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Western Press Review: Kosovo, EU, Missile Defense

Prague, 3 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western newspapers focus on diverse topics in their editorials and commentaries today, ranging from the status of Kosovo to human trafficking to the future of the EU. There is also comment on U.S. missile defense and the slim prospects for peace in Chechnya.


In an editorial titled "Balkan Trouble," the Wall Street Journal Europe notes that Western governments, through the United Nations, have decided that the best way to deal with Kosovo is to provide security, create jobs, and leave final status negotiations for a later time -- perhaps until Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic leaves the political arena. As the paper notes: "There is the fear that granting independence to Kosovo will encourage a similar Albanian movement in Macedonia or embolden Montenegro's separatists to step up their, so far peaceful, campaign."

But the paper notes that both ethnic Albanians and Serbs are preoccupied with this issue on a daily basis, making the international community's refusal to deal with it slightly absurd. In the editorial's words: "How can you ignore a question that is foremost in the mind of the entire population you are trying to mollify?"

The Wall Street Journal closes by saying that the diplomats' strategy may turn out to be a disservice for the territory: "It may be a question of unstoppable force -- the international community's colonization of Kosovo -- against an immovable object -- the will to be independent on the part of the majority; and to thwart that independence on the part of the minority. Whatever the solution, it's not clear that time works to the advantage of the international community. On the contrary, the longer a resolution is postponed, the harder positions appear to become, and the more ground hardliners on both sides threaten to take."


The New York Times turns its attention to the issue of human migration, saying last month's death of 58 Chinese immigrants in a truck making its way to England "provides stark witness to the rising global traffic in people who illegally cross borders and whole continents in search of a better life."

The newspaper's editorial says the increase in human trafficking is happening because many countries, especially in Europe, have tightened immigration rules, driving the trade underground. The paper calls for a common approach on several fronts to tackle the problem: "Not much can be done in the short term to deal with the main factors, poverty and persecution, that lie at the root of these sad migrations. Nor can any single country combat transnational trafficking by itself. It will take the cooperation of countries that are part of migration pipelines in both investigations and prosecutions."

The New York Times concludes: "The European Union, in the wake of the deaths in Dover, may well be pushed to consider a common asylum policy. Many countries need to enact anti-trafficking laws. Much more also needs to be done to help victims of this trade, who could, if protected, testify against traffickers."


The Danish newspaper Politiken focuses today on recent speeches by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and French President Jacques Chirac, both of whom have called for tighter links among core EU countries. In an editorial, Politiken says: "The positive thing [about both speeches] is that [major] politicians [such as Chirac and Fischer] have understood that the EU has the need for a new focus if enlargement eastward is to go ahead as planned. The more member states the EU has, the greater the need for more transparent and effective EU institutions."

But the paper notes that the controversy following both proposals and the major differences between them illustrates the lack of consensus in the EU on where to proceed: "Yet, as Chirac's tale shows, the concrete proposals about how to implement such wide-ranging reforms within the EU are still unclear and controversial. The idea for a pan-EU constitution may cause confusion and inequality, instead of serving as the basis for balance and common justice."

Paradoxically, the paper notes, even though France and Germany are once again seeking to be the driving forces behind EU reform, the speeches by Fischer and Chirac show that that is not the only alternative.

Politiken argues that their proposals could open the way for smaller EU states to help shape the future of the organization: "The Chirac-Fischer debate shows that the old French-German tandem is no longer the only one possible or, indeed, the only one necessary. On the contrary: the smaller EU member states, which there will be more and more of in the coming years, must also endow the discussion about how the EU should evolve. The idea of an European constitution is not bad provided it contains all the checks and balances needed to make it really an equator rather than divider: to convert the EU into something better compared with the old alliances where the large players dominated."


France's Le Figaro, over the weekend, also praised the speeches by Fischer and Chirac. In a commentary, Anne-Marie le Gloannec noted that Chirac's speech before the German parliament last week "revitalizes the Paris-Berlin couple." She welcomed Chirac's farsightedness, saying that, since the end of World War II, "the Franco-German alliance has always been carried by vision."

But the commentator also noted that major differences are apparent in the proposals put forward by Chirac and Fischer. While Fischer seeks an eventual federal Europe, Chirac wants nation-states to retain priority. This prompts le Gloannec to ask: "At this point, one has to wonder whether Chirac and Fischer are really on the same wavelength or if this not some sort of illusion."


Britain's Financial Times calls into question Washington's plans for a missile defense system, writing in an editorial today: "There is a growing gap between U.S. plans for a National Missile Defense, [known as] NMD, and the threat it is supposed to counter."

The paper says that the main rationale behind the proposed missile system would be to counter the threat posed by what the U.S. -- until recently -- called rogue states, such as North Korea. But since the summit between the two Koreas, there have been signs that Pyongyang may be willing to play by international rules. The Financial Times advises U.S. President Bill Clinton to adopt a wait-and-see attitude, leave partisan politics aside, and leave the decision on whether to go ahead with the expensive system to his successor.

In the editorial's words: "As for Mr. Clinton, his paramount desire is not to leave Al Gore, the Democratic banner-carrier, looking softer on defense than George W. Bush, the Republican front-runner and proponent of NMD. ... [But] his only honest and prudent course of action is to admit that NMD still has too many technical and diplomatic uncertainties and risks, for judgment to be risked this year."


Writing in Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, commentator Tomas Avenarius asks what the chances are that the Chechen war will be over by its first anniversary, which is approaching in two months. If you asked Vladimir Putin, Avenarius says, the Russian president would give the answer his generals have given -- that the war is already over. "All the same," he notes, "the Kremlin's leader would have a hard time portraying the continuing deaths of Russian soldiers and Chechen civilians as a successful liberation action."

In Avenarius's words: "For a war declared as won, it is a fatally dangerous scenario: daily reports of three, 11 or 20 dead soldiers and police prove that the announcements of victory from the battlefield are just cheap propaganda."

The commentator says the war is now unequivocally a partisan war, and those tend to simmer on. "Despite the generals' hasty trumpetings of victory," he says, "the Kremlin leadership never had a doubt that the 'liberation' of Chechnya could take years. In the mountains, the fight could drag on for 20 years." Avenarius says that scenario plays into the Kremlin's hand -- as long as the rebels are active, there will be a reason for troops to occupy the region. And the presence of the troops will ensure that Chechnya never becomes independent.

Avenarius says the appointment of former head mufti Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov is the other side of the Kremlin's strategy to stamp out the independence movement, by pitting the mainstream of Chechnya's Muslims against the Islamic fundamentalists who make up a portion of the rebels. But Avenarius notes that the Kremlin has long tried, and failed, to unite Chechens behind a Kremlin-loyal leader, and it may not be successful this time either. "Even in case of success," he says, "Putin runs risks: the more followers Kadyrov wins, the sooner he'll pursue his own goals."

Avenarius concludes: "Either Kadyrov is just Moscow's puppet -- in which case he will never find a majority in Chechnya. Or he is his own master -- in which case he'll soon play his own game. In both cases, Putin will end up asking himself the same question: what to do with Chechnya?"

(Susan Caskie contributed to this report.)