Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: Tunnels, Missiles, And Possible War

Prague, 6 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- No single news event dominates today's Western press commentary, whose subjects range from U.S. intelligence fiascoes, through the renewal of Balkan violence, to Switzerland's continued rejection of European Union membership.


An editorial in today's "Washington Post" criticizes the U.S. intelligence system for creating an environment where a veteran agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation could freely spy for the Russians and almost single-handedly ruin a multi-million-dollar effort to build an eavesdropping tunnel under the Soviet Embassy in Washington in the 1980s.

Last month's announcement that Robert Hanssen spent nearly 15 years of his FBI career furnishing Soviet and, later, Russian contacts with highly sensitive U.S. intelligence information has led to mounting revelations of low-level cracks in what should have been an airtight system. The "Post"'s editorial notes that although Hanssen sent out signals he had struck a deal with the Russians -- including expensive renovations to his home -- he was never put under suspicion or even subjected to a routine polygraph test.

The editorial suggests that even a single lie-detector session might have saved the U.S. the hundreds of millions of dollars and incalculable time and effort it spent constructing its spy tunnel under the Soviet Embassy during its construction. The "Post" writes: "The construction of the Soviet Embassy was a rare opportunity to establish a physical intelligence infrastructure. But the contrast between such costly James Bond-like escapades and the counter-intelligence failures within the bureau [that is, FBI] that allowed them to be compromised is mystifying."

The paper adds: "It's difficult to imagine that, were intelligence programs subject to more routine scrutiny and debate, such measures would have been deemed the most cost-effective way to maximize intelligence gains -- or to minimize potential losses."


An editorial in Britain's "Guardian" daily argues that what it calls a "more robust" approach is required in the ongoing Balkan conflict if NATO is not to lose its control of the area. As sporadic fighting along the Macedonia-Kosovo border heightens tensions throughout the region, the editorial says, "the violent advocates of a greater Albania have become such a threat to regional stability that the West is now being driven into alliance with forces that not so long ago were campaigning for a greater Serbia. [That] is a remarkable turn-about less than two years after NATO went to war with Serbia on behalf of Kosovo's Albanians."

The editorial lays partial blame on Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's reluctance to extradite his deposed predecessor, Slobodan Milosevic, to The Hague international war crimes tribunal. It also criticizes the failure of KFOR troops to halt Kosovo Albanian attacks on the isolated Serbs still living in the province. But the true heart of the conflict, it says, "remains the lack of a clear consensus among NATO's political masters and the UN about the shape of any final Kosovo settlement."

Of primary importance now, the editorial says, is halting the rekindling ethnic conflict before it spreads. It urges "increased but friendly" pressure on Belgrade's new government to "ensure it lives up to the democratic ideals that gave it birth." And it supports "more robust, cooperative action by NATO forces, particularly the U.S. contingent, against Albanian nationalists inside Kosovo and along its borders with Macedonia, Serbia, and Albania proper."


A related commentary by David Howell in today's "International Herald Tribune" says that -- in the wake of the successful prosecution and sentencing of Bosnian war criminals by the UN's ad hoc international tribunal -- now is a good time to push ahead with plans for a permanent world criminal court. Howell says the project is "well advanced," with about 30 countries already incorporating the founding Statute of Rome in their domestic legislation.

But there is one big obstacle along the way, he says: the United States. Howell writes: "The idea that there could be a permanently ensconced court, with an independent prosecutor standing above all nations, empowered to investigate and bring charges under sweepingly wide definitions of what constitutes a war crime, fills some --although not all -- American lawmakers with deep alarm."

Howell says the American fear that U.S. military personnel might eventually be brought to the new court for their involvement in wars where civilians are killed will keep the U.S. from ever accepting the Rome Statute without amendments. "The problem," he writes, "is that the Americans have a significant point." And without the U.S., he adds, "the new court will lack plausibility and credibility. [The] United States, as the nation most strongly involved of all in world policing, must be on board."

As a solution, the writer proposes "compromise over the definitions of war crimes, greater accountability for the prosecutor, more safeguards for military and public service personnel against politically motivated investigations, and tighter guarantees that the rights of those accused will be secured, however terrible the crimes with which they are charged."


In a comment in today's "Wall Street Journal Europe," Melanie Kirkpatrick begins with a portrait of William Lee, a retired U.S. defense intelligence expert who has spent the past several years reading the memoirs of his Soviet counterparts. Lee says he has made a startling conclusion after reading such Russian-language works as "The Rocket Shield of the Motherland" and "Soviet Military Might From Stalin to Gorbachev" -- the Russians already have a national missile defense.

Kirkpatrick writes: "Started by the Soviets even before the [1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty] took effect, the original defense was pretty rough. But, as Mr. Lee says, unlike the Americans, the Soviets realized that 'some defense is better than none,' and kept upgrading [their missile defenses] even after [they] signed the ABM Treaty. Russia has continued to modernize [the] system over the past decade, he adds."

If true, Kirkpatrick writes, Lee's allegations would "make a mockery" of the ABM Treaty and of Russian President Vladimir Putin's call for the U.S. to abandon its plans for a national missile defense.

Citing Lee's 1997 book "The ABM Treaty Charade," Kirkpatrick says there is evidence that Russia's surface-to-air interceptor missiles [known as SAMs] were built to be capable of bringing down long-range ballistic missiles. She also says that Russia's early warning radars are much more capable than the treaty permits.

Kirkpatrick concludes: "There are many good reasons for the U.S. to exercise its option to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, as Article 15 [of the treaty] permits. Proof of continuing violations by the Russians would surely be one of them."


An editorial in today's "Financial Times" looks at Switzerland's rejection this past weekend of a proposal to push forward with plans to join the European Union. The editorial says that the country's "resounding 'no' in Sunday's [4 March] referendum on whether to start accession negotiations confirms the Swiss as Europe's stubborn outsiders."

The paper adds that the vote against early negotiations was not surprising in light of Switzerland's 1986 rejection of United Nations membership. It explains: "To most Swiss, integration means surrendering power, not extending it."

The editorial continues: "Undoubtedly there will be relief in some EU capitals that Swiss accession is once more on the back burner. Although Switzerland is potentially a large contributor to EU coffers, its neutrality, its tradition of direct democracy, a relatively weak central government and its fierce sense of independence would make it an awkward member."

The paper says the EU should now turn its attention to the "fiendishly complex but strategically much more important task of admitting the countries of Central and Eastern Europe." When the Swiss government resumes talks on bilateral cooperation with the EU, it concludes, "it will now have to negotiate from a position of weakness."


A commentary by Arnaud de Borchgrave in the conservative "Washington Times" says Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has a new stated mission: to liberate Palestine. The author writes that Saddam has invited Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Authority to relocate in Baghdad and offered a sweetener of $1 billion plus $10,000 to the family of each Palestinian killed in the intifada.

De Borchgrave writes: "Mr. Arafat is under mounting pressure from the Israeli siege that has bottled up the West Bank and Gaza and deprived Palestinians of their day jobs in Israel. He wasn't able to pay his civil servants for two consecutive months." Meanwhile, he adds, "Saddam claims to have one million 'volunteers' signed up for the campaign to liberate Palestine," and is moving Iraqi troops close to the border of Jordan, sandwiched between Iraq and Israel. "The Iraqi dictator," he says, "presumably believes that in another regional conflict, the Arab streets would side with him and that Arab governments could not afford to stay on the fence."

The commentator also says that, in light of what he considers U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's recent acknowledgement that current economic sanctions against Iraq are not working, it seems clear on all sides that Saddam has a chance to reclaim power. He writes: "Saddam is almost back to his pre-Gulf War prestige in the Arab world. And moderate Arab leaders are loath to challenge their own pro-Saddam masses. Besides, even the moderates hold the U.S. responsible for Israel's policies in the occupied territories." He concludes: "A holy war against Israel [is] not as fanciful as [it] sounds."