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Western Press Review: Depleted Uranium -- And Alan Greenspan

Prague, 10 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western newspaper commentary today discusses issues from the safety after-effects of projectiles with depleted uranium, to economic theory, to the Mideast, and on to a U.S. plan for a guided missile shield.


London's The Times says that whether or not depleted uranium is dangerous to people's health, it is becoming a threat to defense ministers' longevity. The Times says editorially: "The statement on the potential impact of depleted uranium shells outlined by John Spellar, minister for the armed forces, in the House of Commons yesterday was both balanced and reasonable. The minister put forward a compelling case as to why this material is deployed in anti-armor munitions and confirmed that any alternative substance would not be nearly as effective."

The editorial says: "[Still] ministers have an obligation to provide maximum reassurance to troops and to their families. The new offer of a voluntary screening program for those who served in the Balkans -- conducted with the assistance of external advice -- is a sensible safeguard." And adds: "The aspect of this affair which casts doubt on the conduct of the Ministry of Defense is timing. Until very recently, all official sources suggested that there was no need for any extra initiative on screening as existing procedures were more than satisfactory."

The newspaper concludes: "Depleted uranium has been the source of some controversy for a decade. Once other NATO nations decided to introduce screening it was difficult to maintain the logic that British troops who had been involved in the same missions should not be treated similarly. This hyper-cautious approach is not one that the senior military much cares for. It is, nonetheless, all but unavoidable."


Britain's Financial Times says the controversy also constitutes a hazard to NATO unity. The newspaper says in an editorial, headlined "Uranium scare": "Concern about the effects of weapons containing depleted uranium has become, in only a few days, an issue that could threaten the unity of the NATO alliance. Unless Europe's political leaders are reassured about possible health risks, they may be reluctant to continue to participate in Balkan peacekeeping forces and the soldiers will not want to go."

Financial Times continues: "Scientific evidence since the Gulf War, in which far more tank-busting uranium ammunition was fired than in Bosnia or Kosovo, suggests that worries about a link with leukemia among allied troops are misplaced."

The editorial says: "Modern technology has given western nations the capacity to produce weapons of devastating accuracy and thus to minimize the risks to their own armed forces. But war has its rules and these include a duty, where possible, to minimize loss of life. That said, those who join the armed services of western democracies must accept that theirs is a hazardous profession. War cannot be free of casualties, including, on occasion, those inflicted by 'friendly fire'."


Today's Sueddeutsche Zeitung turns, in a commentary by Marc Hujer, marvels at a challenge by the Wall Street Journal, generally considered to be conservative in its editorial policies, on Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, generally considered a conservative in his monetary policies.

Hujer writes from Washington: "When the rather less than completely neutral Wall Street Journal suddenly has something against Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve, people take notice. On two days in a row, the major U.S. daily accused the central bank head with unusual vehemence of having deliberately robbed millions of stockholders of their money. The climax was reached Friday with the allegation that the Fed still is following Keynesian policies (concerning itself with tax and budgetary policies) -- one of the most withering judgements the paper could have conceived."

The commentator writes, "As one of the most important architects of the U.S. economic boom, Greenspan has spoken out more or less clearly against Bush's expansive plans to cut tax to the tune of $1.6 trillion."

The writer says that the other two national U.S. newspapers interpret Greenspan-Bush relations differently -- The New York Times doubts Greenspan's resolve to oppose Bush, and USA Today says that Bush is prepared to criticize the Fed's monetary policies. Hujer concludes, "Speculation has been rife for some time as to where Greenspan now stands."

Two German newspapers confront the Israeli dilemma over peace in the Mideast -- a choice between giving up what they demand to keep or accepting another generation of war with the Palestinians and their Arab friends.


The Sueddeutsche Zeitung's Thorsten Schmitz writes: "Hundreds of thousands of Israelis from all over the land turned out in the streets once again 'For Jerusalem' -- meaning against Barak, [U.S. President Bill] Clinton, diplomacy, Palestine and peace. The protestors suggested a harmony all their own that is endangered whenever peace seems to come within reach."

The writer says that the city, which Israelis and Palestinians each claim as their rightful capital, already is divided into an Arab half which Jews seldom penetrate and an Israeli half where Arabs go only to work at mostly menial jobs. He writes: "But the political will needed to codify this de facto situation, as [Clinton] has proposed, is lacking."

Schmitz writes: "The backlash in Israel against Prime Minister [Ehud] Barak's daring move of releasing a neighboring nation from colonization into freedom is being spurred on by the violence in the Palestinian territories. All of those who now see the country's savior in Likud's atavistic Ariel Sharon point to the Palestinians and say: Now we are offering to give them half of Jerusalem, and to give up our settlements, and they still aren't satisfied.


In Israel, writes Inge Guenther in the Frankfurter Rundschau, the politics that destroyed Barak's premiership offer no guarantee for his successor. Guenther says: "Some denials are counterproductive -- for instance, the declaration by Prime Minister Ehud Barak that under no circumstances will he pull out of the race for Israel's top government post, not even 'if I only had four backers'. The announcement in any case did nothing to banish the rumors that Barak's Labor Party may drop the outgoing premier for a bigger crowd-puller: Shimon Peres."

She writes: "Analysts now say that although the well-respected Nobel Peace Prize laureate Peres might head off a victory by the right-wing Likud leader Ariel Sharon, history tells a different story. His [political] successes, it seems, only last until the counting of votes begins and that although he was always a hopeful figure on the hustings, Peres is a byword for losing every election he stands for."

The commentator says: "[Peres] is plodding away diligently at the cause [of a Labor candidacy], even if weeks ago he would have preferred to stand as opposing candidate under the left-wing Meretz banner. One thing that is certain, though, is that he will never be one of Barak's last four backers."


The New York Times warns today, as it often has in the past, that rushing ahead with a U.S. strategic missile shield defense would be a mistake. The newspaper editorializes: "Given all the technological and budgetary uncertainties about building a missile defense system, it is hard to believe that the incoming Bush administration would be ready by March to approve ground breaking at the first radar site. But that is what the Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization seems to hope the new administration will do. Rushing ahead with this project would be a severe mistake."

The editorial says, "[Donald] Rumsfeld, whose confirmation hearing will be held tomorrow, has ambitious plans for the Pentagon. He favors military pay raises and expensive new weapons acquisition programs as well as expanded plans for missile defense. [U.S. President-elect] Bush has rightly pledged that there will be a review of military plans before new programs are budgeted. That orderly approach is especially important on missile defense, where haste could inflict needless damage on arms control and vital alliances."