Prague, 18 January 2000 (RFE/RL/) -- Western press commentary casts a wide net today -- discussing Russian security policy, leadership of the IMF and the European Commission, the extradition of Chile's Augusto Pinochet, and other issues.
The New York Times and Britain's Financial Times, in separate editorials, say the perceive a relationship between Russia's new security policy and evident weakness of Russian forces in the field.
NEW YORK TIMES: There is a worrisome side to Russia's military breakdown
The New York Times says this: "Moscow's recent setbacks in Chechnya suggest that the decade-long deterioration of Russia's conventional military forces has not yet been checked." The editorial goes on: "Although Americans may feel relieved that Russian conventional forces are now too weak to pose a serious external threat, there is a worrisome side to Russia's military breakdown. Moscow's defense planners have placed greater reliance on nuclear weapons to resist potential attack."
FINANCIAL TIMES: The use of nuclear weapons is a reflection of Russian military weakness, not aggression
Here's how the Financial Times puts it: "It is perhaps not very surprising that the new national security doctrine published by Russia's powerful Security Council last week has inspired some alarmist headlines in the West. By spelling out a more permissive nuclear doctrine, allowing nuclear weapons to be used to repel armed aggression -- here the editorial quotes from the document -- 'if everything else fails,' Russia under its new acting president Vladimir Putin seems to be adopting a more hostile attitude to the outside world."
The editorial goes on to say, in its words: "Yet it would be wrong to exaggerate the significance of the document or its timing." The newspaper says that fear of perceived threats from the West, as the editorial puts it, "certainly reflects Russian military thinking." However, the editorial also says this: "Contemplating the use of nuclear weapons in a slightly less restrictive manner is also a reflection of Russian military weakness, not aggression."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Either there will be a long, painful process of selection or the German government will prevail
Two leaders of international organizations come under scrutiny in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung and the Financial Times. Commentator Oliver Schumacher writes in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that finding a successor to Michel Camdessus as director-general of the International Monetary Fund has provoked controversy in the West.
As Schumacher describes it: "The Frenchman is relinquishing his post ahead of time in another four weeks. His announcement [to that effect] more than two months ago unleashed a diplomatic wrangle that is becoming fiercer by the week. The latest climax is the new and not by any means commonplace initiative by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder" in favor of the candidacy of German Finance Ministry official Caio Koch-Wesser. The writer goes on to say this: "Schroeder and his finance minister, Hans Eichel, are not relying on letters alone. The two have been resorting time and again to the telephone in the past days to campaign, especially in Europe, for the 55-year-old Koch-Wesser or have been delegating to others the laborious task of persuasion."
The commentary says there are suggestions that former French prime minister Laurent Fabius also will seek the IMF post.
As Schumacher puts it: "The G-7 finance ministers will be meeting in Tokyo at the weekend. After then, only two possibilities exist: Either there will be a long, painful process of selection or the German government will prevail."
FINANCIAL TIMES: Mr. Prodi can hardly be blamed for finding his job tough
In a Financial Times analysis, Peter Norman assesses the first four months of Romano Prodi's tenure as president of the European Commission. Prodi, in Norman's words, "is learning how hard it is to lead the European Commission." The former Italian prime minister took over as president of the European Union's central bureaucracy last September, and, as the analysis puts it, "he promised a new era of change under a world-class public administration." The writer continues with this: "His affable manner encouraged hopes that he would bring to Brussels a new spirit of openness. Yet Mr. Prodi is starting to look like a man under siege."
As Norman puts it: "The latest setback came when the European Parliament forced him to delay an address planned for tomorrow to spell out commission strategy for the next five years. His Christmas invitation to Muammer Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, to visit Brussels caused upset in several EU foreign ministries. At last month's Helsinki summit, a subdued Mr. Prodi was upstaged by Javier Solana, the EU's newly appointed foreign policy chief."
The analysis concludes: "Mr. Prodi can hardly be blamed for finding his job tough. The president of the commission appears on the world stage as often as many heads of government, yet lacks the mandate and powers of a national leader. Furthermore, the commission, despite having a monopoly on proposing EU laws, and control over policy areas such as competition and agriculture policy, has been losing power."
GUARDIAN: Let the courts decide the Pinochet case
On Pinochet, The Guardian, London, carries a commentary today by Geoffrey Robertson, author of the book "Crimes Against Humanity." There has been commentary lately that if British authorities send Pinochet home to Chile for medical reasons, instead of extraditing him to Spain to face charges of human rights violations, the new leftist government in Chile might be moved to put him on trial. Robertson disagrees, saying: "Despite the result of Sunday's elections [in Chile], General Pinochet is as likely to go to trial in Chile as he is to go to heaven."
Robertson urges that British officials let the courts decide whether Pinochet is, as a medical board has said, too ill to be tried. The commentary says this: "Pinochet's discharge in Britain will mean the effective end of the prosecution of one of the most wicked men of our age. For that reason alone, it should be ordered by a court on evidence that is openly assessed rather than by a government minister."
FINANCIAL TIMES: The U.S. has squandered its position as global leader
The Financial Times, in an editorial, says of U.S. President Bill Clinton that he, in the editorial's phrase, "squandered an opportunity to lead the world." The newspaper says that Clinton is about to launch a final attempt to, as the editorial puts it,
"shape history's unfolding judgment of his presidency."
The Financial Times says that in his State of the Union address next Thursday, Clinton, in the editorial's words, "will use the State of the Union to lift the eyes of Congress and nation beyond America's shores to the demands of the world at large." The newspaper says that this is a tall order.
The editorial says this: "A frantic effort will be made to get Congress to approve the deal struck last year to bring China into the World Trade Organization. Mr. Clinton will again talk up the prospects of a new trade negotiating round for the WTO. He will commit himself to removing the remaining impediments to lasting peace in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, and will push for progress on arms talks with Russia. The common theme throughout will be American engagement in the world, U.S. leadership in the new globalized system. But, the skeptic might reasonably ask, is it not a little late in the game for this president to take his stand against the seductive political lure of America First isolationism?"
The editorial says also: "At best, the Clinton years have been characterized by a muddled approach to the rest of the world; witness the curious to-ing and fro-ing over China. At worst, the U.S. has squandered its unrivaled position as global leader, and failed to persuade the U.S. public of the case for continuing engagement. There is a real danger that the most significant legacy of the Clinton years may not be the stain of impeachment, nor the badge of economic regeneration, but the gaping hole of lost global leadership."
BOSTON GLOBE: Rarely do Americans get to hear from traditional Muslim moderates
The International Herald Tribune publishes today a commentary by Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, lamenting the silence of compassionate Muslims of other than extremist beliefs when their fellow Muslims engage in terrorist violence. Jacoby writes this: "There are an estimated 6 million Muslims in the United States, and the vast majority lead lives of peace and moderation. Like traditional Muslims the world over, most American Muslims shun violence and place great emphasis on virtue, charity and religious tolerance. Which is why it is so dismaying that American Muslims are rarely heard to raise their voices against the terrorists and fanatics who are ruining Islam's reputation."
The commentary continues: "When a group of Islamic fanatics hijacked an Indian plane and killed a passenger, America's Muslim leadership was largely silent. There was no outpouring of condemnation from the mosques. Prominent Muslim organizations did not call press conferences to blast the hijackers for disgracing Islam. Once again, Americans saw an occurrence of Islamic fundamentalist terror, and once again they heard scarcely any word of sorrow or revulsion from America's Muslim spokesmen." Jacoby concludes: "Rarely do Americans get to hear from traditional Muslim moderates, even though theirs is the authentic voice of Islam."
INFORMATION: To most people, the flu comes as a welcome addition to their holidays
From the icy realm of Denmark comes this jesting editorial in the daily Information about the illness known as the flu, or influenza. Information says this: "Naturally, not all workplaces have the same atmosphere as this newspaper, where the journalists say 'Thank God it will be Monday again' when they go home on Friday evening. To most people, the flu comes as a welcome addition to their holidays; a supplement to the pre-planned periods of rest in one's calendar, which depends on the unforeseeable factor of falling sick and thus getting direct and legitimate access to your bed."