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Western Press Review: Afghan Aid, Future Of Missile Defense, Justice For Suspected Terrorists

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 13 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A survey of commentary in the Western press today finds discussions of international aid to Afghanistan; the future of arms control, as the United States is expected to announce today its withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty; and the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, suspected of involvement in the 11 September terrorist attacks on the U.S. Other topics include recent events in the Middle East and Afghanistan.


An editorial in "The New York Times" says now that combat is subsiding in Afghanistan, delivering food aid should become much easier. Reduced hostilities also allow the world to return its attention to "other urgent problems, most importantly basic health care, and the humanitarian needs of other desperate nations." The editorial says Afghanistan "needs rural health clinics to keep weakened children from dying of respiratory illness, or diarrhea in the summer."

But the editorial urges the West not to let concerns in Afghanistan eclipse the needs of other nations. "Afghanistan is only one of dozens of countries where hunger is a danger. [Some] places -- like Congo, Rwanda, and Somalia -- are in far more dire need of financing than Afghanistan."

The editorial continues: "Overall, donations are up this year. Countries must continue to view their aid for Afghanistan as an extra contribution, rather than taking it from food, health, and other programs for nations whose troubles do not attract the world's attention."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" also looks at the issue of international aid to Afghanistan. It warns that aid must be effectively targeted in order to bring long-term benefits to the nation. "[Aid] that follows the initial wave of urgent humanitarian assistance will need to be carefully targeted at fostering policies conducive to long-term economic growth. One priority will be the creation of a stable currency. [Afghanistan] has a dismal track record of past governments simply printing money to pay their bills, regardless of the economic consequences involved."

The paper suggests creating a currency board to back the afghani with foreign currency. It notes that after the civil war, the marka of Bosnia-Herzegovina was backed by the German mark at a rate of one for one. The paper says this policy was "one of the success stories of Balkan reconstruction." It adds that the government in Kabul could also profit from investing the currency board reserves.

"Aid to Afghanistan will have maximum benefit if it is structured to avoid some of the pitfalls of past reconstruction efforts. The international community could make a promising start by funding a currency board and providing incentives for minimal government intervention in the economy."


An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" responds to reports that the United States will announce today its withdrawal from its 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia. The treaty precludes the development of a missile defense system, the construction of which is a cornerstone of policy for the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush. The editorial says that faced with this development, Russia is exhibiting "a new imperturbability."

Moscow was aware of this possible development throughout the negotiations with Washington on its plans for a missile defense system, and now shows no signs of anger. Moreover, the Russian public has also been prepared for the move. In fact, says the commentary, since the 11 September terrorist attacks on the U.S., the "reflex of suspicion [is] counterbalanced by a new flexibility." Cooperation between the two countries has reached such a stage that the issue of the ABM Treaty can no longer lead to a breakdown in relations.

The editorial says it seems far more likely that under these circumstances, Russia will respond with proposals for further disarmament measures, as Russia can no longer afford to maintain its nuclear arsenal. The commentary concludes that the war in Afghanistan has taught us that atomic power is no longer essential to fight today's wars. What is needed, it says, are well-trained troops and high-tech weapons.


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" today says the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty does not bode well for the future of arms control. The paper says that even though Moscow seems ready to accept this development, the U.S. "may yet come to rue the precedent it's setting."

"Tearing up the treaty is a mistake," it writes. Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated "that he was ready to interpret the treaty flexibly, to allow the U.S. to continue the missile shield tests." Now, the paper says, "there will be a void" where the treaty once stood.

The editorial also remarks that along with Russia's acquiescence to the U.S. decision came "a quiet threat to accelerate the development of multiple warhead rockets, despite their being banned by the Start II arms reduction agreement. Since Start II was never ratified," the editorial says, "Moscow is free to act unilaterally, just as Mr. Bush has done."

The "Financial Times" concludes: "Mr. Bush is sacrificing a lot for a missile shield that may yet be technologically unworkable. And even if it does work, it is unlikely to protect the U.S. from the threats it now faces. The stated aim is blocking missile attacks from rogue states. But as recent events have shown, rogues do not need missiles to deliver death and destruction."


In a contribution to the German paper "Die Welt," former Russian Vice Premier and deputy speaker of the Russian Duma Boris Nemtsov discusses what he calls Russia's new liberalism. He says: "Without anyone taking any notice, Russia has become one of the most liberal countries in Europe, at least as far as taxes are concerned. No one in Russia today pays more than 13 percent income tax. This is conducive to better taxpayer morale," he says, "which in turn is reflected in more revenue for the state coffers."

Nemtsov says that while President Putin does not seem like a liberal, his policies are undoubtedly geared in that direction. He cites the social benefits provided for the Russian people and says that, by and large, Putin and his ministers know what to do. The problem they face in elaborating their strategy lies in the conflicting desires of the Russian people -- they simultaneously want a market economy and socialism.

Nemtsov goes on to explain that Russians have come to blame the liberal democrats under former President Boris Yeltsin for all the ills in Russia today, and this has driven the people back into the fold of the communists. As a result, Nemtsov says, Putin is treading very carefully by pursuing liberal ideas but not overtly identifying himself with the liberals.


An editorial in "The Washington Post" says the indictment of Zacarias Moussaoui for six counts of conspiracy in connection with the 11 September attacks "is an encouraging sign" that the criminal investigation into the attacks is "making progress." Arrested four weeks before the attacks on immigration charges, Moussaoui is charged with being involved in a conspiracy to, in the words of the indictment, "kill and maim persons within the United States."

The paper applauds the government's decision to file the indictment in a U.S. District Court, rather than a military commission. The use of military tribunals to try suspected terrorists has been a subject of much discussion and debate in the U.S. in recent weeks.

"Moussaoui is innocent until proved guilty. That is a hard principle at times such as these, and getting him a fair trial will not be easy. But the administration's decision to subject him, and itself, to the civilian justice system could pay big dividends. If he is eventually convicted, that will surely have greater credibility than would a conviction before a military court that heard some of the evidence in secret."


In the French daily "Le Monde," columnist Patrick Sabatier says the exhortations from the U.S. president to stop the violence in the Middle East "are obviously no longer enough to stop the infernal escalation of the terrorist attacks and reprisals between Israelis and Palestinians."

Both sides, says Sabatier, have their believers in what he calls "the politics of the worst," those that are convinced that their enemies will eventually give up if faced with a daily bloodbath. Some Israelis, he says, seem to count on the fact that in these times of a war against terrorism, support for the Palestinians is going to dissolve as the attacks committed in its name continue -- and "therefore there is no need to consider the slightest compromise."

As for the Palestinians, some hope the violence perpetrated by the so-called "martyrs" will eventually convince Israelis to leave a land on which they will never truly know peace.

Sabatier says the extremists have no reason to change their ways as long as they see no reaction other than the appeals for dialogue and exhortations for peace from powerless -- or even worse, indifferent -- foreign nations.


An editorial in "The Washington Post" says the administration of U.S. President Bush has been reluctant to accept that Afghan reconstruction will probably require international peacekeepers. "By laying out ambitious goals but refusing to provide the necessary means, the administration is risking the national prestige that its successful military campaign has generated."

The paper says the goal of this peacekeeping force "cannot and should not be to police every corner of the country. But a foreign force could help secure the main cities and transport routes, protecting aid shipments and aid workers. Without a minimum level of security, the interim government due to take power on 22 December [will] be stillborn. The ensuing power vacuum would invite drug traders and new terrorists."

The paper says other countries should take the lead in the peacekeeping mission, but with U.S. support. "Precisely because the United States has led in liberating the country, its participation in a peacekeeping force would greatly boost the force's credibility."

But the U.S. administration is still dragging its feet on making such a commitment. "The administration is talking the reconstruction talk while refusing to recognize what it will take to turn talk into real policy."


In Britain's "The Independent," Natasha Walter asks, "Can force alone be used to combat terror?" She says even with the war confined to Afghanistan, "there is a continued fear that potential terrorists are being radicalized rather than wiped out. After all, if force were really enough to turn angry young men away from thoughts of hijacks, car bombs, and suicide missions, then the British could have massacred the IRA without fear of reprisal, and Palestinians would never dream of striking back at their conquerors."

She says many supporters of the war argue that "if Afghanistan now becomes a more stable, freer, and richer country, the seeds of radicalization will not be able to flower. Indeed, if that happens, the involvement of the West could be seen with gratitude and respect." But she says, "This optimistic view [rests] on the need for long-term nation-building."

Walter goes on to say that the most disturbing aspect of what she calls "American triumphalism" is that "it seems not to recognize the need for this long-term commitment to peace."


In France's "Liberation," weekly columnist Eric Dupin says the inter-Afghan agreement in Bonn has been "cautiously welcomed" by the world's media. He also points out that the defeat of the Taliban "does not guarantee peace in bruised and divided Afghanistan."

The country is handicapped by a number of factors, he says, not least of which is the heroin industry, which feeds the "warlike appetites" of the rival tribes. He says that it is very likely tribal chiefs will eventually revert to fighting among themselves.

Dupin cites the findings of Paul Collier, director of research at the World Bank. By studying 52 wars that have taken place since 1960, Collier has found that peace agreements have a 50 percent chance of breaking down within five years. And on the ground in Afghanistan, says Dupin, difficulties have already appeared. Cities freed from Taliban rule have been divided up by rival Pashtun commanders. Even the capture or death of Osama bin Laden would not necessarily imply the neutralization of the terrorist threat, he says. It could change into another, even more dangerous, form. So the war may not yet be close to a definitive conclusion, he says.

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)