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Western Press Review: Powell In Asia, Protecting Refugees, And The Media's Role During War

  • Khatya Chhor
  • Dora Slaba

Prague, 21 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the subjects discussed in the Western press today are U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's trip to Asia in a new attempt to resolve the North Korean nuclear question, the European Union's new cohesion in the debate over Iraq, the role of the media and the challenges faced by journalists in wartime, the Armenian presidential elections, and ensuring the welfare of refugees in the case of a possible war in Iraq.


A "Financial Times" editorial notes U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is setting off on a "welcome" visit to Asia today, as Washington launches a renewed attempt to resolve the North Korean nuclear quandary. His trip "shows Washington does not have total tunnel vision on Iraq." But the paper says that whether it can find a way out of the North Korean impasse "is another matter."

The editorial says Powell's diplomatic task is to convince China, Japan, and neighboring South Korea to apply multilateral pressure on the North. But these regional powers will likely advise Powell to deal directly with North Korea, as Pyongyang itself has insisted. So far, the U.S. has resisted direct diplomacy, for fear that talks with the North would be seen as caving in to nuclear blackmail.

But there are some "measures that could unsnarl the crisis," the paper says. The U.S. might "[formalize] its pledge not to use force against North Korea." Such an agreement would not quite fulfill Pyongyang's "request for a Soviet-style 'non-aggression pact,'" and would be subject to revision in the event of violations by North Korea.

Another step forward might be force reductions by both the U.S. and North Korea. But the paper says both these measures would have to be conditional on, or "perhaps preceded [by], North Korea re-assuming all its arms control obligations and re-opening all nuclear installations to inspection."


Writing of the diverse positions to be found within Europe on the issue of a possible war in Iraq, Elise Kissling says in today's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" that it now seems "the EU has put its internal differences aside and rejoined the international community, this time in speaking in one voice."

European Union leaders warned Baghdad earlier this week that weapons inspections cannot go on indefinitely without Iraq's cooperation and said that force should only be used as a "last resort."

Kissling says, "The EU's joint position here is a real breakthrough."

With regard to German domestic politics, she says Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder "was well advised to give up his unilateral 'no' and agree to the use of force" as a last resort. This new credibility, she says, "also gives Schroeder the leeway to formulate a position that serves Germany's own interests."


A separate commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" by Stefan Dietrich discusses the apparent discrepancy between the will of the people and the decisions adopted by politicians. As democratic nations worldwide grapple with widespread popular discontent with their governments' policies on Iraq -- a discontent underscored by the millions taking part in global antiwar protests on 15 February -- Dietrich says, "Responding to the public mood is one thing -- governing on the basis of popular moods is another.

"The majority that articulates itself in surveys and through last weekend's street protests has neither the government's information apparatus nor can it weigh the consequences of a certain foreign policy stance," he says. "Responsible decisions, however, presuppose both."

Ultimately, German voters "will not ask whether Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder acted according to their will in February 2003, but will judge him on the situation he has created for this country."

Dietrich goes on to say: "Where more-or-less democratically elected leaders proclaim to execute the will of the people, dictatorship follows. For the claim to embody the people brings any attitude that does not conform with the government view close to high treason."

Instead, he says, what makes democracy special "is not that 'the people' rule, while an individual or a group of individuals rules in a dictatorship, but that only in a democracy is power lent temporarily."


In France's daily "Liberation," columnist Patric Sabatier discusses French President Jacques Chirac's 17 February admonition to Eastern European nations at an emergency summit in Brussels. Chirac chastised the EU candidates for supporting the U.S. administration's policies on Iraq and hinted they were jeopardizing their chances at EU membership.

But Sabatier says that in his criticism of the aspirants' pro-U.S. stance, Chirac committed the same mistake the U.S. administration has made by unilaterally demanding Eastern European candidates be either "with [us] or against [us]" on the issue of Iraq. "Arrogance is never good politics," says Sabatier.

He goes on to say that Eastern European nations are misguided in their support of the U.S. administration's Iraq policies. Unconditional pro-Atlanticism does not serve the purposes of EU foreign policy, he says, adding that it is dangerous to blindly seek Washington's good graces in matters of defense.

As the inheritors of a tragic history that hardly inspires confidence in their European neighbors, the tendency of these Eastern candidate countries toward pro-Americanism may complicate the creation of an independent European policy. But it is not through the threat of reprisals that Western Europe will convince the East to reconsider supporting the United States at the risk of weakening Europe, says Sabatier.

The EU may indeed become a political counterweight to the American hyperpower, he says. But it should not pursue this goal by casting itself as an adversary of the United States.


A "Chicago Tribune" editorial weighs in on Chirac's comments by saying, "When it comes to dealing with Iraq, the Europe envisioned by the French is one in which those nations that disagree with France keep their big mouths shut." That was the unmistakable message delivered by the French president in Brussels this week. "Those that agree with France may speak; those that don't should remain silent if they know what's good for them."

The paper asks, "Surely Chirac isn't suggesting that joining the EU means nations have to relinquish their rights to think for themselves?" Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, and other former communist states "had their fill of that in the Cold War. What irony if France now expects these nations to submit -- silently -- to its domination."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," former UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata discusses the plight of refugees fleeing Iraq in the wake of the first Gulf War and warns that the international community must be prepared for a similar multitude in the event of a new war.

In 1991, following the U.S. offensive, disaffected Iraqi groups launched a rebellion in the north and south. Iraq's President Saddam Hussein "reacted severely -- 450,000 people, most of them Kurds, fled to the Turkish frontier within a week. Another 1.3 million Kurds moved to Iran, as did some 70,000 Iraqis, mostly Shiites."

Iran's refugee burden was "huge," Ogata writes. The country was already host to more than 2 million from previous wars, although the UN "did everything possible to assist" with the new influx.

Meanwhile, Turkey -- already "struggling with a significant Kurdish insurrection" and fearful of hosting a large number of Kurdish refugees -- closed its border with Iraq. "Several hundred thousand Kurds were stranded in inhospitable, snow-covered mountain passes [with] neither food nor shelter." Ogata asks, "Will the world again be witness to such human misery?"

Humanitarian work, she says, "is not only about providing food and medicine. In essence, it is to assure safety and survival for ordinary people.... [If] the world chooses to take a military course in Iraq, it must keep any humanitarian consequences of such action firmly in the forefront of its concern."


Columnist Joan Vennochi in "The Boston Globe" discusses U.S. President George W. Bush's shifting views on war with Iraq in light of the coverage provided by author and journalist Bob Woodward in his book "Bush at War."

Vennochi says, "One of the most interesting aspects of this behind-the-scenes account of how George W. Bush and his top national security advisers responded after the 11 September attacks is how focused the president was on the need to define and limit the goals of war."

Immediately following the attacks, she says Bush "understood the importance of communicating an easy-to-grasp strategy for war. He also understood the perils of miscommunication." Yet this "is precisely what is missing now in the Bush push for war with Iraq."

Vennochi says the U.S. president's first instincts were correct to "define the enemy and the terms of victory, link the specific terrorist attacks of 11 September to the general war against terrorism, keep the battle plan simple and execute it crisply." But over time, the hawks in his administration "convinced the president to take on [Iraq's] Saddam Hussein without the clear link to 11 September [Bush] initially seemed to believe was essential."

Today, she says, Bush gives no indication of returning to his earlier caution. Bush "was pushed [and] prodded [to] get to the point in his thinking where he is today." Vennochi concludes, "Time will tell if the first instincts of Bush at war were his best."


The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses the role of President Robert Kocharian in light of elections in Armenia, in which the incumbent failed to receive enough votes to win outright yesterday.

The paper notes that despite alleged vote rigging and various polling irregularities, according to monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the need for a second round in the elections "shows a growing resistance to Kocharian within Armenia."

However, says the paper, Kocharian is bound to survive the next round, just as he has overcome crises in the past, notably a 1999 shootout in parliament in which eight deputies died. Following that event, Kocharian managed to establish calm in his country once more.

However, his conflicts with neighboring Azerbaijan and Turkey have resulted in Armenia's economic isolation and have relegated the country to one of the poorest in the Caucasus. On the other hand, thanks to a foreign policy in which he has aligned himself with both Russia and the United States, and which in turn has influenced the International Monetary Fund on Armenia's behalf, Kocharian has managed to ensure Armenia a two-figure increase in its gross domestic product.


In the European edition of "The Wall Street Journal," Vladimir Socor of the Institute for Strategic and Political Studies says Russia, France, and Germany "have apparently decided to turn the Iraq crisis into an opportunity to undercut U.S. global pre-eminence" while forming a new "axis" in Europe.

In a visit to Germany and France last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized reshaping the international order from a U.S.-dominated unipolar system to a multipolar system based on regional and/or strategic counterweights to U.S. influence. The three countries then issued a joint declaration on Iraq in which Socor says the Moscow-Paris-Berlin "axis" "[opposed] the American and British position on all essential points."

Putin later lauded the proposal as "the first attempt since World War II to resolve an acute international crisis outside the framework of any bloc," and as "the first brick" in a new multipolar edifice.

This shift portends a trilateral move toward "sidelining NATO, curtailing the U.S. role in European affairs, and enhancing Russia's role in Europe through the emergent Paris-Berlin-Moscow 'axis.'"

But the entry of Central and Eastern European nations into the EU and NATO could "frustrate French or French-German ambitions to develop and lead a 'European' foreign and defense policy in competition with the U.S.," he says.

Eastern nations still view the U.S. as the best guarantor of their security -- a perception that Socor says is only enhanced by the "Paris-Berlin-Moscow rapprochement."


In the "Chicago Tribune," columnist Don Wycliff says the reason reporters go to cover war is to keep the people back home "as fully informed as possible" on how the conflict is going. Yet during the 1991 Gulf War, members of the news media "found themselves restricted, quarantined, rebuffed and stiffed [by] the armed forces, which assigned top priority to controlling information and access to it."

In the event of another war in Iraq, Wycliff says the "relationship between the military and the press [may] be less antagonistic and more productive for both sides."

The U.S. Pentagon "has agreed to assign journalists to individual fighting units for the duration" of any potential conflict in Iraq. "Each journalist will be 'embedded' in a unit, living, traveling and going into combat with it. But instead of a weapon, the journalist will wield a pen [or] videotape camera."

These embedded journalists will share the same living conditions and risks as combat troops. But ultimately, Wycliff says, they will "be expected to remain journalists, exercising an objective eye and writing critically of the people and things they observe when criticism is warranted."


In the European edition of "The Wall Street Journal," Harold Evans, a British Royal Air Force corporal and former editor of "The Times" of London, as well as the "Sunday Times," says between 500 and 1,000 reporters will be covering a possible conflict with Iraq from their positions embedded within combat units.

But exactly what this will mean for coverage remains unclear, for the relationship of the press to military and government bodies is "complex," based on "dependence and antagonism." The press must necessarily trade the privilege of "a measure of access for a measure of official control."

Evans goes on to raise a number of rhetorical questions: "[How] much freedom will an embedded correspondent or cameraman have to move independently? [How] much should he have?" Evans notes that it is a violation of the Geneva Conventions for a reporter to take part directly in military action. But "what is an embedded correspondent to do if someone next to him is bleeding to death?" he asks. "Keep taking [notes]? How far can professional detachment be carried?"

What Evans calls the journalist's "professional conceit" is that "the war correspondent is on nobody's side but the side of truth." But sometimes the press does its own censoring, of disturbing or demoralizing images. Other times, the people "just don't want to know what the correspondent may risk his life trying to tell them about the reality of war."