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Western Press Review: Baltic Accession To NATO, Iraq, and Central Asia -- Repression Or Reform?

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 12 July 2002 -- Analysis and commentary in major Western dailies today take a look at recent blows to Afghan stability, the U.S. decision to drop its objections regarding a dispute over the International Criminal Court, continuing debate over potential U.S. military action in Iraq, NATO enlargement to the Baltics, and whether Western cooperation with autocratic Central Asian states will lead to repression or reform in the region.

THE ECONOMIST:

This week's edition of Britain's "The Economist" magazine discusses some of the recent setbacks to stability in Afghanistan. The magazine says the 6 July murder of Transitional Authority Vice President Haji Abdul Qadir was a reminder that "politics in Afghanistan can still be shaped by the gun." "The Economist" says the assassination of such a senior member of government poses a challenge to Hamid Karzai's Transitional Authority.

Karzai's central command remains limited to Kabul, as he lacks a national army or police force to maintain control in outlying areas. The magazine adds that the outside world has "unwisely" ignored his requests to deploy the international peacekeeping force beyond the capital.

The accidental deaths of dozens of Pashtun Afghans in an errant U.S. bombing raid earlier this month further shook the fledgling government. "The Economist" says there is a real danger that Afghanistan will repeat its history of the 1990s. After Afghan factions had vanquished Soviet invaders, they turned on each other -- demolishing the central authority and leading the country into years of chaos that eventually led the population to welcome the hard-line policies of the Taliban.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:

An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" discusses the U.S. decision to withdraw its demand that U.S. soldiers and peacekeepers be granted immunity from prosecution at the new International Criminal Court (ICC). Instead, the U.S. has requested that there be a one-year deferral of such prosecutions.

The "Journal" says this compromise is "slightly better than nothing," but "fails to address the fundamental ICC problem" -- U.S. soldiers and peacekeepers should not "fear their actions -- and even mistakes -- will be second-guessed by a politically unaccountable foreign court."

"So much for American unilateralism," the paper writes. "As the first treaty in history that claims to bind non-signatories, it's the ICC itself that is an affront to international law. And by trying to impose their rules on those who haven't agreed to them, it's the treaty's supporters who are acting unilaterally."

The editorial ends by saying, "We wish the White House had held its ground."

THE BOSTON GLOBE:

An editorial in "The Boston Globe" today calls on the U.S. Congress to "conduct the full debate and vote that precedes a constitutional declaration of war" before any decision is made to intervene militarily in Iraq.

The paper emphasizes that such debate is necessary because public statements by the U.S. administration have already evoked "a novel concept of preemptive war against an enemy who is judged to have the capability and the malice to use weapons of mass destruction," or to "transfer them to terrorists." "There has never been anything quite like" America's "overt" preparations to remove the Iraqi leader, says the editorial.

The "Globe" says the impulse to launch a preemptive war to address the threat of Iraq using weapons of mass destruction may be "understandable." But it cites U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell as saying that those who take preemptive action have a responsibility to "show the world that there was basis for the action, that it made sense, that it protected innocent people, and the response was consistent with the kind of threat being presented."

THE WASHINGTON POST:

An editorial in "The Washington Post" today discusses whether new Western alliances with Central Asia will spur repression or reform in the region. President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan proved eager to forge a relationship with Washington during its intervention in Afghanistan, the paper notes. But Karimov's "repressive" regime has responded to U.S. pressure for economic and political reform with only "a few modest concessions," says the editorial.

Some of Washington's new allies "may have concluded that their new utility as U.S. security partners empowers them to repress their domestic opponents all the more forcefully," the paper writes.

Kazakhstan once seemed to be leading the region's former Soviet states in reform measures. But Kazakh President Nursultan Nazerbaev's regime has "moved steadily in the opposite direction" since its alliance with Washington. Nazarbaev has arrested and tried several opposition leaders and sought laws making the formation of opposition parties "virtually impossible." Several media outlets have been forced to close, and journalists threatened and attacked.

The "Post" calls this state of affairs "more than a political embarrassment" for Washington. Admonitions from U.S. officials are not enough, the paper says. Nazarbaev "must understand that his country's relationship with the United States depends on political change." If military agreements with Central Asian states were withheld, it says, "Nazarbaev and other Central Asian dictators would be quick to get the message."

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:

A contribution by Vladimir Socor of the Jamestown Foundation in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" today discusses the Baltics' military preparedness to join NATO. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania "lead the way" in meeting the criteria for NATO membership. Socor says the alliance's expansion to include these Baltic nations "would rule out military aggression in the region."

He says the concern that these small nations might become NATO's "security consumers" rather than its "security contributors" is unfounded. These small states are "well along in becoming security contributors to the alliance even before their accession."

The Baltics' security contribution will be "disproportionately high" in terms of the costs to their societies, he says. They are already committed to spending "2 percent of their respective gross national products on defense, mostly NATO-related programs."

Socor says the Baltics' "rapidly maturing" joint military programs -- its naval squadron (Baltron), air surveillance network (Baltnet) and its peacekeeping battalion (Baltbat) -- will all be ready to become active contributors to the NATO Integrated Military Structure.

LE MONDE:

France's daily "Le Monde" publishes an editorial today discussing several of the question concerning the corporate dealings of U.S. President George W. Bush and the members of his administration. "Le Monde" asks: Is Bush himself a practitioner of the wayward capitalism that he denounced on Wall Street? Could he also be guilty of "cooking the books, obscuring the truth and embezzlement," against which he spoke? Did he himself uphold the "ethics of responsibility in the business world" that he said were necessary for returning confidence to investors?

The French daily says at present, despite numerous inquiries, nothing has directly implicated the Bush administration in the affairs of energy giant Enron, the first of several recent high-profile bankruptcies and scandals in the U.S. Even so, the paper says, the allegations and Vice President Dick Cheney's leadership of the Halliburton company, which is now under investigation for its business practices, are considerably weakening the president ahead of mid-term elections.

Bush's speech to Wall Street this week had already been received with some skepticism because it proposed few concrete measures. But Bush's past as a business man and the dealings of his vice president have further tarnished this crusade, says "Le Monde." They beg the question of whether Bush really owes his own personal fortune to the very "ethics" that he so resoundingly praises in his speeches.

THE DAILY TELEGRAPH:

An editorial in "The Daily Telegraph" today says the most critical consideration regarding whether the U.S. should intervene in Iraq is what would happen afterward. Whichever military plan is chosen by the United States, it says, "it is vital that the Iraqi opposition plays an important public role in this campaign." The stability of a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq "would be enormously enhanced if the Iraqi National Congress (INC), and others, can pull their weight."

But the "Telegraph" warns that the political future of Iraq must be determined by transparent, not secret, means. "The last thing Iraq needs is another Shah of Iran-type figure," imposed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and British intelligence through covert action. Instead, it says, "What is needed is a program of overt training of INC cadres."

The "Telegraph" writes: "The first requirement is for instruction in air-to-ground liaison in directing the U.S. Air Force and the RAF to their targets. The second is for training with light antitank weapons: the psychological effects of local forces competing with Saddam's armor [would] be enormous. Nothing would surely be more symbolic of the forthcoming empowerment of the Iraqi people."

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