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Western Press Review: EU Defense Capabilities, Enlargement, And Kyrgyz Economic Reform

Prague, 28 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today discusses an emerging trans-Atlantic rift over aspects of the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan, EU defense capabilities, and European public opinion on enlargement. Other analysis focuses on the Kyrgyz economy and the situation in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, among other issues.


In a news analysis in the "International Herald Tribune," David Sanger of "The New York Times" looks at the controversy surrounding the treatment of prisoners at a U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He says that the administration of President George W. Bush has been trying to dismiss arguments about the prisoners' treatment as "an abstruse argument among government lawyers" rather than "a fundamental split between America and its allies."

But the dispute is not just about legalisms, Sanger says. "There is an ideological aversion among leading members of the administration [to] be bound by aging international treaties in an era of new conflict," he writes. The U.S. president, he writes, "has no objection to international treaties" as long as they protect American interests.

But Sanger notes that Secretary of State Colin Powell departs from the president's view. Powell argues that the United States must acknowledge that international law -- and not the U.S. administration's desires -- must govern how the prisoners should be treated. Powell has reportedly told the president that acknowledging the supremacy of the Geneva Conventions is the only way to answer European criticism.

For the president to continue his current policy, says Sanger, is to "publicly undercut his secretary of state" and to reject the views of close U.S. allies -- some of whom will be sending peacekeepers to Afghanistan.


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Alan Isenberg of the Center for Strategic and International Studies considers the limitations of European defense capabilities. Isenberg says that numerous European complaints of U.S. unilateralism have fallen "on justifiably deaf American ears -- because one of the biggest reasons for the 'unilateralism' has to do with the archaic capacities of Europe's forces." Europe must undergo a comprehensive "and absolutely necessary" modernization of its forces across the board, he says. "The overbearing, if ironic, reality is that bridging this gap is far more important now than it was during the Cold War, when a U.S.-led nuclear deterrent was the most viable method to protect the democratic world."

Isenberg notes that defense spending in Europe has been on a continuous decline. As a result, he says, in Afghanistan "the uncomfortable truth was that the United States needed Uzbekistan more than it needed France and Germany." He adds that European forces will "inevitably" be needed to carry out a Serbia-style mission again in some part of the world.

Without a sustained European effort on capabilities, Isenberg concludes, the European Security and Defense Policy and its rapid-reaction force will remain "a paper tiger".


A commentary by Jean-Paul Collette in Belgium's daily "Le Soir" says that the war in Russia's breakaway republic of Chechnya continues unabated thanks to an international "memory lapse" -- if not a deliberate omission -- that has already killed many. He says since the attacks of 11 September, the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin for the antiterrorist coalition has allowed him a freer hand in Chechnya, as the West is now loathe to criticize an ally in the Afghanistan campaign.

Collette says residents of Chechnya have been given a horrible choice: to be terrorized or to leave their homeland. For civilians, he says, the conflict remains "synonymous with terror or exile: thousands of disappearances, 200,000 refugees."

Now there are suggestions that this may change, says Collette. He notes that Washington and London have again made contact with Chechen leaders and called for negotiations. This renewed concern echoes the statements from human rights groups, such as Russia's Memorial, Human Rights Watch, and Doctors without Borders, who have criticized the refusal of the Council of Europe to sanction Russia for the actions of its forces in the region.


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" says that now is no time for Europe's leaders to take the public's support for EU enlargement for granted. "Disenchantment with European integration is almost certain to get worse," says the paper. "The introduction of euro notes and coins will finally make the European project a reality for everyone. But the slowdown in the euro-zone economy, the weak euro, and a spike in inflation are hardly the best conditions for inspiring public confidence in monetary union."

The paper says that just as Western Europeans need to make small sacrifices for the good of the Continent, "they are retreating behind their national, local, and sectoral interests."

The problem, it says, is that "the strongest argument in favor of enlargement is geopolitical, the objective of a Europe 'whole and free.' Extending the EU eastwards is the best way of guaranteeing stability -- and greater prosperity in the long term." But voters remain skeptical, says the paper. "The economic benefits of a Union of two dozen or more countries are real. Yet short-term pain is always more real than long-term gain."


An editorial in Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" says the issue of EU enlargement is reaching "the moment of truth," with the division of treasury funds -- particularly farm subsidies, which the EU are proposing to all but withhold from new members for up to a decade -- a determining factor. The issue, the paper says, points not only to a division between East and West but also to continued discord between the 15 original member-states over who should contribute and who should profit from such arrangements.

The wrangling may be mitigated for some time during the transition period following the expected wave of entry in early 2004. But the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will expire in 2006, leaving a new budget to be negotiated for 2007-2013. The commentary says any current solutions are superficial and come with high political risks -- most notably, the likelihood that candidate countries will regard the EU with ever-more suspicion.


An editorial in "The Times" of Britain on 26 January says that the British-led peacekeeping force in Afghanistan should get a proper mandate or leave the country. "The Times" says between the conception and inception of the ISAF security force, "strange things happened to its mandate; its only mandate is to patrol the capital, Kabul, which is as dormant as a slab of stale bread. It is 'coalition forces,' not ISAF, which have opened 11 major convoy routes and nine airfields, making it possible to get between 50 and 100 percent of their food requirements to all but a few isolated Afghan communities. It is, moreover, taking too long for ISAF to deploy; and most of the 2,000 out of the eventual 5,000 who have actually arrived in Kabul are engaged in [carrying in soldiers' equipment] and building barracks. A few token patrols apart, ISAF is doing little more than looking after itself. It should either get itself a proper mandate and fan out where it is really needed, or be gone."


In "Eurasia View," Bishkek-based freelance journalist Daan van der Schriek writes that Kyrgyzstan is looking to cash in on its new relationship with the United States. Having accepted American troops on its soil, van der Schriek writes, "[the Kyrgyz] government is hoping for a meaningful boost in foreign aid." But without real efforts to boost reforms in the country, he adds, "increases in aid will do little to heal its economy."

First and foremost, he writes, Kyrgyzstan must develop revenues to offset its $1.5 billion external debt. To do this, it must develop its own industry -- a step that requires attracting foreign investment, which in turn requires rooting out the country's deep-seated corruption.

"Because Kyrgyzstan is so small, remote and poor, it will need to generate wealth more ethically than its neighbors; it will also need to do so more efficiently. [It] has to put on a flawless display for international investors precisely because its resources are hard-won mining and agricultural products rather than flowing fuels. Without an inviting business climate there is little reason to invest in Kyrgyzstan."

The foreign aid the country will receive in return for its cooperation in the antiterror coalition will go a long way toward improving the business climate and enhancing regional cooperation, he writes. "But to receive sustained support, the Kyrgyz government must show that it is truly committed to sustaining political and economic reforms. At the moment, many observers inside and outside the country gravely doubt that the government has this commitment."


Marking the 57th anniversary (27 January) of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, "Die Welt" describes the "three lives" of Polish historian and politician Bronislav Geremek. Born in 1932, Geremek was imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. Thanks to a Catholic Polish man he and his mother survived. His "second life" was "a matter of fate." He had the good fortune to study history -- notably that of the Middle Ages. That in turn earned him a scholarship in Paris, and eventual international recognition for his scholarly works.

In his "third life," Geremek devoted all his energy to the cause of freedom from Soviet and Communist oppression. His ambition was realized in 1989, and he was appointed a university professor of history, winning a seat in Polish parliamentary elections that same year. Now, "Die Welt" notes, Geremek welcomes Poland's bonds with NATO but has not shunned the country's links with Ukraine and Russia. As for EU membership, this for Geremek is not just an economic issue but the return of Poland to Europe.

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