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Western Press Review: UN Arms Conference, Balkans

Prague, 10 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Several commentaries in the Western press today look at global small-arms trafficking, as a conference addressing the issue convenes at United Nations' headquarters in New York. Other analyses continue to focus on the extradition of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to the UN's war crimes tribunal at The Hague. There also comments on Croatia's recent pledge to cooperate with The Hague tribunal in handing over its own war crimes suspects, an economic forecast for Europe, and the vote scheduled for Friday (13 July) on the venue for the 2008 summer Olympic Games.


An editorial in "The Washington Post" says that the United Nations conference on small arms that began yesterday is an attempt to deal with what it calls "a major global problem." But the paper adds that, unfortunately, the conference "very likely will devolve into another demonstration of the difficulty of forging credible international agreements in this fractious post-Cold War era."

The editorial notes that UN officials, human rights groups, and several European governments had hoped the meeting might produce "serious and binding restrictions" on the international sale of assault rifles, grenades, and similar weapons. But it writes, "Arms producers -- led by the United States, China and Russia -- don't want restrictions, and neither do many of the African, Asian and Latin American governments that have been their customers."

The paper also says that the U.S. delegate's opening address clearly stated that Washington would not support measures aimed at restricting gun ownership or manufacture. It writes: "Instead, the Bush administration seems to have chosen to use the UN conference as a way to pander to [the U.S. gun lobby group] the National Rifle Association, anti-UN zealots and far-right conspiracy theorists. [This] won't help much with the administration's already tarnished image abroad -- and it won't save any lives."


An editorial in "The Christian Science Monitor" says that "worldwide, small arms are proliferating as the weapons of choice in small conflicts, creating a $1 billion industry, corrupting governments, fanning civil wars, and protecting the drug trade." The UN conference, it goes on, "will help broaden the global consensus for action."

The paper suggests a number of proposals to help curb the illicit trade in small arms, such as tightening export controls, better regulating arms manufacturing, stronger punishments for illegal dealers, and enforcing weapons embargoes on nations engaged in conflict. The editorial says, "Now the time is ripe globally to clean up this mess left over from the Cold War when the big powers fed conflicts with arms."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," columnist George Melloan considers the issue of international courts and asks, "Can there be some way, through international action short of force, to deter future Hitlers and [Slobodan Milosevics] by assuring that they, personally, will be held accountable for their crimes?" The answer, he says, "may be no. But the issue is worth pondering."

He remarks that "the effectiveness of supporting reformist politicians within benighted countries should not be underrated. The best way to unseat Saddam Hussein, for example, would be to build up the anti-Saddam forces that already have a beachhead on Iraqi soil. [The] U.S. instead has too often relied on a negative approach, applying economic sanctions, in the hope of bringing down tyrants. This is fundamentally a cop-out. [But] there are promising possibilities so long as policy makers and nongovernmental human rights groups understand that they must spread the word that there is a better life awaiting those who resist tyrants." He adds, "That's a political process, not a legal process."


A commentary by John Vinocur in the "International Herald Tribune" says, "As Europe's big economic ambitions for 2001 have declined, so for the time being have its promises to become more autonomous in defense, more open and modern in its business culture, and more effective in foreign policy."

He adds that there are "three clear examples of European ambitions that have not been backed up with determination." Vinocur cites Europe's trimmed defense budgets and its failure to complete agreed-on projects for strengthening security, and the recent defeat of the takeover initiative, which "would have removed barriers to cross-border takeovers in Europe," by way of example. In European foreign policy, Vinocur says that Europe's hesitation on making pledges of aid to Yugoslavia conditional on Milosevic's extradition "showed Europe's role as a global foreign policy player once again relegated to the back row at a moment when it has sought to gain a more forceful reputation."

In terms of Europe's aspirations, Vinocur concludes, the Milosevic episode "was part of a series of European decisions [that] have fallen as much short of stated goals as the EU's markdown of its growth projections and the continuing weak state of [the] euro."


A commentary in the "Financial Times" by Tony Barber proposes that the euro-zone's governments' reluctance to promote labor-market mobility may be partly to blame for unemployment.

Barber writes: "In principle, the euro-zone should benefit from the sharper cross-border competition induced by the euro's launch, the deregulation of utility and telecommunications markets and the liberalization of financial markets. All these forces should work in the long term against the heavy-handed regulation of labor markets still seen in large parts of the euro-zone."

He continues: "When it comes to labor-market mobility, the biggest task is not to persuade Europeans to seek work in other countries but to promote mobility at home. The most important decisions on employment need to be taken at national level -- not by the [European Central Bank] or the European Commission but by elected governments. The ECB may not be faultless, but when it comes to job creation, politicians have to shoulder their share of responsibility."


In the French daily "Le Monde," commentator Marc Semo looks at Croatia's decision Saturday (7 July) to turn over two generals to the international war crimes tribunal. Semo notes that Croatian public opinion largely considers these officers heroes. He writes: "The decision of [Prime Minister] Ivica Racan represents a shift in the uneven relations between Croatia and the [international court]."

On coming to office in January, Racan had promised that he would not accept "any accusations" of those involved in what has been called the "patriotic war" against the Serbs between 1991 and 1995. Semo notes that the transfer of these popular officers to the court remains a sensitive subject. "But after the decision of the Serbian prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, to authorize Slobodan Milosevic's transfer, Zagreb risked finding itself increasingly isolated [from] Westerners and missing out on future integration into European structures." Semo quotes Prime Minister Racan as saying, "The other option would have reimmersed Croatia into the abyss of the Balkan crisis."


Austria's "Die Presse" runs a news analysis today on the impact of the extradition of Croatian generals Rahim Ademi and Ante Gotovina on the local political scene. Wieland Schneider writes: "It was to be anticipated that this would rouse indignation, since the Croats regard their war of independence as a legitimate liberation war against the Serbian aggressor. But few like to admit that the weapons in this 'just war' included murder, expulsions and other atrocities inflicted on Serbian civilians."

Moreover, the reemergence of discussion on the dark chapter of Croatia's recent past also has a political dimension within the country, which has prompted resignations and a shift in party politics. The right-wing HDZ party of the late President Franjo Tudjman is likely to profit from the hostilities between the other two parties, Schneider says. Already, HDZ is in control of the veteran association, which is rallying people to join in mass protests against the extraditions.


An editorial in "The Washington Times" says: "The Chinese government should not need the Olympics to do what is best for its own people. Even if it wins [the vote on the 2008 Olympic venue] on Friday, and begins shutting down polluting factories and planting trees on every corner, it will not be able to hide its human rights abuses."

It adds that the imprisonment of U.S. citizens and legal residents, like Gao Zhan and City University of Hong Kong professor Li Shaomin -- both of whom were initially held without charges and have been denied access to their lawyers -- has given international human rights organizations and other groups much reason for concern. The paper writes: "The Games have long been a symbol of the strength and vibrancy of the human spirit. For Beijing to carry the Olympic flame, when its government has tried to crush this spirit in so many of its own, would be a disgrace."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this press review.)