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Western Press Review: Weapons Inspectors Report To The UN, German Foreign Policy, And Serbian Nationalism

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 14 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Western media commentary today looks at the report by UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix and Mohammad el-Baradei at the Security Council later today. Their report is widely expected to determine whether Iraq is in "material breach" of UN resolutions on disarmament and whether the U.S. has a justification for imminent military action. Commentaries also discuss German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's foreign policy, resurgent nationalism in Serbia, and the reduction of the "relevance" of the United Nations to its actions on one issue -- Iraq.


An editorial in "The New York Times" reprinted in today's "International Herald Tribune," says the UN Security Council must "pull itself together" at its meeting today, at which chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and IAEA head Mohammad el-Baradei are scheduled to deliver a report on Iraq's weapons programs. The paper says the council should agree on a resolution "setting a date for Iraq to comply with disarmament demands or face the likelihood of united military action." The new resolution "should say clearly that the United Nations is authorizing member states to take military action against Iraq after the deadline if Baghdad fails to meet the demands."

Until now, the paper says, the international community has been sending a mixed message to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein: that the United States will go to war "no matter what, and that France and other Security Council members are opposed to using military force." This ambiguous position "leaves Iraq with little incentive to do anything but stall."

The debate over a new resolution would clarify where each nation stands on the issue, says the editorial. The U.S. administration would be forced to answer "what, if anything, would persuade [it] not to go to war with Iraq." France and others opposed to a military solution would have to declare "what, if anything, would persuade it to endorsee military action." The answers to these questions could "restore a sorely needed sense of common purpose."


Today's commentaries in the German press are mainly concerned with the German government's statement yesterday in defense of its opposition to a war in Iraq and its reasons for maintaining its decision to block NATO planning to defend Turkey in the case of conflict.

Guenther Nonnenmacher in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," in analyzing Germany's stance, says since World War II, Germany has created a more stable bridge from the European continent across the Atlantic to the United States. Berlin was Washington's preferred partner in many ways, he points out. Yet now, Germany has betrayed America's trust on the issue of Iraq. As the paper says, "Germany has become a Trojan horse in Europe." The Americans see Berlin's behavior as treacherous and are bitter about it.

Nonnenmacher says, "NATO and the EU will survive the current turbulence in some form or another, but Germany's reputation on the international stage is ruined for some time to come."


On the other hand, Heribert Prantl, writing in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," defends the German stance when he writes: "A war in Iraq is not in self-defense. This is not a humanitarian intervention. And it is no campaign to overcome a crisis. Bush will win the war, but not the peace. For the war undermines the international ban on force, it paints war as based on the desires of the stronger nation."

This has the potential for "geopolitical destruction: If the U.S. establishes a right to a preventive war, then other states may consider this fair. They will then take this as an example -- and so a war, which apparently is being waged for the sake of more security, will lead to new insecurity."

Prantl says German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's pronouncement that the "strength of law, as opposed to the right of strength" is correct. He suggests an intensification of the UN inspectors' mission in Iraq and making use of all possible means of disarming Saddam Hussein in a peaceful manner.


A "Financial Times" editorial today says it is strange to see Germany "being pilloried for excessive passivism" over its antiwar stance on Iraq. No one, it says, "should be surprised at Germany's doubts about getting caught up in foreign wars." Yet the paper says German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was "clumsy and inept" in voicing his criticisms of U.S. policy on Iraq. In the campaign preceding his narrow re-election last September, as well as in recent state elections, the chancellor "overplayed the peace card" and thus limited his foreign policy options and "undermined any influence he might have had in the U.S. administration."

Yet for all the fury over Germany's stance on Iraq, the editorial says "a real and welcome transformation of German foreign policy [is] being overlooked." Germany is now a "substantial contributor to world security and stability," and has 10,000 troops in the Balkans and Afghanistan. It has recently taken over joint command with the Netherlands over the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

A decade ago, the involvement of German troops in "hot spots" around the world would have been "unthinkable," says the paper. "But the most outspoken critics in Washington neither notice nor care. They are concerned only with Iraq."

The editorial concludes that both Washington and Berlin should treat each other's arguments on the issue of possible military action in Iraq "with more respect."


A "Newsweek" article by Rod Nordland and Zoran Cirjakovic says it was "fitting" that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia came to an end last week without much fanfare. The former rump Yugoslavia has been replaced with a new federal union known as Serbia and Montenegro in what the paper calls a "shotgun wedding."

But it's likely to be a short marriage, says the authors, as "almost all Serbs and Montenegrens expect to split after three years," when the new union's charter allows for a referendum on independence.

In the meantime, Nordland and Cirjakovic say Serbian nationalism is once again "intruding on politics." Ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj ran a "frighteningly close" second to incumbent Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica in elections late last year. The impassioned "rants of an international plot against the Serbs" by former President and indicted war criminal Slobodan Milosevic, now on trial at The Hague, draw larger television audiences than popular soap operas. And even Serbia's pro-Western Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, the man who sent him there, "has lately been playing some dangerous cards [in trolling] for right-wing nationalist votes."

Most observers dismiss Djindjic's stance as pragmatic politics in a right-wing Serbia. "Trouble is, that's what brought Yugoslavia down in the first place," Nordland and Cirjakovic write. They point out that Milosevic was another "pragmatic" politician "who bid for power by playing a cynically nationalist hand."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Shashi Tharoor, the UN's undersecretary-general for communications and public information, says the long-term "relevance" of the UN is being eclipsed by how it enforces its resolutions on one issue: Iraq.

Tharoor writes: "Much of what the United Nations seeks to do requires rousing the consciences of people who live in relative affluence and peace about the plight of the poor and the strife-torn. Large sections of the world's people require desperately needed help from the United Nations.... Twenty million refugees and displaced persons around the world" depend on the UN for food, shelter, and other aid.

Yet the "media's identification of the United Nations with only one issue, Iraq," comes at a time when "[civil] war rages in Ivory Coast and sputters in Congo." Many long-running conflicts, such as Cyprus, Sierra Leone, or the Middle East, need more international attention. "The arduous task of nation building proceeds fitfully in Afghanistan, the Balkans, and East Timor."

By "reducing the value of the UN to one issue," the international community risks depriving itself "of the only effective instrument the world has to confront the challenges that will remain when Iraq has passed from the headlines."


Also in the "International Herald Tribune," Joseph Nye of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government says the United States seems to rely only on its "hard power" rather than diversifying its approach with "soft power" policies.

Hard power, he says, "works through coercion, using military sticks and economic carrots to get others to do one's will." Soft power, in contrast, "works through attraction. If America can persuade others to want what it wants, it saves having to spend on expensive carrots and sticks."

The United States' power of attraction "rests on its culture, its political values and policies that avoid arrogance by taking into account the interests of others." Nye says it is important to develop policies "that align the United States with the aspirations of ordinary citizens in poor countries outside the immediate zone of conflict" or beyond the regional interest at hand.

"America the unilateral imperialist is far less attractive than America the leader of a coalition that is enforcing UN resolutions," he says. That is why UN resolutions, inspections, and international agreement on Iraq are so important. There, as in the fight against terrorism, "the United States has to learn better to combine its soft and hard power."


In "The Washington Post," commentator David Ignatius says the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush is acting with a sort of "relentless passion" on the issue of a possible war with Iraq, when it should be exercising "prudence and good judgment."

He writes: "Over the past few weeks, the hunt for Saddam Hussein has become so intense that it has seemed almost self-destructive. The administration appears willing to sacrifice almost anything -- America's alliances, its prosperity, even the security of its citizens -- in its determination to oust the Iraqi leader from power."

Ignatius says, "Liberating the Iraqi people is a good deed, but the war should be justified by a coherent, long-term strategy." Here, he says, the Bush administration lacks coherence -- not in its resolve to make war but in its lack of a clear strategy. He says, "Waging war seems to have become a goal in itself -- an end rather than a means."

Ignatius calls it a "danger sign" that the U.S. has split with its traditional allies on this issue. He says that "however cynical and calculating" the reasons behind dissent by French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Iraq, "they are also reflecting the political sentiment of their countries."

The U.S. administration's "indignation" over their lack of support "masks the fact that it hasn't done a very good job selling its policy."


In France's daily "Liberation," Patric Sabatier says the confrontation at the UN Security Council today between those who support the United States in a possible military action to disarm Iraq and those who want to achieve this objective without resorting to war may, "regrettably," have only one winner: Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

With "a determination that borders on arrogance," U.S. President George W. Bush wants to launch an offensive despite the hesitations of allies and a majority of nations around the globe. As a result, all the international organizations which have presided, more or less efficiently, over the regulation of global relations since World War II -- the European Union, the United Nations, and NATO -- now risk implosion.

Unilateralism seems convenient for Bush whenever multilateralism does not suit his policies, Sabatier says. Bush appears ready to ignore the antiwar coalition that stretches from China to Mexico by way of India, Russia, Germany, France, Brazil, and others. He risks fracture among these democracies and destabilizing the multilateral system that makes up the United Nations, as well as further swelling the rising tide of anti-Americanism.

The international community's priority must be to find a compromise within the framework of the UN, says Sabatier. Bush should allow another chance for the peaceful disarmament of Iraq, and other nations should agree on a deadline by which Iraq must comply with the resolutions of the Security Council.

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