Prague, 8 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Some of the topics discussed in the Western press today are Uzbekistan's war on Islam, NATO reform, seeking justice for war crimes in the Balkans, and the current situation in Kosovo. Debate also continues to focus on the State of the Union address given by U.S. President George W. Bush on 29 January and what it indicates for the future of American foreign policy.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Igor Rotar and Lawrence Uzzell of the Keston Institute -- a research center monitoring religious freedom in communist and postcommunist countries -- discuss Uzbek President Islam Karimov's campaign against Islam in his country. Rotar and Uzzell say that Islamic extremists "still have a fair chance of seizing power" in several Central Asian states, including Uzbekistan. But they say, "Uzbekistan's ferocious policies designed to crush Islamic militants could end up having just the opposite effect."
The authors write: "The most serious long-term threat to stability and freedom in Uzbekistan comes from Mr. Karimov himself. In a country where more than 80 percent of the populace is of Islamic heritage, his government is pursuing the most aggressively anti-Islamic policies anywhere in the former Soviet Union." They add that a wave of religious fanaticism could topple President Karimov, which would then "surge right through the artificial state boundaries inherited from the Soviet era."
The authors go on to say that the post-11 September strategic alliance between Karimov and the U.S. puts America into "an ambiguous position, supporting a regime that has in essence declared war on Islam as a religion. It gives the extremists evidence for their claim that the U.S. is fighting not terrorism but Islam as a whole."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
In the German "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Hans Barbier looks at the announcement by European Central Bank President Wim Duisenberg that he will step down in 2003, less than midway through his term. Barbier looks back over Duisenberg's tenure and what the bank has achieved. He writes: "As a new entity, the ECB had to mint the monetary policy of an economic sphere which the preceding financial convergence had yet to weld into an economic unit. With that handicap the bank has succeeded to a surprising degree with its two-pillar concept -- money-supply steering and inflation monitoring -- in managing the money supply of the euro-zone in a way that fulfills its stability mission. [The] start-up of the bank [has] succeeded," he says.
Barbier goes on to consider what might happen after Duisenberg's departure. He cites Jean-Claude Trichet as a possible replacement, but adds: "Whoever succeeds Mr. Duisenberg must be prepared for a tougher political climate in Europe." Barbier writes: "Charting a sensible economic course is one thing. Holding it in a strong wind is another. The bank needs both the technical acumen of its economists and the determination of a president." This will allow it to communicate, both for "the markets' benefit and on the political stage, its deliberations on sound economic policy in the form of independent decisions [by] an autonomous bank."
An editorial comment in Britain's "Financial Times" says "the role and structure of NATO are in question as never before. The alliance is in urgent need of surgery if it is to play a meaningful role in the world's security." The paper notes that more challenges lie ahead for the alliance. "Enlargement from 19 members to 24 or more will make NATO more cumbersome and more political," it says. "This should trigger a debate about how its military decision-making processes can be streamlined. To have a sound foundation, NATO must have military coherence and purpose." But NATO's military clout can be credible only if it is backed by genuine capability, the paper says, adding that Europe "has singularly failed to do its share in this department."
The paper writes, "It is not enough to say Europe must boost spending on its own security to restore a better military and technological balance with the U.S. The latest large increases in Pentagon spending render such a goal unrealistic. Instead, European countries should focus on what is needed for the military tasks they can actually fulfil, including humanitarian missions, peacekeeping and limited peacemaking."
Germany's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" looks at the Middle East in light of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's current visit to the U.S. Sharon had hoped to persuade U.S. President George W. Bush to sever all ties with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. While Bush declined to go that far, he called on Arafat to exert more effort to suppress terrorism.
The editorial says "America, Europe and the Middle East have always constituted a problematic triangle." While only a few months ago the U.S. and EU were both making genuine efforts to mediate, this is no longer feasible, says the paper, adding: "When two are as in agreement as Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush, the third party has nothing more to add."
The close-knit Bush-Sharon relationship prevents any progress toward peace, the paper says. It predicts that there is no future for a settlement in the Middle East either without U.S. diplomacy or with Sharon. "America will do nothing without Sharon," it concludes.
An editorial in France's "Liberation" also looks at the recent Sharon-Bush meeting in Washington. The daily says Sharon has presided over the fate of Israel for one year now, and says there has been no tangible progress -- only innumerable deaths. It says that Sharon is now on his fourth visit with the U.S. president and notes that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has not had even one. The strategy behind Sharon's rigid stance is difficult to understand, says the paper. It notes that a survey this week showed, for the first time in the past year, that a majority of Israelis doubt that Sharon can deliver on the peace he had promised them. "Liberation" goes on to describe as "honorable" the initiative by 62 Israeli students "who, as of September, proclaimed their refusal 'to participate in the occupation of the Palestinians.'" The paper notes that two have just been "condemned to sentences in military prison, whereas 52 officers and some 150 reserve soldiers have signed a petition rejecting the 'immoral orders' of Tsahal," the Israeli army.
An article this week in "The Economist" magazine looks at the controversies in bringing Balkan war crimes suspects to justice. It says the trial of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic will be "a landmark in legal history" -- the first time a former head of state has been tried before an international court to answer charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, among others. The magazine writes: "Depending on your viewpoint, that will either be a token of the civilized world's determination to make a start, at least, on outlawing bullies and sadists in high places, or a proof of the world's double standards. Plenty of other leaders, in good standing at the UN General Assembly, have also been responsible for mass deportation, extra-judicial killing and other forms of state terror," it says.
The magazine notes that supporters of The Hague process say Milosevic's trial will satisfy the desire for "natural justice" among people who feel that such acts of cruelty cannot go unpunished. "It will also tell future warlords and their political bosses that they cannot expect the slaughter of civilians in war to go unnoticed." But "The Economist" adds that, "Many of the more profound moral issues raised by the Balkan wars -- especially the sins of omission by politicians, local or international, who might have intervened to avert tragedy but did not do so -- cannot yet be answered."
JANE'S INTELLIGENCE DIGEST:
An analysis in the monthly "Jane's Intelligence Digest" looks at some of the troubles facing Kosovo. It notes that November's provincial elections "were supposed to have been an important turning point in the governance of Kosovo," establishing a foundation for self-government, if not full independence. One of the assembly's first tasks was to elect a president, which it has thus far failed to do in spite of three rounds of voting and the fact that there is only one candidate for the post: Ibrahim Rugova, the leader of the largest party in the province, the Democratic League of Kosovo, or LDK. "Jane's" says "the roots of the problem go back to the bitter rivalry which has existed between the LDK [and] those parties which have emerged in Kosovo since the Yugoslav armed forces withdrew in June 1999."
Since then, "Jane's" says the UN mission in Kosovo, or UNMIK, has been attempting "to reconcile the demands of the various ethnic and political groups in Kosovo with an over-arching vision of a democratic, multi-ethnic province -- with a high degree of autonomy -- within what is left of the Yugoslav Federation. Unfortunately, a very high proportion of UNMIK's subjects don't share these objectives," it says. "Even between the three main Albanian parties, there is a general agreement that nothing less than full independence will do." "Jane's" writes: "This leaves UNMIK in the difficult position of trying to implement a political framework which it knows none of the parties involved actually believes in."
In Britain's daily "The Guardian," columnist Martin Woollacott says George W. Bush's State of the Union speech on 29 January masked U.S. uncertainty "about what to do next." Woollacott says the speech was "not a convincing project of military liberation, nor does it offer much else except military high notes. Iran, Iraq and North Korea do not constitute an axis in the sense of the close alliance that the word normally implies. If old enemies Iran and Iraq are nudging together a little more at the moment, it is in response to American threats. That suggests lack of coherence," he adds. Woollacott says that behind the "fabricated certainty of the Bush speech," the reality "seems to be that the administration is not at all sure what the plan should be."
But he says the Bush administration "is falling back on what it knows and likes, defining the problem overwhelmingly in military terms, categorizing enemies, being brusque with allies and abrasive with everybody else."