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Western Press Review: The Baltic Boom, Human Rights In Chechnya, And Deposing Saddam

Prague, 8 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western media today discusses economic success in the Baltics; the sacrifices inherent in ensuring military security; NATO's evolution and expansion; the Russian campaign in Chechnya; and seeking mutilateralism in a potential U.S.-led operation against Iraq.

Analysis also continues to focus on events in the Middle East, as daily violence continues amid the announcement that U.S. Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni will be returning to the region next week to seek an end to the clashes.


The 11 March issue of "Newsweek" magazine carries an article by Stryker McGuire on the economic success of the Baltic countries. McGuire says Estonia is today "one of the top three foreign-investment draws, per capita, in Eastern Europe, after Hungary and the Czech Republic." Investment has since flowed into its Baltic counterparts -- Latvia and Lithuania -- and onward to northern Poland. And the Baltic region "is set to take another great leap forward," McGuire writes. The European Union's eastward enlargement "promises to usher in a new era of dynamism and economic growth."

Possible NATO expansion to include the region may also bring with it new strategic realignments. McGuire says the region's fundamental economic health is borne out by the fact that despite the global downturn, the three Baltic states make up one of the world's fastest-growing economic zones.

McGuire says that following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, the Baltic states "reinvented themselves as gung-ho free marketeers." Over the past decade, they have established themselves as "fiscally reliable and politically stable safe-havens for foreign investment," he writes. In addition, foreign companies find the Baltics' low wages "irresistible."

McGuire says: "As a low-cost base for production and transportation, they [make] an excellent bridge to much bigger markets."


In Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Gunther Nonnenmacher discusses the sacrifices nations must make to ensure security. In light of the deaths of two German and three Danish members of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, killed on 6 March outside Kabul, Nonnenmacher remarks: "People who join the armed forces should realize that they [are] taking on a task that can be a matter of life and death -- at home and abroad."

Nonnenmacher notes that after the Cold War, the German parliament voted overwhelmingly to share with other nations the responsibility for common security. He says Germany pledged that it was "willing and prepared [to] work together with our allies and partners to forestall security risks in time, in other words, before they reached us, wherever they might emerge -- even be it Afghanistan."

He writes: "The German soldiers who lost their lives while participating in the United Nations' operation designed to bring Afghanistan back into the fold of the world's nations were ultimately there for the sake of Germany's security, for everyone's security. A society that no longer possessed the strength to run that risk, and to bear the tragic sacrifices called for in extreme cases, would have lost the power to assert itself and its own freedom."


In the "International Herald Tribune," commentator Flora Lewis looks at the evolution of NATO and the European Union. She notes that after the Cold War, several Eastern European nations argued that they "urgently needed the promise of a Western embrace to stabilize the sudden, difficult transition from communism to democracy."

She says "a sensible, gradual procedure" was thus implemented, which brought Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary into NATO quickly. "So far, the intricate diplomacy and planning have been handled very well," she writes.

But Lewis goes on to say that "there is not yet a clear consensus on what the alliance should consider its prime task. There is a general sense that it must remain available to promote peace in Europe, oppose threats, and provide protection against such human rights violations as befell Kosovo." However, NATO also remains "the key, concrete link between the United States and Europe." Both sides of the Atlantic agree "that they must rely on each other's basic support if they are to achieve essential goals."

Lewis concludes that the need for the "continuation and evolution" of both NATO and the EU is evident. But she says "that is no guarantee that lesser quarrels won't override this understanding. It still takes a determination of will to hold nations to a constructive policy," she concludes.


An item in this week's "Economist" magazine says the debate over possible U.S. military action against Iraq presents a test of whether the U.S. administration will "choose between the comfort of alliances and the freedom of independent action."

The magazine says that it is "an open secret" that America has decided to depose Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein by force. But it writes, "Almost all of America's Arab allies say that they are against this.... [So] are most Europeans..."

"The Economist" goes on to advise that U.S. President George W. Bush should seek to balance U.S. aims with a degree of multilateralism by giving more weight to American allies. Self-interested unilateralism, the magazine warns, can be counterproductive. As "The Economist" puts it, "Bush may feel that ridding Iraq of its dictator is a venture in which freedom of action is worth more than the comfort of alliances. [But] he must still beware of stoking up resentments that end up making the world more [dangerous] -- the radicalization of [suspected terrorist Osama] bin Laden, it is worth remembering, was an unintended consequence of the previous Gulf War. As a rule, that trap will be easier to avoid if America is seen to be acting in a cause that transcends its own narrow interest. And this, in turn, will be easier if America carries its allies with it as far as possible."


A "Wall Street Journal Europe" analysis looks at the Russian campaign in Chechnya and the pretext under which this second Chechen war was launched. The Kremlin claimed that the Russian apartment-building bombings in 1999 were the work of Chechen terrorists. This assertion effectively mobilized public support for renewed military action in the breakaway republic, and helped President Vladimir Putin rise to power on a pledge to restore security. But speculation regarding the true identity of the perpetrators persists.

Nevertheless, as a result, the "Journal" says the Russian Army is now "mired in an unwinnable campaign against a war-hardened, destitute people who have nothing to lose by continuing to repel a hegemon that has caused them mostly suffering since [Josef] Stalin's time." The paper says that the annual U.S. State Department human rights report released this week "is a reminder that at a time when [former Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic is on trial in The Hague for war crimes, Russian forces in the breakaway republic continue to behave deplorably." The Kremlin, for its part, rejects criticisms of its Chechen policies as politically motivated.

The "Journal" goes on to consider suggestions that Russian Federal Security Services were involved in the blasts. The paper calls it "not entirely unfathomable that some cell of the FSB might have done something truly horrific." It adds that "questions about those attacks, like Russia's conduct in Chechnya, continue to follow Mr. Putin like a shadow."


In a contribution to France's daily "Le Monde," professor Gilles Dorronsoro of the Institute of Political Studies at Rennes says that it is now time to "burst the media bubble" which claims that the war in Afghanistan is "an American victory" serving the greater good of "democratic values." Dorronsoro says that current operations in Afghanistan indicate that guerilla warfare is cropping up in many areas, while it remains unclear whether the interim government of Hamid Karzai will be able to extend its influence beyond Kabul. He says the Northern Alliance, the haphazard grouping of forces that the U.S. has put in power, has not succeeded in merging its military forces to undertake the task of reestablishing the state. On the contrary, writes Dorronsoro, one sees "the increasingly solid installation of regional powers that recognize the authority of the government only theoretically." He notes that the interim government cannot yet appoint provincial governors nor levy customs. Dorronsoro goes on to say that the much-needed humanitarian aid flowing into the country is also being adversely affected by this political fragmentation.

Dorronsoro says it would be an error to increase military pressure, "even if it is humiliating to acknowledge the likely survival of [Osama] bin Laden and Mullah [Mohammad] Omar." He says the reasonable strategy would be "to concentrate Western efforts on the reconstruction of the state," and make the creation of an Afghan army a priority.


An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" recalls the history of the Visegrad Group and discusses some of the recent troubles between its members, notably Hungary and the Czech Republic. The group was formed during a meeting between Czechoslovakia's Vaclav Havel, Hungary's Arpad Goenz; and Poland's Lech Walesa, at an event held in the northern Hungarian city of Visegrad on 15 February 1991. At this meeting the presidents signed a declaration on close cooperation between these countries as they pursued European integration.

But now, says the commentary, "the walls of Visegrad seem to be crumbling." Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has called for the renunciation of the Benes Decrees as a condition for the Czech Republic's entry into the EU. The decrees expelled 2.5 million Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia following World War II and legalized the confiscation of their property.

Although this is not a major issue for the upcoming Hungarian elections, the commentary says, it notes Hungary's recent collaboration with Germany: Orban met with Bavaria's conservative Premier Edmund Stoiber before publicly making this demand of the Czech Republic.


An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses the return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq. It says that "in past years it has often been claimed that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has been building a weapons arsenal, but this has not been confirmed."

Now, says the commentary, it seems U.S. war threats have prompted Iraq's foreign minister at the UN to adopt a slightly softer approach. But the commentary says Secretary-General Kofi Annan must insist on Iraqi compliance with UN Security Council resolutions. As has frequently happened, Hussein is again trying to evade the issue of UN resolution 687, which demands disarmament in Iraq as a step toward a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction. Now, Baghdad says it will agree to the return of UN weapons inspectors on the condition that Israel also reveals its arsenal of atomic weapons. "These grounds are meeting with Arab sympathy," the commentary says, but it concludes that "the U.S. will not be deterred from its confrontational policy toward Iraq."


An "Irish Times" editorial says that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon seems to believe the "only way to get the Palestinian leadership to talk peace is to hit them so hard militarily that they have no other option." Sharon's military responses merely bring "a further escalation of a conflict which looks increasingly like a conventional war -- albeit a completely unbalanced and disproportionate one," says the paper.

The editorial says Sharon is pursuing "a highly dangerous strategy, which is isolating Israel internationally. It is also alienating an increasing number of its own citizens." It says there is a conflict in Israeli public opinion between support for peace negotiations and a disbelief that this is currently possible. "Sharon is exploiting that ambiguity by pursuing a military strategy under pressure from hard right and settler parties who believe the Palestinian Authority must be overthrown [and] the intifada put down by force." But the "Irish Times" says that this idea "is not only entirely unacceptable but incapable of being achieved without a wider Middle East war."

The paper suggests that Israel's Labor Party should withdraw from the coalition with Sharon's government "and reconnect with the large peace constituency in Israeli society. This would provide a focus for international efforts to contain Sharon's militarism," it says, adding that the coalition makes "no political sense." The editorial concludes that "The Sharon policy is a dead end which endangers Israelis and Palestinians alike."

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