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Western Press Review: The ICC, 'Collateral Damage,' And Opium Production In Afghanistan

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 3 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Some of the topics discussed by Western press commentary today include the new permanent International Criminal Court at The Hague, the questions surrounding the apparent U.S. bombing of an Afghan engagement party, yesterday's forced resignation of Vivendi chairman Jean-Marie Messier, the resurgence of opium production in Afghanistan, and the recent spate of U.S. financial scandals.


In Britain's "Financial Times," Michael Lind says while the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush "has been wrong about many things, [it] is right to oppose the International Criminal Court in its present form." Lind says it would be "easy, but mistaken" to view the U.S. administration's opposition to the ICC "as yet another arrogant expression of the Bush team's reflexive unilateralism."

"Nobody wants genuine war criminals to escape punishment," Lind writes. "The question is about the methods. And here the gap is not between the U.S. and Europe; it is between Europe and the world." He notes: "Not one non-European great power supports the ICC. Russia, China, and India have refused to sign or ratify the treaty." He questions why Britain and France have thrown such strong support behind the court. "After all," he writes, "British and French troops on peacekeeping missions are as vulnerable to partisan prosecutions as U.S. troops."


An editorial in the European edition of "The Wall Street Journal" suggests trying "to see through all the fog" surrounding U.S. objections to the new International Criminal Court at The Hague. It says the U.S. administration is upholding the principle that U.S. citizens and soldiers "deserve the protections of the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. legal system." The paper observes that "the ICC, based on the idea of a 'universal jurisdiction' without a sovereign state as its master, provides neither."

The "Journal" suggests that "ad hoc tribunals for specific cases" of war crimes are a better option than a permanent international court. "As is, the ICC lacks sufficient protections against politicized prosecutions [of] nationals from democratic nations."

The editorial goes on to note that many European governments share U.S. concerns about the ICC. It says many countries were not pleased that the UN Security Council will not have final say over prosecutions, "leaving no safeguards that the court won't be a power unto itself."


In the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Peter Muench points out that Afghanistan is still far from a peaceful country. There are continual reports of attacks and counterattacks. He says that following some hopeful reports on the country's reconstruction, its attempts at establishing democratic institutions and securing women's rights, "the dark aspects" of life in Afghanistan have again come to the fore.

This has been underscored by the incident this week in which at least 30 Afghan civilians were reported killed and many others wounded due to the errant bombing of an engagement party by U.S. aircraft. Muench says that "anger will again grow around Kabul and Kandahar as a result of such mistakes and their dire consequences." But in spite of the inevitable American dismissal of this "collateral damage," Muench says, "such errors do not alter the fact that the U.S. presence in Afghanistan is still vitally necessary." He says, "This is the only way to prevent the Taliban and Al-Qaeda from regrouping and torpedoing the new beginnings in Kabul."


In "The New York Times," Seth Schiesel and John Tagliabue discuss the forced resignation yesterday of Jean-Marie Messier as chairman of Vivendi Universal SA. They propose that Messier "failed in his ambitious goal of turning a French water utility into a global media giant because of his own misjudgments and missteps, as well as some incredibly bad timing." The consequences of Messier's penchant "for speaking his mind, acting precipitously, and alienating the French business establishment proved insurmountable."

While the Messier strategy "always seemed something of a long shot," his ignominious exit still comes as a surprise, the authors say. "Through a series of acquisitions, Messier turned Vivendi into one of the world's biggest media companies, and his taste for provocation, brash moves, and big ideas made him the toast of Europe as well as one of the media industry's most intriguing figures."

But as Messier kept acquiring new companies, his company also accumulated mounting debt. Eventually, Vivendi's biggest shareholder, the Bronfman family, called for Messier's dismissal. After posting record losses for 2001, Vivendi will present a major challenge to whoever succeeds Messier as chairman.


In a contribution to France's daily "Liberation," Jean-Luc Marret of the Foundation for Strategic Research (Fondation pour la recherche strategique) asks whether the United States is losing its war on terrorism.

Marret says that since 11 September, the U.S. has sought to solve the problem of terrorism "the American way" -- through military means. While Afghanistan is no longer a haven for terrorists, Marret says the fragile success of the military operation leaves Afghanistan's long-term fate an open question.

But another priority of the war on terror, that of ensuring security on U.S. soil, remains elusive. Marret says the American public is "saturated by alerts," as approximately 20 warnings of possible terrorist attacks have been issued by authorities since 11 September. He says a pessimistic reading of the situation might conclude the U.S. is victorious in its military plans abroad, but struggling in terms of internal security.

There is no shortage of willing fundamentalist fighters, says Marret. "The United States will encounter these on their own soil for the next 10 or 20 years," he predicts. They will disappear bit by bit only when the situation in the Middle East changes, when Arab and Muslim societies have created their own political values based on both Islam and Western democratic ideas.


In a commentary from "The New York Times" reprinted in today's "International Herald Tribune," Paul Krugman says U.S. President George W. Bush's expressions of outrage following recent American corporate scandals are not believable. He points out that even after the discovery of widespread accounting mismanagement at American energy giant Enron, the Bush administration "steadfastly opposed any significant accounting reforms." Now, Bush claims to be "outraged" over similar discoveries relating to the WorldCom company's accounting practices.

Krugman questions whether U.S. politicians' recent displays of moral outrage over financial mismanagement "have something to do with polls showing mounting public dismay over crooked corporations." But he says while even a "poll-induced" response to this issue is welcome, "it probably isn't genuine."

Bush's "supposed anger was particularly hard to take seriously," Krugman writes. He quotes Chuck Lewis of the U.S.-based Center for Public Integrity as saying that Bush "has more familiarity with troubled energy companies and accounting irregularities than probably any previous chief executive."

Given Bush's corporate history and that of Vice President Dick Cheney, who has also presided over energy companies in the private sector, Krugman wryly remarks that this administration may be "uniquely well qualified to chase after corporate evildoers." "After all," he writes, "Bush and Cheney have firsthand experience of the subject."


Switzerland's daily "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" comments on the tragic mid-air collision on 1 July of a Russian passenger jet and a cargo plane that killed 71 people, most of them children from the Russian Republic of Bashkortostan.

"The fact that the improbable collision of two planes -- in a monitored and, at this point in time, almost empty air space -- became a reality may prompt a discussion concerning security in air travel."

It notes that this is the third time in three years a serious air accident has occurred in Swiss air space. The paper suggests that the relatives of the victims may later find comfort in the knowledge that the right lessons have been learned from this terrible event and that measures have been taken to prevent future such accidents.


In the regional daily "Eurasia View," Todd Diamond says as Afghanistan's transitional government works at rebuilding the economy, the country's main export -- opium -- is resurging. A recent report by the UN's Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention suggests that Afghanistan's heroine trade "will rebound long before its other industries do."

The Taliban regime isolated Afghans "from world markets, information, and social norms," says Diamond. But it also effectively halted opium production in the country. Diamond says analysts expect opium production this year to range from 1,900 to 2,700 tons -- slightly down from output in 2000 and about half of 1999's.

Diamond notes that the international community has tried to help Afghanistan shift from being a major drug supplier by subsidizing farmers who plant other crops, "but the new Afghan government faces harsh market realities," says Diamond.

Afghanistan provides between 70 to 90 percent of the heroin found in European markets. UN estimates indicate that a kilogram of opium now sells for around $400. Diamond says, "In a country where the average citizen earns the price of two opium kilos each year, a democratic government will have to be vigilant and creative in enforcing any opium limits."

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