Prague, 2 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Many items in the Western media today take a look back at the events of 2002 and ahead to what 2003 may bring. Within this context, several commentaries consider how the global role of the United States will develop as it begins the year addressing weapons-related exigencies with Iraq and North Korea. Other issues today include the European Union's lackluster economic performance, the leader of Serbia's interim administration ahead of new presidential elections, and Russia's ongoing military campaign in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.
A New Year's Day (1 January) editorial in Britain's "The Independent" says it is ironic that the United States "demands war" with Iraq -- "a country that has accepted nuclear inspectors" -- while simultaneously "talking peace" with North Korea, who has just thrown such inspectors out.
"The great question of the year," the paper says, "is going to be which way the world's only superpower will jump." Will it rationalize a go-it-alone approach by citing the threat of terrorism? Or will it shift toward "a more internationalist approach that involves some pooling of its own sovereignty for the greater global good"?
The paper goes on to say that international cooperation is increasingly necessary. The "overreaching factor" in the last half-century's "unprecedented peace and prosperity" has been "the globalization of economics and the internationalization of politics," it says. Europe should come up with "a concerted offer of economic reconstruction alongside a determined stance on proliferation" in order to deal with North Korea, which it calls a "dangerously unstable" nation.
The same should go for Iraq, says the editorial. The EU must prove itself capable "of taking a more active stance through a common defense and security policy."
This year, the paper concludes, should see the United States, the United Nations, and Europe increasingly pooling sovereignty in the service of common interests.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
An editorial in "The New York Times" today says the situations in both Iraq and North Korea "demand a carefully calibrated international response that depends heavily on the United Nations Security Council" and close cooperation between Western allies.
Iraq is "ostensibly cooperating with UN weapons inspectors," says the paper. But Baghdad's "accounting of its unconventional arms programs has been circumscribed at best and deceptive at worst." Even so, U.S. President George W. Bush must "exhaust the diplomatic options before ordering American forces into combat." Bush "should return to the Security Council to seek explicit authorization to use force, a step that requires the assent of Russia, China, France, and Britain."
Nor should the Bush administration merely rely on isolating North Korea economically to pressure it to re-allow nuclear weapons monitors. The paper says a "better course would be to enlist the help of China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea in a united diplomatic offensive that makes clear to North Korea that its powerful neighbors are willing to help if it will give up its nuclear ambitions."
"The world will be watching America closely as the new year unfolds," the editorial says. The "overwhelming power" of the United States "will be of use only if it is exercised with self-control."
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH:
Columnist Janet Daley, writing in Britain's "The Daily Telegraph," discusses the possibility of war in 2003, in Iraq, North Korea, or elsewhere. The U.S. administration, she says, is basing its foreign policy on the "self-evident" truth that "of all the arrangements by which countries can be governed, the ones that make them most disinclined to go to war are liberal democratic politics and free market economics." When people "have the kind of stake in the material future that private property and capital offer, they are loath to put those things at risk," she writes. "They are also free to indulge in the virtues of compassion and tolerance that come with personal security."
Daley says war "should always be argued against. Every possible objection to it, sound or unsound, should be raised, and every argument in favor of it tested to destruction." But the "conventional wisdom" persists that "democracies do not go to war with one another. In truth, it is jolly hard to get a modern democratic country to go to war with anybody." Free people, she says, "will almost always find a way to avoid a fight to the death."
The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" presents a portrait of Natasa Micic, chairwoman of the Serbian parliament, who took over as acting president of Serbia on 30 December to serve in a caretaking capacity until new presidential elections. Two sets of elections since September failed to elect a new Serbian president.
Micic is portrayed as a woman of determination. The paper quotes her as saying, "Those who thought I could not deal with conflict situations are gravely mistaken," spoken as she had five rowdy members of the Radical Party sent out of a parliamentary assembly.
Micic's position is a precarious one, says the commentary, in a country where "sexism and Balkan patriarchal views prevail." Nevertheless, Micic has maintained her political independence, even in former days when she distributed posters declaring opposition to former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.
The commentary approves of Micic's actions in the current political crisis. She plays a more important role as chairman of parliament than as an interim president, according to the constitution. Moreover, she is guarding against former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica becoming the victim of power politics, and is striving to preserve the existing parliamentary majority rather than initiating new elections.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:
In "The Wall Street Journal," economics analyst Keith Marsden, adviser to both the United Nations and the World Bank, identifies some of the reasons behind the European Union's lackluster economic performance. First, he says, are high taxes and big governments. Low savings and investment is also a factor, due in part to high taxes, as well as to EU welfare systems that Marsden says discourage saving and limit the amount of funds available for investing.
The EU also spends relatively little on research and development, leading to a dearth of innovation. Moreover, it often subsidizes inefficient industries, including many in the public sector. Meanwhile, labor productivity within the EU grows at a meager rate. Marsden calls for more liberal labor-market regulations and a reorganization of the workforce to better utilize existing resources and more readily utilize new technologies.
Europe's aging population is also posing economic challenges, while Europe's export market share is declining. "Numerous benefits flow from participation in world trade, such as new jobs and higher incomes," he says. "Exposure to foreign competition should make home companies more competitive." But the EU, for now, "is failing this test."
Marsden writes, "All the constraints holding back the EU's exports and overall economic progress could be tackled by [policy] reforms." But many EU leaders and voters "seem prepared to settle for a comfortable lifestyle. Yet in an increasingly competitive environment, continued affluence cannot be guaranteed."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
A "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" editorial says the outcome of the trial of a Russian colonel who admitted to strangling a Chechen girl "corresponds to the new reality of the policy which Russia is pursuing in Chechnya."
A military court in Rostov-on-Don ruled on 31 December that Colonel Yurii Budanov was insane when he strangled 18-year-old Elsa Kungaeva in March 2000, and ordered Budanov to be committed to a clinic for treatment.
The commentary says Russian policy since the hostage drama in Moscow and the attack last week on the parliament building in Grozny is to cast the conflict as "a fight against international terrorism, which allegedly justifies everything that the Russians are perpetrating in the brutal war in Chechnya, day after day."
Since Budanov admitted to the murder of the 18-year-old so-called Chechen "terrorist," there was no possibility of his acquittal. But a prison sentence would have indicated a Russian recognition of war crimes in Chechnya. So the court made a ruling which, to a certain extent, takes into account the "reality" of the conflict: that it, like Budanov, is insane, and therefore, not responsible.
In Britain's "The Guardian" daily, Paul Foot says there is "doublethink" going on as the U.S. and Britain prepare for war in Iraq. He says the public in both nations knows that 15 years ago, the U.S. and Britain were allies with Iraq. The British public is aware that its Foreign Office "sided with [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein when he did those terrible things to his own people listed in [Interior Minister] Jack Straw's recent doublethink dossier. We know that our government changed their own guidelines in order to sell Saddam the ingredients of any weapons of mass destruction he may or may not now have. We also know that the key bases from which U.S. bombers will take off to kill Iraqis are in Saudi Arabia, whose regime is even more dictatorial, savage, and terrorist than Saddam's. But where does that knowledge exist? Only in our own consciousness."
Foot says that, just as in novelist George Orwell's satirical work about an all-powerful and repressive government, "1984," the British and American governments ignore or obfuscate facts that contradict their policies. Orwell's novel "was not only a satire, but a warning," says Foot. Orwell "wanted to alert his readers to the dangers of acquiescence in the lies and contortions of powerful governments and their media toadies."
If the public does not resist the "warmongers," says Foot, "we are in for another awful round of victories over our own memories and of doublethink."
A New Year's Day editorial in France's daily "Le Monde" calls for 2003 to bring reinvigorated international cooperation on a number of fronts. It says the world, in 2002, descended into despair and misery after having held out so much hope for the future following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. New hopes were disappointed, and the threats loomed larger that the promises.
"Le Monde" expresses the hope that 2003 will break away from the kind of fatalism that characterized 2002. The future is not bleak, it says, but it does depend on peace initiatives, dynamism, and reason. The United States remains a hyperpower, capable of militarily dominating the planet. But no nation's destiny can depend on it. Instead, the international community and the United Nations should be promoted, the paper says. And Europe must establish itself in the Mideast conflict, in Iraq, Africa, and in the Arab world. Moreover, dialogue and a spirit of openness, rather than ideology, must inform the policies of organizations like the International Monetary Fund. There is no single correct policy, even if there are common constraints.
Finally, says "Le Monde," the terrorist threat is a common plague. But it can only be fought through solidarity between nations.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher suggests that, following North Korea's revival of its nuclear program and the continuing threat of international terrorism, U.S. President George W. Bush should "step back from his fixation on attacking Iraq [and] reassess America's priorities."
"North Korea's reopening of its plutonium-reprocessing plant at Yongbyon puts it within six months of being able to produce sufficient weapons-grade material to generate several nuclear bombs," writes Christopher. "Contrast this with Iraq. Not only is North Korea much further along than Iraq in building nuclear weapons but [it] has a greater delivery capability." As a result, Christopher says, unless Bush has military intelligence about Iraq's capacities that he has not shared, "the threats from North Korea and from international terrorism are more imminent than those posed by Iraq."
He says the U.S. administration should recognize that the effort of removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq "may well distract us from dealing with graver threats." Christopher writes, "Before Bush gives the signal to attack Iraq, he should take a new, broad look at the question of whether such a war, at this moment, is the right priority for America."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
Also in the "International Herald Tribune," Alan Dupont of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at Australian National University concurs that North Korea is the most serious threat to global security right now.
Pyongyang's "flagrant breach of its international obligations cannot go unpunished," he says. "Otherwise, potential proliferators will conclude that states in possession of nuclear weapons can flout international conventions and laws with impunity. This will lead to the further spread of weapons of mass destruction and heightened insecurity for everyone."
Dupont suggests what he calls a "coercive mix of smart sanctions, tailored containment, diplomatic pressure, and a United Nations Security Council resolution citing North Korea for breaches of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the 1994 Agreed Framework will be needed." He says Kim Jong-il's regime should have "no doubt that future international aid and goodwill will be dependent on full compliance with both agreements."
Dupont says ultimately, "engagement is the only sensible choice."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)