thinking. But bad organization can make it difficult to respond imaginatively and effectively to the needs of today."


Britain's Financial Times, forecasting economic probabilities, says in effect that when the United States overeats, the world gets a stomach ache. He writes, "If confidence in the [U.S. economic miracle of recent years] tumbled, the U.S. private sector could quickly change its behavior. Alan Greenspan's Federal Reserve would have to act decisively to avert a deep recession. While this should reduce the impact on the United States, it would be partly because a fall in the dollar shifted pain elsewhere."

The Financial Times' editorial continues: "Where would this leave the rest of the world? In difficulties, is the answer."

The editorial concludes: "2001 will be a year of living interestingly. It may prove to be a year of living dangerously and [of testing]. 'Hope for the best; prepare for the worst;' this is the right motto for what purists call the first year of the third millennium."


In the Wall Street Journal Europe, columnist George Melloan says that he perceives the onset of a new realism in the new economy. Melloan writes: "The EU's broadening (that is EU eastward expansion) has political imperatives [as well as economic ones]. Yet another dose of realism last year was the mounting evidence that Russia still is a long way from becoming what we like to think of as a normal nation. President Vladimir Putin carries a lot of Soviet era baggage, as evidenced by his brutal war in Chechnya and his brazen efforts to seize control of the mass media. The EU has every reason to worry about new troubles in Eastern Europe, which is yet another argument for allowing Central Europe and the Baltic states to shelter under the EU tent."