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Western Press Review: Trans-Atlantic Cooperation, Global Attitudes Toward The U.S., And Economic Stagnation In The Balkans

Prague, 18 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- As the one-year anniversary approaches of the launch of the Iraq war, editorial comment in today's press turns to trans-Atlantic relations and a new poll on foreign attitudes toward the United States. Commentary also looks at how economic stagnation in the Balkans will influence the region's long-term aim of joining the EU.


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke says the United States "is losing support in many parts of the world amid growing unease about our foreign policy.

“This is not, as some charge, the ravings of North Korea or the latest French sourness. Nor is it about our legitimate war on terrorism." But there is "widespread concern, usually stated quietly, from many of our closest allies that U.S. leadership has faltered in a central task: building international resolve to stand with us."

A poll released this week (16 March) by the Washington-based Pew Research Center for the People and the Press revealed that attitudes toward the United States and its foreign policies have taken a turn for the worse in the year since the launch of the war in Iraq.

The poll found that opinions in France, Germany, and Britain are decidedly critical of the United States. According to the poll, "Perceptions of American unilateralism remain widespread in European and Muslim nations, and the war in Iraq has undermined America's credibility abroad. Doubts about the motives behind the U.S.-led war on terrorism abound, and a growing percentage of Europeans want foreign policy and security arrangements independent from the United States."

Holbrooke says Americans must not treat these findings as "irrelevant, even something to be defied." He writes: "The ability to gain international support is a test of presidential leadership, and manifestly in [U.S.] national security interests. What the rest of the world thinks is a legitimate issue," he says.


In a commentary in Britain's "Financial Times," Philip Gordon and Jeremy Shapiro of the U.S.-based Brookings Institution write that in early 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush "set the United States on a course for war in Iraq with scant input from allies. With his starkly different political philosophy and culture, he was always going to have trouble winning support in Europe, but his policy choices exacerbated the problem."

Nearly one year after the launch of a campaign to bring down the regime in Baghdad, the authors say "it seems clear that America may not need others to topple dictatorships but it certainly needs them to put alternatives in place."

Having devoted partners "is vital not only for material assistance but also for the legitimacy they confer on an operation." And yet Bush "remains distrustful of allies and reluctant to share U.S. authority." However, he also "knows how vulnerable he is in an election year to the charge that he saddled the U.S. with an enormous burden Americans do not want to bear alone."

The authors say the lesson Washington should learn from the surprise ouster of Spain's ruling party in 14 March elections "is that power and decisiveness alone are not enough to win enduring support from allies. The next time the U.S. faces a crisis such as Iraq, its leaders must think more carefully before acting alone, refusing to share authority, equating dissent with disloyalty and seeking to punish allies for lack of devotion to the cause."


"Jane's" says the UN protectorate of Kosovo -- which yesterday exploded into the worst ethnic violence the province has seen in three years -- continues to face an "uncertain future." Neighboring countries are now working out a "secret plan" for the enclave's final status, and "Jane's" takes a look at its chances for success.

"The fear is that, should Kosovo gain independence, [neighboring] Albanian populations will also want to join Albania, provoking a new war while trying to impose a new set of frontiers." But Kosovo could be given independence, "while reducing its neighbors' worries by guaranteeing existing boundaries and removing the possibility of any greater Albania coming into being. This model would deal with most of the neighbors' issues and would also please the Kosovars, since they will get their independence."

The trouble, says "Jane's," would be Serbia, which would have to be "bought off" with international economic aid, help in joining the EU and NATO, and guarantees of the safe return of 250,000 Serbian refugees from Kosovo.

Ultimately, "Jane's" says there is no reason why such a solution to Kosovo's final status should not succeed.


Writing in the monthly French review, Belgrade-based journalist Jean-Arnault Derens discusses some of the economic hurdles confronting the Balkans. In Serbia, he says, there are "a million unemployed for every million pensioners and people still at work." While Croatia is doing better due to its growing tourism industry, almost a third of working-age people remain unemployed. "Everywhere, the democrats have paid a high price at the polls for this economic failure," Derens says. "They have no clear economic and social policy.... No party speaks for the casualties of the transition."

He says there has been "appreciable improvement" in only one area: regional relations." Visa regimes have been relaxed and formal apologies exchanged for some of the crimes committed during the wars of the 1990s. Relations are undergoing a renaissance, thanks, in part, to strengthening trade ties.

But the future "does not look so bright for the Serbian and Bosnian democrats, who also had their sights on Europe." While the EU affirms its intentions to eventually integrate the Balkan nations, they have not been offered a timetable for accession. Derens says, "It is hard to ask people for even more economic sacrifices and explain the importance of cooperating with the ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia] when the European goal remains so uncertain."

Serbia-Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina must first tackle the question over what forms these states will eventually take. Derens asks, "How can anyone talk about European integration when no one knows whether Serbia and Montenegro will have to approach Europe separately and when Kosovo's final status has not been settled?" He says the Balkans' international protectorates "are becoming the main obstacle to integration in Europe."


Boris Kagarlitsky of the Institute for Globalization Studies says 14 March presidential elections in Russia spawned an impressive show of solidarity -- in the decision not to vote. President Vladimir Putin's re-election was virtually assured, given his high popularity ratings, disproportionate access to media coverage, and the lack of viable challengers. His campaign's only fear was that turnout would not reach the 50 percent needed to validate the election.

At the offices of the opposition newspaper "Novaya Gazeta," the mood "was almost festive," Kagarlitsky says. The journalists were united and not voting -- as one. "Now this was a new and very Russian idea – not doing something all together," says Kagarlitsky.

Communist Party youth leaders were similarly unmoved. "What's the point of taking part in a farce?" they asked. Instead, they busied themselves with "raising voter non-participation," another new exercise in political lassitude.

On voting day, the author gathered with some peers outside the city. An informal poll of those present found that "none had any intention of voting." Kagarlitsky says once again, there was "total solidarity."

The voter boycott scored a sort of moral victory, he says -- the type of victory "that losers always talk about." But those "who chose not to vote did not allow ourselves to become the moral hostages of the regime. We didn't play the Kremlin's game. For the first time, the millions of Russians who didn't vote sensed that they were part of a united whole."