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Western Press Review: U.S. Plans To Revive NATO, Russia's Two President Putins, Chechnya

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 9 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the issues addressed by the Western media today are UN atomic energy chief Mohammed ElBaradei's trip to Tehran, U.S. plans to revive NATO, Russia's two President Putins, the Kremlin's ongoing military campaign in Chechnya, and America's over-reliance on militarism in its foreign policy.


An editorial today discusses the current trip to Iran of the head of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohammed ElBaradei. ElBaradei will try to convince Tehran to hand over more information about its nuclear program. The paper says, "In response to pressure from the Bush administration, the IAEA has become more willing than ever to go public with evidence that Tehran has refused to cooperate with UN inspectors."

A report issued by the IAEA last month essentially "confirms long-standing charges by Washington and other critics that Iran is seeking to deceive the international community about its efforts to develop nuclear weapons," says the paper.

During his visit today, ElBaradei will try to persuade Iran to agree to more intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities. "The Washington Times" says as long as ElBaradei "forges ahead with his efforts to make Tehran tell the truth, he will receive -- and deserve -- the [U.S. President George W.] Bush administration's strong support."


A "Stratfor" analysis today says many Western observers harbor misperceptions about Iran's pro-reform political opposition. Despite an estimated 4,000 arrests, last month's 10 days of protests "were relatively small, with only a few thousand participants. Western media, however, portrayed the protests as a possible step toward the overthrow of the Islamist regime."

Despite increasing calls for reform from both within and outside Iran, the conservative government has been able to "contain the movement with relative ease."

"Stratfor" says, "Not only is this a measure of the government's power, but it also highlights the amorphous nature of the reform movement -- which lacks leadership, organization, and direction."

"Stratfor" says "there simply is not enough widespread popular support for a complete overthrow of the current Iranian political system. Mainstream activists want to reform the current system from within, not to replace it with a more Western-style system."

It continues: "Most Iranian reformists do not want to subvert the Islamist system; they only wish to curtail the arbitrary power of the unelected traditionalist mullahs. And the reform movement as a whole is not a secular movement. It is a moderate strand within Iranian Islamism that is trying to negotiate modernity with tradition [and] advance a contemporary interpretation of Islam instead of applying medieval prescriptions to a modern reality."

But most Western observers "tend to miss this distinction," the analysis says. They see a reform movement "as intrinsically linked to a shift closer to Western ideas on governance."


Writing in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Michael McFaul of Stanford University and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says Russian President Vladimir Putin has two very different personas.

On the one hand, says McFaul, on Putin's watch, "Russia's 1998 devaluation and rising oil prices began to fuel economic growth for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union." While not necessarily personally responsible for this economic revival, McFaul says, Putin did initiate reforms that prolonged it. Russia moved to a 13 percent flat tax, "cut corporate taxes, balanced the budget, paid foreign debts, legalized land ownership, [and restructured] the big monopolies."

But in corresponding moves, Putin's administration also took part in a "sinister subplot." Even as Russia's economic liberalization was taking place, the Kremlin was implementing "illiberal political changes."

All national television networks are now under state control, Russian soldiers continue to abuse human rights in Chechnya, human rights organizations have been "harassed, journalists imprisoned, and Western aid workers thrown out of the country." And Putin "did nothing to stop these obvious steps toward authoritarian rule."

McFaul says, "Arbitrary rule by the state is not only undemocratic. It's bad for business. A state that isn't constrained by checks and balances, the rule of law, the scrutiny of an independent media, or the will of the voters is unpredictable at best, predatory at worst."


An editorial says there can be no justification for the type of suicide attack that killed 16 people, including the two bombers, at a Moscow rock concert last weekend.

But "terrorism everywhere is nourished in injustice and wielded in hatred," the paper says. It says that while terrorist networks should be destroyed, "invocations of an indiscriminate 'global terrorism' serve only to provide justification for governments to avoid confronting the causes of murderous hatreds."

The editorial says the Russian army's behavior in Chechnya "has been abhorrent, often amounting to no more than banditry and murder. Untold numbers of Chechen men have disappeared; many have been later found tortured to death. Russian officers and soldiers who have committed atrocities have avoided prosecution."

Given these circumstances, the paper says Russian President Vladimir Putin's attempt to depict Chechen separatists as "the unprovoked work of an 'international terrorist network' rings hollow."

When the "violence and hatred reach this level, only the boldest moves stand a chance." Putin must now "demonstrate the same statesmanship" that he showed as a member of the diplomatic "quartet" of nations that hammered out the "road map" for peace in the Middle East.

"The New York Times" says Putin must invite "mutually accepted mediators to create a framework in which he can plot a way out of the violence with authentic Chechen leaders."


An analysis today says that over the past few months, Washington's attitude toward the NATO alliance has shifted radically. The conventional wisdom used to be that NATO had outlived its usefulness and was becoming irrelevant, having lost its traditional enemy and raison d'etre -- the Soviet Union. Inter-European conflict now seems "a remote possibility," and the United States has shown little interest of late in receiving any military help from its NATO allies.

But "Jane's" says the United States has now "suddenly decided that the alliance must now return to being Washington's linchpin in Europe." The United States is discussing NATO intervention in the Middle East if a peace force is needed, and NATO-member Poland is leading a stabilization force in Iraq. Moreover, the creation of a readily deployable 6,000-strong NATO Reaction Force should be complete by October 2004.

"How can one account for this radical change in the U.S. position?" "Jane's" asks. A simple political calculation is at work. Washington "knows that it cannot rely on the alliance as a whole to do U.S. bidding. It also knows that much of Europe's military is irrelevant for the U.S.A. But it reckons that, if NATO disappears from the scene, the Europeans will be forced to establish their own defense arrangements and that this would diminish U.S. influence in Europe."

Thus, "Jane's" concludes, NATO "[is] being strengthened by the U.S.A. not because it believes in the alliance but because it fears the alternative."


An analysis by Martin Wolf in Britain's "Financial Times" says many within the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush mistakenly believe that military supremacy, applied directly, can solve America's security problems. "They are wrong," Wolf says.

One limitation the U.S. faces is that "winning wars does not translate readily into stable peace. [Smart] weapons and technological wizardry cannot deliver tranquillity and order. These require effective forces [and] the cooperation of those they control."

"All government depends on the consent of the governed," says Wolf. "The less coercive one wants an occupation to be, the more important such consent becomes." Thus, an occupier first needs "to secure its legitimacy among both the occupied and those whose help it is likely to need." And today, he says, "such legitimacy can only be achieved through the activities of multilateral institutions."

Secondly, the United States must recognize that it cannot expect support from its allies unless it also gives them some influence in the nature and direction of the campaign. "Third and most important," says Wolf, is that the U.S. "must understand the limits of its military power. The assumption that its preponderant might makes it simple to rearrange the internal politics of the world is fatuous."

Wolf concludes: if the U.S. attempts "to achieve its goals through a militarized foreign policy that scorns both the views of its allies and the role of global institutions, it will fail. And that would be a tragedy, not just for the U.S. but for the world."


On the fourth anniversary of Iran's landmark 1999 antigovernment demonstrations, a "Washington Post" editorial today says there is "not much evidence" that more demonstrations last month will mark a major change in Iranian politics. The June protests were quelled by mass arrests and beatings by security forces and vigilantes.

Even if the pro-reform political opposition succeeded, "it might do little to lessen the principle threat" from Iran: its program to develop the technology to produce nuclear weapons. Seeking tougher international inspections and UN sanctions in the case of noncompliance is the policy route now advocated by the United States, the European Union, and even Russia, and this "has helped repair the damage of the trans-Atlantic breach over Iraq."

The "Post" says military action to disarm Iran, another policy at times considered by the U.S. administration, "would bring high costs and would be no more likely to succeed than the current policies. The reality is that Iran, like North Korea, poses a weapons threat that almost certainly will not succumb to one-dimensional or short-term policies."

For now, the paper says, pushing for tougher inspections is a policy that sounds good but has little chance of succeeding.