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Western Press Review: Debating Preventive War, Iran's Potential Nukes, And The Djindjic Assassination

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 14 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Topics addressed in the Western media today include Iran's potential nuclear capability; the murder on 12 March of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and its impact on the future of the Balkans; the Turkish government's decision to ban the Kurdish People's Democracy Party (HADEP); the upcoming vote on a new Iraq resolution in the UN Security Council; and the new U.S. doctrine of preventive action -- how might it redefine world politics?


In a contribution to "The Washington Post," Joseph Nye of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government says Iraq is the first test of the new U.S. doctrine of preventive war. This doctrine represents a "dramatic departure" from previous policies, and Nye says "it is crucial [to] set the right precedent."

Leaders such as Josef Stalin in Russia "needed the power of governments [to] kill millions of people." But if "21st-century terrorists get hold of weapons of mass destruction, that power of destruction will for the first time be available to deviant groups and individuals." This decentralization of the ability to make war marks a major shift in world politics, says Nye.

The U.S. administration has not yet decided how to best implement its new preventative approach, Nye says, whether unilaterally or multilaterally. "Pre-emption in the face of imminent attack [is] widely regarded as acceptable self-defense," he remarks. But there must also be "a careful checklist of criteria to limit the number of future cases."

Moreover, some sort of "collective legitimization" of preemption is necessary, perhaps under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter on "threats to the peace." "Multilateral preventive war may be justified when unilateral preventive war is not."

Otherwise, says Nye, "the awful lessons of the first half of the 20th century would be lost, and any state could set itself up as judge, jury and executioner. That precedent would come back to haunt us."


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" looks at the Constitutional Court in Ankara's decision on 13 March to ban the main Kurdish party, the People's Democracy Party (HADEP). The paper says this decision has "destroyed many expectations."

Ankara judged that HADEP had links to separatist Kurdish rebels. Constitutional Court Chairman Mustafa Bumin said in Ankara that the party was found to have "aided and supported" the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The paper comments, "With the threat of war against Iraq, the screw is being tightened." The party's ban is part of much larger political issues, it says, for "Ankara fears nothing more than a resurgence of Kurdish aspirations."

Faced with the Iraqi crisis and political turmoil in Turkey, Ankara's officials "have gone back to their old ways of thinking," say the commentary, "and accordingly are reacting with political bans instead of tolerance."


An editorial in "The Boston Globe" today calls the 12 March assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic "a desolating illustration of the difficulty Serbs face in constructing a democratic political culture rooted in the rule of law."

Djindjic "made many enemies, first as a leader of the perilous struggle against the dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic, then as a reformer in power and an opponent of Serbia's entrenched criminal mafias." In a thriving democratic system, these traits "might have made him a target of vindictive verbal assaults," the paper says -- "but not of snipers with high-powered rifles."

The paper says the "gangland" style of political life in Serbia -- "despite elections, parliamentary debate, and a free press -- shows that the democratic transformation for which Djindjic and many other Serbs have struggled is incomplete." When they formed the Alliance for Change coalition, the aim was to replace Milosevic's autocratic rule with an elected government. But Djindjic's murder "demonstrates that it is not enough to elect leaders; Serbia's democrats need to unify to save their newborn democracy from criminality in politics and from political criminals."


A "Financial Times" editorial today says no one on either side of the Iraq debate will know which way the "wavering" countries on the Security Council will go until the use of force to disarm Iraq is actually put to a vote, which may happen on 17 March or -- according to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell -- not at all. "Indeed," says the paper, "the increasingly hostile debate and swirl of uncertainty about a new resolution may even lead to it being withdrawn without a vote."

The paper calls this a "failure of diplomacy," then wryly remarks that perhaps such a characterization is "too polite" to describe the "bullying and bribing in which both camps are indulging." The Iraqi standoff, it says, is "slowly unpicking the mesh of the European Union and the Atlantic alliance, as well as undermining the UN. And almost all concerned bear some responsibility for this mess.

The paper says some UN diplomats are questioning whether a Security Council vote taken in these circumstances "will be based on conviction or convenience." The paper says a vote with such doubts at its foundation would be "a poor basis" on which "to sanction a war." Nevertheless, it says, if military action is launched, "it should have the legitimacy of a new resolution. It would be hugely damaging if the UN process ended in a gale of recriminations. That would also make it extremely difficult to rebuild a consensus strong enough to tackle the reconstruction of post-Saddam Iraq."


An item in "The New York Times" today says Iran has a worryingly advanced nuclear program. The country has natural uranium and a plant capable of enriching it into weapons-grade material. Yet Tehran has resisted giving the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to the sites and information necessary to certify it is not producing nuclear weapons.

"This is a problem that needs urgent international attention," the paper says. It notes that, under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of which Tehran is a signatory, it would be "a violation of international law for Iran to build nuclear weapons." Tehran "insists that its nuclear programs are transparent to international inspections." But as long as it "declines to sign up for strengthened safeguards, this is unverifiable."

"The New York Times" says, "All countries, especially members of the United Nations Security Council, should insist that Tehran immediately agree to the IAEA's strengthened safeguards system."


In the "International Herald Tribune," former Central Intelligence Agency officer Reuel Marc Gerecht, now of the American Enterprise Institute, says Iran's recent revelation that it has a uranium enrichment lab is a "worrisome reminder" that Iraq "[is not] the only variable in the Gulf."

Gerecht questions whether Tehran will seek to influence events in neighboring Iraq in the event of a conflict. But he says Iran's leaders are "less worried about what happens in Iraq than about the Bush administration's 'axis of evil' doctrine." There has been much discussion "about whether the Islamic Republic will be 'next on the list.'"

The rapid U.S. victory in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq likely prompted Iran to restart its nuclear weapons program. Tehran may have decided that if it could develop an atomic weapon, "it would not have to worry about the Americans one day doing to it what they had just done to Iraq." Gerecht posits that Iran is within two years of nuclear capability.

Thus he says the decision to declare Iran's nuclear technology seemed intended in part to avoid the United States accusing Tehran "of working clandestinely" as a "pretense" for military action. Gerecht says Iran's program "was probably designed so that it could be made public at an expedient moment."

He says, "Once the clerics have a nuclear weapon, [they] could more confidently try to influence Iraq's political system."


Martin Winter in the "Frankfurter Rundschau" discusses what he calls "the neglected Balkans" in the wake of the assassination of Prime Minister Djindjic. He says it is high time for the European Union to face facts: It was a "grave mistake" to ignoring the problems in the Balkans, where the situation is much more fragile than anyone wanted to believe. He blames the foreign and security policy of the EU for its lack of involvement.

Winter criticizes the EU for its complacency: "The EU's imagination has failed at decisive moments in the transition from post-civil war to peace" in the Balkans. Instead of offering a relevant political strategy, the EU once again merely prescribed its "universal cure" for securing peace -- notably, prospective EU membership. But this concept "of exporting peace by importing countries" into the EU only functions when a realistic deadline for admittance exists, Winter says. And this has not been the case with the west Balkans.

Winter says a solution to the Kosovo problem must be established by clearly defining borders; the EU must then support building a democratic administration and an independent judicial system. For, he says, "inefficiency and corruption endanger democracy just as much as criminality." Finally, the Balkans require a "gentle transition" in economic policy, including agricultural reform. "There is no other way of securing democratic stability except by eliminating the roots of turmoil."

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