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Western Press Review: German Economic Stagnation, Ukrainian Arms, Central Asia

Prague, 24 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today looks at a variety of issues, including the IRA's announcement yesterday that it has begun disarming, the possibilities for Russian-U.S. agreement on missile defense, and German economic stagnation. Other topics include Central Asia after the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan, Ukrainian arms exports, and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


An editorial in "The New York Times" looks at yesterday's announcement by the Irish Republican Army, or IRA, that it has begun disarming and destroying some of its weapons. The editorial considers some of the problems the IRA has faced in the past, and says that previously the group had been trapped by its own rhetoric: "After repeatedly arguing that disarmament was tantamount to surrender, the IRA could not easily shed its weapons."

The editorial goes on to note that Gerry Adams, leader of the IRA's political wing, Sinn Fein, as well as his deputy, Martin McGuinness, have also faced difficulties. They "found themselves in the same precarious position as others around the world who have led armed movements into peace agreements. Their decision to back the peace process has estranged them from many of their hard-line colleagues."

The paper advises that the British government should respond to the IRA's overture "by hastening the demolition of some of its military installations in Northern Ireland and by speeding changes in the police to make the institution fairer to Catholics. Protestant paramilitaries must give up their weapons as well. [Northern] Ireland's fitful peace process has undergone innumerable crises," it says. "With this critical assist from the IRA, an enduring peace may be possible."


An editorial in "The Boston Globe" considers a statement by U.S. President George W. Bush as he met recently with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders in Shanghai. Bush said the events of 11 September "make it clearer than ever" that the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty is "outdated" and even "dangerous." The paper notes that this statement was an attempt to justify U.S. plans to build a missile-defense system against long-range missiles. For the U.S. to go ahead with these plans, the ABM treaty signed with Russia would have to be amended or abandoned.

The paper writes: "A more lucid conclusion would be that the failure to prevent the use of hijacked planes as terrorist weapons can hardly be blamed on a lack of missile defense. Indeed, the atrocities of September 11 suggest that, for years to come, the nation will be most vulnerable not to intercontinental ballistic missiles but to suicidal fanatics [striking] without warning from American soil."

But the paper concludes there may be room for agreement when the Russian and U.S. leaders meet in Texas in November. Bush could accept Putin's offer of bilaterally reducing ICBM arsenals, which would save Russia much-needed revenue. In return, the paper suggests, Putin might agree to an amendment to the ABM treaty that would allow for U.S. testing of a missile-defense system.


A "Financial Times" editorial looks at Germany's economic stagnation and says the nation must either "accept stagnation or do something about it." Economic growth is at a standstill, it says, while unemployment has risen to 9.4 percent.

The paper writes: "Germans may feel that weak growth and high unemployment are tolerable. The standard of living is high and real poverty is almost unheard of. Labor is highly skilled and productive, if expensive. German industry is still internationally competitive. To many Germans, a period of slow relative decline is infinitely preferable to abrupt change." The problem for Germany, the editorial adds, is that the options are limited.

The European Central Bank's hesitation to cut interest rates has further hurt the German economy, says the "Financial Times." With inflation falling and the euro-zone economies growing below potential, it says, the ECB "has no excuse not to cut interest rates when it meets on Thursday [25 October]."


Michael Stuermer, commenting in "Die Welt," defends U.S. foreign policy in the war against terrorism. The military attack on Afghanistan is necessary as a response to the terrorist attacks of 11 September, but not sufficient, Stuermer writes. It was, he argues, a masterpiece of diplomacy to win the support of Russia and China in the Security Council. This will, in future, lead to less antagonism in world relations and a balance of power more than American hegemony.

Furthermore, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has, after a long absence of U.S. involvement, done all he can to calm the Middle East conflict, to stabilize the Pakistani dispute with India over Kashmir, to promote a better future for Afghanistan "without preaching the patent 'Made in the U.S.'"

The military operations in Afghanistan have been conceived on a broad scale but so far have been carried out on a narrow scale. The ruling Taliban expected an invasion such as they experienced from the Soviets. Instead, U.S. troops are destroying specific Taliban targets. Stuermer thinks the moment of truth will come if the U.S. forces succeed in altering the balance of power against the Taliban before Ramadan in November and Afghanistan's harsh winter sets in.

Stuermer says there is still a long way to go before a new order is established in the world, but he commends the U.S. for making a lion's share contribution. He says Europeans should consider whether they are contributing their fair share.


An article in "Jane's Intelligence Review" looks at military armaments being exported from Ukraine. It cites a German report from dpa as reporting that Ukraine is selling assault helicopters and surface-to-surface missiles to UNITA rebels in Angola; small arms to Afghanistan's Taliban regime and Chechen separatist rebels; and Kalashnikov rifles, guided missiles, and ammunition to Eritrea.

The major focus of the German report, however, is Ukrainian arms supplies to Macedonia. "Jane's" says Ukrainian authorities have stated that all arms transfers are legitimate and do not violate any international agreements. The same authorities defend Ukraine's right to sell arms to Macedonia, as well as to Iran. But the article adds that Ukrainian officials "have admitted the high volume of illegal arms transfers. Suggesting that criminals rather than the government should be blamed for those transactions, President Leonid Kuchma has publicly admitted that Ukrainian weapons and military equipment [have] found their way illegally into international arms markets."

The article goes on to say that Ukrainian government agencies will likely "refrain from direct exports to forbidden destinations." However, it adds that Ukrainian arms manufacturers and traders may be involved in 'gray exports' -- exports that it says are technically legal arms transfers "to destinations which formally are not denied by any international norms, but which the exporter prefers to keep under wraps."


A contribution to "Eurasia View" by Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation, a U.S.-based think-tank, considers the difficulties Central Asia faces as a result of the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism.

There are several long-term obstacles to lasting peace in Afghanistan and Central Asia, says Cohen. The makeup of a post-Taliban government is still being debated. In addition, it remains uncertain who would guarantee peace after the Taliban. Cohen writes: "While most players in the anti-terrorism coalition agree on the need for a peacekeepers in Afghanistan, there is currently no clear picture of the composition of such a force. The United Nations special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, is cautious about a UN peacekeeping role in Afghanistan."

Cohen adds that "given that the economic development infrastructure in Afghanistan is virtually non-existent," longer-term stability will depend greatly on Afghanistan's economic development.

Cohen goes on to say that Central Asian leaders, especially Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov, "evidently hope that the sudden increase in the region's strategic importance will result in a massive influx of economic assistance. But they may find that aid comes with strings attached. Foreign aid providers are likely to encourage greater political and religious freedom in Central Asia. Ultimately, governments in Central Asia may end up facing pressure to be more accountable to their respective electorates."


Columnist Gerard Dupuy, writing in "Liberation," says that the deaths of two U.S. postal workers from inhalation anthrax have underscored the threat that bacteriological weapons pose in the hands of terrorists. After this, he says, it is easier to understand the passion of the United States for denouncing any regime suspected of creating large-scale stockpiles of such weapons. It is well known that the U.S. has already reacted strongly against both Libya and Iraq concerning such suspicions, says Dupuy, adding that this was one of the real reasons behind the 1991 Gulf War.

Dupuy goes on to say that the most hawkish members of the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush have, from the beginning, sought to "seize the occasion brought about by the attacks of September 11 to finish it with [Iraqi leader] Saddam [Hussein]."

Dupuy says that "compared to this war aim, the campaign in Afghanistan, with all its difficulties, looks like a promenade". Iraq, says Dupuy, should not be on the agenda. For now, precautionary and preventative measures are best. But one cannot take the threat of bacteriological attacks lightly, he adds.

"Regrettably, the line between paranoia and the principle of precaution is not always as clear as it should be," writes Dupuy.


In Britain's "The Guardian," columnist Polly Toynbee says that the West maintains a double standard when dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She writes: "Consider the media coverage of death -- how Western audiences are invited to feel the agony of Israeli teen-agers slaughtered in a disco...[Palestinian] deaths are rarely made so graphic or memorable: they are anonymous people, counted as numbers, bodies aloft among depersonalized funeral crowds."

Toynbee calls for the West to adopt a harder stance toward Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. She writes: "[Six] days into Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, there is still no response from [U.S. President] George Bush. [What] is needed urgently is the same thunderous and threatening language the [U.S.] president applies to the war in Afghanistan. Spell it out -- no more money, no more support, no sympathy for future attacks until Israel withdraws and talks start at once on building the promised independent Palestinian state."

Israel "does not get the new global message," says Toynbee. It "does not see how little patience its old friends have for Sharon's dangerous hard line. [As] the war progresses in Afghanistan, the quid pro quo must come for Palestine. It will not wait: Afghanistan may not be resolved unless Palestine gets justice at the same time."

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