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Western Press Review: A New U.S.-Russia Security Partnership, Reforming The UN, And Free Trade In The Former Soviet Bloc

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 22 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Media coverage in the major dailies today takes a look at forming a new global security framework with U.S.-Russian cooperation at its core; overhauling the UN to ensure it can deal effectively with the 21st century's new challenges; and multilateral talks in Berlin between Britain, France, and Germany aimed at formulating a common stance on Iraq.


A contribution to "The Moscow Times" by Dmitry Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center discusses the possibilities for creating a new global security framework with U.S.-Russian cooperation as its foundation. Bilateral cooperation between the two countries in the period following the 11 September 2001 attacks has been dominated by security interests. But Trenin remarks that the war on terrorism "has a way of bringing countries together without uniting them." Nations taking part in anti-terrorist operations "all battle their own specific enemies, and pass this off as their contribution to the common cause." The United States pursues Al-Qaeda, Russia wars with Chechen separatists, India battles those in Kashmir and China seeks to quell its Uyghur insurgency. But international cooperation "rarely extends beyond high-minded declarations of intent."

To achieve closer collaboration, especially between Washington and Moscow, two main challenges must be overcome, says Trenin. The first obstacle is the "mutual suspicion" between the two capitals. Secondly, he calls for reforms to improve the ability of national security services to engage in multilateral operations. "A new approach to 'security management' is needed at both the national and the global level," Trenin writes.

"The existing bilateral commission on cooperation in the war on terrorism should be converted into a permanent joint committee staffed by U.S. and Russian security specialists." The United States, Russia, and other "leading" countries "must come up with a common strategy for defusing these situations and subjecting them to strict international control."


A "New York Times" editorial says U.S. President George W. Bush's apparent new willingness to seek UN help in Iraq is "a welcome, if belated, recognition that global policing can acquire legitimacy only through multinational endorsement." But it says the past records of the UN's major decision-making bodies, the General Assembly and the Security Council, "have little to show" that the UN is ready to provide this legitimacy in the 21st century. "The Assembly is usually mired in speech-making," says the paper. And the Security Council "is increasingly perceived as an antiquated relic of the Cold War."

The editorial notes that "[in] the 58 years since the United Nations Charter was written, the membership of the body has grown to 191 from 51. Nothing in the Charter provided for the relatively predictable Cold War world turning into one in which terrorists move freely across state lines, potentially armed with weapons of mass destruction." UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan earlier this month called for the world body to initiate massive reforms to make it more effective in addressing today's global challenges.

"The real task is to open a serious debate on what a multilateral institution should be, and what rules and instruments it should have," says the paper. As world leaders arrive in New York for the convening of the UN General Assembly this week, "they would do well to present some concrete ideas on what the United Nations should be" as well as assemble "a council of eminent people to work with Mr. Annan to remake it."


An item in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" today discusses an agreement last week between some former Soviet republics aimed at creating a zone of economic cooperation throughout the region. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) pledged to work toward the eventual creation of a free-trade zone spanning from Central Asia to the borders of the European Union. The "Journal" says this "ambitious" plan "calls for synchronizing markets, particularly in the transport and energy sectors." A free-trade zone "is considered essential for many of the former Soviet republics facing struggling manufacturing sectors and inadequate market reforms, making them unappealing partners for the more prosperous West."

The paper says, however, that making headway with the new agreement "is likely to be fraught with complications." Economic progress has been at the top of the CIS agenda since its founding a dozen years ago, but progress has been slowed by "gaping differences" in the sizes of regional economies and levels of development, as well as lingering "fears of domination by Russia, still the region's heavyweight."


The Swiss daily "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" sees little prospect of renewed unity between Great Britain, France, and Germany. Trilateral talks over the weekend in Berlin brought together German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac, who both opposed military action in Iraq, as well as British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who strongly supported the U.S.-led war. The three met for the first time since the war began to try to formulate a common policy on Iraq.

At first sight, says the paper, their agreement seemed "substantial" on several issues. But "hardly any progress was made on the subject of Iraq." The paper says it is now absolutely clear that Paris wants to be involved in Iraq's future, having deprived itself of influence with its "confrontational" policy toward the U.S. before the war. As far as Germany is concerned, its attempts at rapprochement have long been apparent. Schroeder's strident opposition to war was a pragmatic pre-election maneuver, which the paper says failed to boost his popularity much anyway. Now Berlin is making brave attempts at reconciliation with Washington.

In Berlin the three leaders tried hard to emphasize their achievements rather than dwell on their differences. Now, says the commentary, if Paris and London were genuinely willing to cooperate, the future would be very different. But since 1989, their ongoing rivalry has become more bitter and the Berlin summit has given us no reason to expect a change in the near future.


An analysis in the London-based "Financial Times" says the Russian economy "continues to gain speed, and investment-grade status may be around the corner." Mark Medish, a former senior U.S. Treasury and National Security Council official, says Russia and the United States could prove to be good investment partners. But, he says, "the real question for the Russian economy is whether it can become more than the world's newest petrol pump." It remains to be seen whether Russia can transform itself into "an export platform, as China has done," but Russia's "skilled workforce, low labor costs and central Eurasian location" make this a possibility.

A nascent middle class has begun to assert its "raw spending power" in the Russian economy. If this trend continues, it could have "profoundly positive" effects on Russia's overall economic and political health. This new middle class should make "big Western consumer-oriented companies take a closer look at Russia," Medish says. After decades of privation under the Soviet-era command economy, "average Russians are becoming dictators of market demand."

The Kremlin still faces several economic policy challenges, "including management of the windfall from high oil prices, diversifying the productive economy, deepening the rule of law, and entering the World Trade Organization." But Medish says, "These tasks can be achieved if Mr. Putin and his government continue to recognize their central importance and act on it."


Commentators today examine the United Nations, in light of this week's General Assembly meetings in New York.

Writing in France's "Le Monde," Corine Lesnes says the debate over Iraq is no doubt responsible for the general reassessment of the United Nations going on both within and outside of the world body. She questions what good the Security Council can do if its resolutions go unheeded without bearing any consequence. And just how representative is the council when five members -- two of which are in the European Union -- have veto rights, while Japan, India, and Brazil do not? Following the Iraq debate, Lesnes suggests the Security Council must decide under which circumstances it would be willing to sanction the use of force. And what is the responsibility of the international community when a state no longer protects its citizens? Should these citizens be represented at the UN? Other questions that will be addressed are whether the Security Council should do away with vetoes altogether and whether the UN should consider moving its headquarters outside of New York. The UN debate has been launched, she says.


Writing in the "International Herald Tribune," former Canadian ambassador to the UN David Malone asks, as the UN looks set to enter a period of soul-searching, "What are the chances for meaningful change?" The Security Council's "flaws have long been apparent. It is secretive, dominated by the 'Permanent Five' and weighted toward the industrialized world, with four of the permanent members and several nonpermanent members from the North." Its composition is anachronistic, he says. "As the distribution of power in the world has evolved, British and French claims to permanent status have become more tenuous. If a common European foreign policy is ever to take off, a single European seat would make more sense. But neither Britain nor France can be forced to give up its seat."

Malone says an enlarged Council "with more countries from the developing world would widely be considered more legitimate. But decision-making is already tough with 15 delegations and only five potential vetoes. Could a results-oriented culture that is beginning to emerge in the Council survive the addition of a dozen new members and several additional vetoes?"

Most schemes for reform are designed to allow particular nations "to maximize their own access to the Council," he says. "Their fall-back position has been to favor the status quo." Thus, he says, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan may be "stuck with the Security Council we now have for some time."