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Western Press Review: Baltics' Westward Shift, World Economic Forum

By Khatya ChhorKhatya Chhor

Prague, 31 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today discusses the World Economic Forum, which opens today in New York; the EU's Common Agricultural Policy; securing Afghanistan's future; and the impending foreign policy shift spelled out in George W. Bush's State of the Union address. Other commentary looks at the Baltic countries' Westward movement and Kazakhstan's new prime minister.


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" looks at the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, or CAP, in light of yesterday's proposals by the European Commission regarding farm subsidies after enlargement. The editorial says that the commission must "tread a fine line" between balancing the budget and giving new members the full benefits of membership. Giving new EU member states full subsidies from the beginning would be unaffordable, and would entrench some of the inefficiencies of the agricultural sector. CAP reform is "essential," says the paper. "But it must not be used as a pretext to delay enlargement." If CAP reform becomes a condition for enlargement, the paper says, "neither will happen."

The paper writes: "It would be wrong for the EU to have second-class members. Any transition period should be kept as short as possible. [The] aim should be to have a common farm policy for all [within] five years."


An editorial in "The New York Times" discusses the World Economic Forum, which begins today in New York rather than at its regular venue in Davos, Switzerland. The editorial considers the antiglobalization violence that has broken out at other international conferences in past years, and suggests that both the organizers and the protesters should adopt different tactics to get their messages across. The paper notes that this year, the forum's organizers have invited human rights activists, union officials, and advocates for the world's poor to participate in panels and workshops at the conference. It says: "Further moves in this direction could transform Davos into an enlightening experience for the participants, and a more valuable forum for addressing world problems."

The paper goes on to say that antiglobalization protesters "would also do well to adopt a more solemn tone. [After] the destruction of the World Trade Center, the sort of violent clashes that broke out in Seattle and Genoa no longer generate the same anti-authority frisson." The antiglobalization message, it says, "will be best received [if] it is delivered not by physical confrontation and broken store windows but by appeals to reason and conscience."

Lastly, the editorial says that New York City law enforcement should also act "with restraint."


The German economic daily "Handelsblatt" carries a commentary by Markus Ziener, in which he views Pakistan as the loser in Afghanistan's transfer of power. Even though Afghan interim head Hamid Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun, is a good choice, Pakistan rejects other members of the government -- either because of their connections with the Northern Alliance or because their sympathies lie with India and not Pakistan.

Ziener remarks that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is under pressure from all sides: from the power wielded by the Pakistani secret service -- "a state within a state" -- and from radical Muslims. The only solution to the problems, says Ziener, is education. Whereas the state has expended 30 percent on defense and only 3 percent on education, now Pakistan must review its priorities and invest in modernizing Koranic schools. Past excuses for high defense spending -- the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, the Iranian revolution, and the fear of a strong Indian neighbor -- are receding, says Ziener. Musharraf must seize this opportunity to point out that hostile world concepts, which are exploited by fundamentalists, are no longer valid. Ziener says Musharraf now must turn to more important tasks.


An editorial in "The Independent" of London looks at U.S. President George W. Bush's State of the Union speech on 29 January. It says that while Bush's strong words -- such as describing Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as an "axis of evil" -- are likely to play well to the American people, "many outside America are likely to find them distinctly disturbing." The paper says Bush's speech was "blunt and unmistakably unilateralist." After the attacks of September, it adds, "the United States is in no mood to mess around." Bush made it clear that the U.S. will not "wait on events" but will attempt preemptory strikes, if necessary -- even if it must do so unilaterally.

"The Independent" says the U.S. seems to be moving toward "some form of showdown" with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the next year or so. But it says more surprisingly, Bush "also chose to overlook the positive developments of late in America's fraught relationship with Iran, including Tehran's benign neutrality in Afghanistan."

The paper concludes that how the United States chooses to use its power is a matter of global concern. The U.S. is already "envied and disliked" for its domination of the world stage. A danger, says the paper, is that Bush's speech, "with its simple certainties and pronounced unilateralist flavor, will merely fuel that resentment further."


In "The New York Times," Massachusetts Institute of Technology political economy professor Alice Amsden discusses the World Economic Forum now taking place in New York City. She says the working reality of globalization remains provincial and narrow, and stuck in outmoded systems. Amsden writes: "A smattering of rich countries exercises leadership in international organizations and world markets, despite the principle of a level playing field. The United States appoints the president of the World Bank and fights with Europe and Japan over the directorship of the International Monetary Fund. The World Trade Organization is more democratically governed, but its power structure nonetheless allows rich members to retain barriers against other members' exports of textiles, agricultural products and steel. These global institutions are, at their highest levels, surprisingly parochial."

Amsden says forum participants need to include more people from semi-industrialized, middle-income countries "in the ranks of international business leadership." She says nations must agree to establish a truly level playing field, "and, toward that end, must disallow government intervention in the economy beyond establishing certain minimal norms, like standard accounting procedures and contract law.'"

Amsden concludes that if the forum succeeds in bringing more flexibility to the global economy -- "by recognizing the benefits of different government policies for countries at different development levels -- the result may be a more inclusive globalism."


In France's daily "Liberation," Jacques Amalric also considers the World Economic Forum. He says the long-industrialized nations have already revised their capitalist systems to reflect the battles won for labor protection and other "softening" forces by trade unions and the like. He asks why globalization is not seeing these benefits extended to the rest of the world. Often, he says, multinational decision-makers such as those at the WEF are focused solely on profit. But he says as of last year, the message that world economic leaders are being monitored and held to account has finally made it to the "cushioned hotels and conference rooms of Davos." Amalric says this message is even more forceful at the World Economic Forum this year in New York, even if U.S. leaders "have not hidden their intention of burying it in the ashes of 11 September and drowning it in [the] catch-all" of the war against terrorism.


In a contribution to "Eurasia View," political scientist Gregory Gleason of the University of New Mexico looks at the recent installment of Imangali Tasmagambetov as Kazakhstan's new prime minister. Gleason says that by appointing Tasmagambetov, a conservative and staunch presidential ally, President Nursultan Nazarbaev "seems to be playing for time in the face of increasingly open challenges to Kazakhstan's key policies." Gleason cites some observers as saying that Tasmagambetov's appointment "reflects the government's weakness, as it retrenches to maintain stability and continuity." Others see the move as the first indication of impending political reform, says Gleason. In any case, he writes, Nazarbaev "appears to be rejecting the dynastic model that had inflamed his opposition. The appointment of Tasmagambetov may herald a shift toward an oligarchic model that would let [Nazarbaev] step down with some dignity intact."

This shakeup "could portend more meaningful governance changes in the next 18 months," says Gleason. He notes that Nazarbaev has supported reform proposals in the past but always insisted the country was "not yet stable enough" for such steps. Gleason remarks that "whichever party can claim ownership of reform ideals will earn great credibility in the international community." He adds that by appointing Tasmagambetov, Nazarbaev "can fend off calls for radical reform while projecting a more pluralist agenda to the West."


In the winter 2002 edition of "The Washington Quarterly," former U.S. State Department analyst Andrew Winner, now of the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, writes of the Baltic states' possible NATO membership. He says that history cannot be forgotten, and the fact that Russia ruled the Baltics for over 50 years will occasionally tempt Russian politicians with "revanchist visions." But he adds that in a short period of time, all three Baltic nations have "greatly diminished their ties to their former master and have successfully begun to integrate politically, economically and militarily with the rest of Europe." Winner advises that both NATO and the EU should "urge them to integrate their societies even more to reduce Moscow's future opportunities to meddle."

However, Winner says the issue of considering the Baltic states for NATO membership has become more complicated in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks. He says the need to court Moscow for counterterrorism cooperation and the fact that the alliance now has a huge new issue to contend with "may mean that the lowest common denominator will prevail, such as a 'small option' of bringing only Slovenia and Slovakia into NATO. Regardless of how much progress Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have made since regaining their independence, [they] may have to wait just a bit longer to attain their goal of NATO membership."


In the "International Herald Tribune," author and Afghan affairs analyst William Shawcross urges the international community to provide immediate security and cash to Afghanistan. He says the British-led international security force present in the capital, Kabul, is "doing a fine job" but notes that British Prime Minister Tony Blair is under internal pressure not to let the troops stay more than the planned three months. Shawcross says Blair should resist this pressure, for "the task of stabilizing the city and training Afghan soldiers is not yet finished." He writes: "Such assistance is needed even more in the countryside, [as] the old rival groups of warriors, some now assisted and armed by the United States, wrestle for power. There is as yet nothing to stop the sort of bloody chaos from which the Taliban emerged." He says the UN Security Council urgently needs to debate an extension of the mandate of the international security force and locate potential troops from among the contributing nations.

Shawcross also emphasizes the need for immediate capital. If the interim administration of Prime Minister Hamid Karzai cannot pay salaries, "it cannot survive as a government," writes Shawcross. "Without cash now there will be no point in hundreds of millions in a few years' time."

Shawcross concludes that initial victory in Afghanistan "can easily be built upon, but it must be done fast. If it is not, victory will be squandered."

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