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Western Review: Balkan Stability, Ukraine, U.S.-China Relations

Prague, 12 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Growing instability in the Balkans, recent protests against Ukraine's president and U.S.-Chinese relations are among the subjects treated by Western press commentators today.


In a news analysis for the "New York Times," Steven Erlanger says that NATO is "adrift" in the Balkans -- "reaping the consequences of a refusal to deal seriously with the problems and aspirations of the Albanians it went to war to protect."

Erlanger writes that the alliance's failure to confront the armed Albanians fighting for an independent Kosovo has allowed them to grow into a serious regional threat -- evidenced by recent stepped-up fighting in southern Serbia and now in Macedonia.

He says that with deposed Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic no longer an easy scapegoat for continued violence, the West is slowly being forced to examine its own policy. Erlanger writes: "The desire of the Bush administration to reduce the American military presence in the Balkans is well known, and combined with the reluctance of American commanders to take casualties, it has emboldened the militants."

He cites additional wrinkles in NATO's original plan for Balkan stability -- Montenegro's hope to secede from Yugoslavia, and the insistence by Bosnian Croats that a federal Bosnia-Herzegovina is no longer viable.

Erlanger quotes an (unnamed) Western diplomat as saying: "With Milosevic gone and the Serbs out of Kosovo, NATO has become the single guarantor of stability and security in the Balkans. But it is not clear that NATO wants to do the job. Confronting Albanian extremists could cost lives, which is the Pentagon's nightmare, and it could make NATO forces a target in Kosovo itself."

The alliance's refusal to confront the extremists, the official adds, "sends a clear signal to them to keep pushing for what they want."


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" says that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma is "rapidly reaching the point of no return."

The paper says that, as months of anti-government protests came to a head on Friday (9 March) with violent clashes between protesters and police in Kyiv, Kuchma's options have drastically narrowed: "Either he stands down, at least temporarily, to allow a proper investigation of the murder [of opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze]. Or he seeks to retain power at any cost, including the violent suppression of protesters by his security forces. The first course would be best for Ukraine. The second risks domestic unrest and international isolation."

The editorial goes on to say that the West is at least partly to blame for Ukraine's current difficulties. Grateful for Ukraine's role in breaking up the Soviet Union, the United States and European Union poured millions of dollars into the country in the 1990s without sufficiently strict conditions. Now that the West has recognized its mistake and tightened lending and investment restrictions, Ukraine -- like Belarus -- has turned back to Russia for support.

The resulting threat, the paper says, "is not of a resurgent military power but of a ramshackle coalition with tens of millions of disaffected citizens."

It adds: "The West must make clear that it supports Ukraine whilst distancing itself from Mr. Kuchma. It must stick to its recent tough line on economic aid [and] maintain links with Ukrainians outside the government, through loans to small businesses [and] aid for independent media organizations."

Relations between the international community and Kuchma, the editorial says, "could get worse before they get better." It adds: "The West should maintain pressure on the president. Anything else would be a betrayal of the people who have gone out on the streets against him."


A comment by Robert Kagan in the "Washington Post" says U.S. President George W. Bush is in a position similar to that of John F. Kennedy nearly 40 years ago. In 1962, Kennedy's presidential mettle was tested when Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev -- believing the young U.S. leader to be weak and irresolute -- deployed missiles in Cuba. The Soviet Union, famously, was forced to back down. Now, Kagan writes, Bush is being put to a similar test by China: "Beijing is trying to scare the president by creating an atmosphere of impending crisis."

He writes that over the past two weeks, Chinese leaders have adopted a bullying stance with the new U.S. president. Kagan cites China's "undiplomatic" refusal to Bush's request that the Chinese government investigate its military assistance to Iraq.

He writes that although China's aid to Iraq is public knowledge in the United States and has been privately admitted by Chinese officials, Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan last week set the tone for future relations by denying any involvement in Iraq and "all but accusing Bush of fabricating the story."

Kagan also points to the foreign minister's warning that sales of U.S. defense and anti-missile systems to Taiwan -- which the Bush administration must decide on next month -- would "endanger" China-U.S. relations. On top of that, he adds, comes China's recent announcement that it will boost military spending by 18 percent due to what Beijing called "drastic changes" in the international security environment.

He concludes: "A lot is riding on how Bush responds. [In] the coming weeks, an army of China experts is going to tell us that selling advanced arms to Taiwan is too risky. If history is any guide, however, it will be even riskier if Beijing thinks it is dealing with another 'young and weak' American president."

Other comments today look at the big business of global warming, Islamic extremism in Central Asia and how best to protect the world's cultural legacy.


Brian O'Connell comments in today's "Wall Street Journal Europe" that "European business leaders seem to be warming to the idea of global warming." Many business leaders, he writes, are backtracking from their original opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, the UN-sponsored agreement to limit greenhouse-gas emissions. In looking for ways to offset compliance costs, he notes, the businessmen believe they may have found a way to make a profit at the same time -- as O'Connell puts it, "to take regulatory lemons and make lemonade." However, he warns, "it may turn out to be a costly misadventure."

O'Connell says that carbon trading -- allowing countries whose carbon dioxide emission levels come in under maximum limits to sell so-called "pollution permits" to countries with excessive emissions -- is at the center of efforts to profit from Kyoto.

Assuming the protocol is eventually enacted -- which would involve reversing the Bush administration's opposition to the plan -- carbon brokers stand to profit handsomely from a market that may be worth $400 billion by the end of the decade.

But O'Connell writes: "What's lost in the pursuit of global-warming profits is the fact that global warming remains, at best, an unproved hypothesis. Although the highly politicized reports seem to support the global warming theory, there is a growing body of evidence that indicates the problem is either negligible or the result of a natural warming cycle whose effects have been greatly exaggerated."

He adds: "Creating a market around a problem that may not exist is risky. [If] the hypothesis supporting the theory of man-made global warming is proved wrong, that will be good news for the people of the world and bad news for those banking on fears of a climatic cataclysm."


In a commentary published today in the "International Herald Tribune," Gareth Evans says force is not the way to counter Central Asia's Islamic threat, which poses a danger not only to the ancient Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan but also to the strategically vital countries of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Evans cites the last two years of fighting, kidnapping, and assassination attempts in the three countries, and says: "Support for extremism is growing among a population traditionally highly respectful of authority." He adds that China, Russia, and the United States -- each with its own individual security priorities -- are all keeping a nervous eye on the area.

Evans says: "It is time, however, to take stock of just how serious the Islamist threat is." He adds: "Much of the danger is the product of policy misjudgment and over-reaction from the regional governments themselves."

He continues: "The governments justify repression by pointing to real enemies, especially the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which pledges to overthrow the region's strongest government and operates on the territory of all three." The movement, however, has only 1,000 fighters. Evans says that the number of practicing, non-militant Muslims who have been harassed by the government far exceed the number of Islamic militants who pose a true threat to the state.

He writes: "Citizens have not yet fully identified with the revolutionaries but the disaffected increase daily. [If] concerns over terrorism, drugs and the Taliban lead the West to acquiesce in suppression, there is a risk of repeating the Iran experience, where foreign support for an unpopular leader fostered worse leadership and provoked outright antagonism toward the West."


James Cuno, commenting in the "Boston Globe," says the Taliban's destruction of the Buddha statues in Bamiyan -- coupled with the regime's recent destruction of some 6,000 sculptures in Afghanistan's national museum -- raises questions about how to preserve the world's cultural property.

On this question, Cuno writes, the world is divided into two camps. One is the "internationalist camp," which includes the United States. It, he says, "believes that exposure to works of art from the world's many cultures promotes cultural understanding. For this reason, [the United States] has made few laws restricting the export of its cultural property."

On the other side of the debate is the "nationalist" camp -- countries, like Italy, which claim that "all objects found in the ground within its national borders -- whether they were found on private or state-owned land -- are state property. The exportation of such objects without a license, [therefore], is tantamount to theft."

But the "nationalist" cultural policy, Cuno argues, is a failure -- either exposing the world's treasures to undue risk or creating an illicit market for antiquities.

He writes: "The Afghan government's restrictions on the trade of cultural property and its decision to claim excavated archeological material as state property did not protect the Kabul museum's collection. Factional fighting dispersed and destroyed it. Excavation records may still exist, but the excavated objects are gone, depriving us all of these unique, beautiful, and important artifacts of the ancient Silk Road."

He concludes that the first priority of the international art community should be "the preservation of the world's cultural legacy, object by object if necessary, through licit and free international trade."