Prague, 1 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary continues to focus on the northwestern U.S. city of Seattle, where violent mass demonstrations yesterday prevented the opening of the World Trade Organization's (WTO) ministerial meeting. There is also comment on the European Union's efforts to establish its own defense force and the current weakness of the EU's new common currency, the euro. Russia's war in Chechnya elicits some analyses as well.
WASHINGTON POST: WTO should not seek to buy legitimacy by taking all criticisms to heart
Commenting on yesterday's riots in Seattle, the "Washington Post" says in an editorial: "Globalization is a maddeningly elusive foe. The bundle of forces that it connotes -- mobile capital, mobile labor, mobile goods -- has no clear location or author; there is nobody to go and shout at. So perhaps it's not surprising that the [WTO meeting] was met with violent street protests. ... A mute resentment had been building up for years. The [meeting] offered an opportunity for a statement."
The editorial goes on: "This may turn out to be no bad thing, if the trade ministers in Seattle draw the right lessons. The first is that the advance of globalization cannot be taken for granted, no matter how much prosperity it promises. ... Next, it is clear that the international organizations [the IMF and World Bank as well as the WTO] that oversee the new globalized order suffer from a certain perceived lack of legitimacy. ... Mike Moore, the WTO's [Australian] chief, understands the need to win over critics. He has showered the non-governmental groups in Seattle with invitations to consultations and briefings."
The WP adds: "To reach out to the critics, the WTO needs to become more open; in particular, its dispute settlement panels should give up their current secrecy. But the WTO should not seek to buy legitimacy by taking all criticisms to heart." The paper concludes: "If [the WTO] took on as much of the role of protecting labor standards and the environment as its critics want, it would quickly lose focus. Those issues may need international regulation of some kind, but they should come under the umbrella of [other international agencies]."
NEW YORK TIMES: These anti-WTO protesters are protesting against the wrong target with the wrong tools
"New York Times" columnist Thomas Friedman calls his commentary on the rioting "Senseless in Seattle." He asks: "Is there anything more ridiculous in the news today than the protests against the WTO in Seattle? I doubt it," he says. "These anti-WTO protesters -- who are a Noah's Ark of flat-earth advocates, protectionist trade unions and [would-be hippies] looking for their 1960s fix -- are protesting against the wrong target with the wrong tools."
He goes on: "What unites the anti-WTO crowd is their realization that we now live in a world without walls. ... The globalization system that we are now in is built around integration and webs. In this new system, jobs, cultures, environmental problems and labor standards can much more easily flow back and forth. ... The ridiculous thing about the protesters is that they find fault with this, and blame the WTO. The WTO is not the cause of this world without walls, it's the effect."
Friedman concludes: "You make a difference today by using globalization -- by mobilizing the power of trade, the power of the Internet and the power of consumers to persuade, or embarrass, global corporations and nations to upgrade their standards. You change the world when you get the big players to do the right things for the wrong reasons. But that takes hard work -- coalition-building with companies and consumers, and follow-up. It's not as much fun as a circus in Seattle."
POLITIKEN: The gap between the rich and the poor countries is being demonstrated at the WTO meeting
Denmark's daily "Politiken" says in its editorial: "The divergence between the rich and the poor countries is being demonstrated at the WTO meeting. The gap between them is so wide that it threatens to derail the [organization]. Usually," the paper argues, "the rich states gain from liberalization and globalization, while the poor ones lose. But now the rich states -- citing concerns about the environment and labor conditions -- are in effect attempting to make the poor ones even less competitive."
The editorial goes to say this: "Previous experience shows that both the U.S. and the EU would like to keep the goods produced by the developing world out of their markets."
It cites the EU's Common Agricultural Policy as a good example: "Much of the world wants the EU to scrap its farm policy, thereby making trade and competition easier. The EU suggests it will divert its subsidies from agriculture to the environment. That sounds good, but in reality ... it is mere 'green' rhetoric disguising largely unreformed long-time policies."
The Danish editorial concludes: "The solution to the crisis building within the WTO is not to minimize the requirements [for trade with the Third World], but to pay for them. That could take place through a binding commitment to increase aid to the developing world, designating for this purpose some of the money the developed world earns through liberalized trade. In so doing, we will get [both a] better environment and a more stable world."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The time has come to develop a new international architecture
The "International Herald Tribune" today carries a commentary on the Seattle demonstrations by Juan Somavia, the director-general of the UN's International Labor Organization (ILO). He says that the message of the "large and angry crowds ... is that globalization is not delivering on its promise of better lives for ordinary people." He urges the participants in the WTO conference to "listen to that message [because] it reflects deep and widespread anxiety."
The ILO chief says further: "In numerous countries, trade liberalization has been accompanied by heavy job losses that have not been compensated for by the promised creation of new jobs in new industries. In Latin America," he adds, "the 1990s have brought more unemployment, not less, in the wake of socially costly adjustment policies."
The commentary concludes: "The time has come to develop a new international architecture ... on all aspects of economic and social development. ... This should include all [the relevant international] agencies [including the ILO, the IMF, World Bank and other UN agencies as well as the WTO]. ... Harnessing the forces of globalization for the benefit of working people, their families and their communities -- that is the objective we must collectively pursue, in Seattle and wherever we meet in the years ahead."
FINANCIAL TIMES: The big initiatives in the EU happen only with Franco-German backing
Two British dailies discuss EU matters today. The "Financial Times" notes in an editorial that, in its words, "The main initiative announced at yesterday's Franco-German summit in Paris was strong support for the European defense initiative, in which Britain is also playing a leading role." But the paper believes that as long Britain does not join the euro-zone -- now made up of 11 EU members employing the Union's new currency -- France and Germany will remain the "real EU motor."
The FT, notes, however, that "ever since German unification in 1990, the steadiness of the [Franco-German] relationship has been shaken. ... The French political establishment worries continually that Germany is turning eastward. ... Yesterday [in Paris, German Chancellor Gerhard] Schroeder sought to allay those concerns [in a speech to the French National Assembly]. He repeated the conviction that France and Germany must remain the motor of [EU] integration."
The editorial sums up: "Mr. Schroeder is right. ... The big initiatives in the EU happen only with Franco-German backing. If Britain wants to be an equal partner, it will have to demonstrate equal commitment."
INDEPENDENT: We look forward to welcoming today's nay-sayers aboard the bandwagon
The daily "Independent" says, "There is no cause for panic over the weak euro," which has fallen 16 percent against the U.S. dollar since it came into existence as an accounting currency at the beginning of this year. The paper writes: "Language is the key. Who wouldn't rather be strong than weak, up than down, overvalued rather than undervalued? And so it is with currencies," the paper continues, "where economic illiteracy has joined with political bumptiousness to proclaim that the euro's plunge to near parity with the U.S. dollar proves that Britain was right not to [have joined the euro-zone]."
But, asks the paper, what will British "chauvinistic Euroskeptics ... say when, as it surely will, the euro bounces back?" It points out that "the Continental economies are forecast to have greater growth than [Britain] in the next two years." And it concludes: "When that growth is reflected by a rise in the euro, ... we look forward to welcoming today's nay-sayers aboard the bandwagon for Britain's joining the euro."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Russia is working itself into a trap
Turning to Chechnya, British-based Russia analyst Anatol Lieven writes: "Paradoxically, even as its soldiers are closing the noose around Grozny, the Chechen capital, Russia is working itself into a trap. ... Chechen nationalism cannot be suppressed for long. If Russia tries to keep the renegade province under total control, it will create a gnawing ulcer, wasting Russian wealth and lives and crippling Russian democracy."
Lieven says Chechen civilians resent the field commanders who attacked neighboring Dagestan, and they resent their government in Grozny for failing to control the anarchy that has gripped the tiny republic. They are also furious at Russia.
"In the long run," Lieven continues, "the smartest thing for Russia to do may be to put Chechnya on the path of full independence. For political and social reasons," he adds, "this would be possible only after the militant Chechen and Islamic groups are forced out of the region. ... [Then] a deal might involve trading Chechen independence for Russian security."
The commentary concludes: "Western moralizers might view such a settlement as appeasement of an aggressor. The Russian people might see it as forfeiting a certain victory. But the alternatives are horrendous for both Russia and Chechnya."
AFTENPOSTEN: A once-great power is trying to rise again
Norway's daily "Aftenposten" says: "The Russia the world knew for a long time has made a comeback: It is a Russia that arrests U.S. spies, gets political support from China, and flexes its muscles in the Caucasus. A once-great power is trying to rise again, [and] naturally it reverts to old traditions."
The paper's editorial then focuses on the war in Chechnya. It says: "Chechnya is becoming a test both of the Russians' ability to put some order in their own house by themselves and of the OSCE's (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) ability to deal with military action within the borders of a sovereign state. The test," the editorial adds, "has already consumed one victim: the civilian population of Chechnya, a third of which has fled while the rest live in desperate fear and poverty."