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Western Press Review: The ICC, International Peacekeeping, And The Mideast

Prague, 2 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Editorials and commentary in the Western press today continue to focus on the birth of the International Criminal Court, whose mandate went into effect yesterday amid strong opposition from the United States. Other analysis turns once again to the Middle East conflict, in light of a speech last week by U.S. President George W. Bush unveiling Washington's new policy in the region and demanding a change of Palestinian leadership.


An editorial in "The New York Times" today says Washington is indulging in "petulant behavior" in threatening to undermine peacekeeping missions in Bosnia because of its objection to the International Criminal Court (ICC). In response to the United Nations refusal to grant U.S. soldiers and peacekeepers immunity from the court's jurisdiction, the U.S. administration has vetoed an extension of the UN mission in Bosnia. "The New York Times" says this "misguided campaign" has isolated the U.S. from its closest allies, including Britain. The editorial advises the U.S. administration to accept a "pragmatic compromise" before the Bosnia peacekeeping mission mandate expires tomorrow night.

The editorial goes on to address some of the concerns expressed by the Bush administration regarding the ICC. The paper says the crimes the court is authorized to prosecute are strictly defined, and the ICC has "strong safeguards against overzealous or politically motivated prosecutions." Washington's concerns that U.S. personnel serving in Bosnia or elsewhere would be subject to prosecution at The Hague also "ignores the fact that the international court could become involved only if Washington failed to prosecute international crimes."

"The New York Times" says Washington's "reckless course" threatens to unravel other UN-authorized peacekeeping missions, "destroying a mechanism that has quieted many conflicts." The paper concludes: "It is bad enough that the Bush administration is trying to undermine the International Criminal Court. It should avoid damaging international peacekeeping as well."


An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" says the United States' refusal to undersign the ICC agreement places the existence of the court in danger. The commentary considers whether this is evidence of the self-aggrandizement of a country whose leadership believes that it is not subject to any limitation and that it can act unilaterally to protect its self-interest.

"Nobody in their right mind politically, or with a sense of the realities of Western policy, can seriously believe Washington wants to undermine the authority of the ICC to prevent their soldiers from being subject to accusations of war crimes. The contradiction is fundamental," it says, pointing out that soldiers from other countries are equally subject to such charges.

The paper says the situation in Bosnia is such that the presence of a U.S. peacekeeping force is vital. Bearing this in mind, the editorial concludes that this is not the time to reproach the U.S. for blocking the ICC. It is logical that America is intent on protecting its interests, says the paper, adding that "Europe should consider what world responsibility entails."


"The Boston Globe" today carries a contribution by Eric Schwartz, former senior White House adviser during the administration of President Bill Clinton. Schwartz says the ICC will "serve as a living monument to the millions of victims of killings and torture over the past several decades, from Cambodia to Congo, who never obtained justice against the perpetrators of such abuses." He says the Bush administration's attempts "to insulate U.S. officials from the risk of unfair and politicized prosecutions by the ICC" are "wildly out of proportion to any such threat against Americans."

Rather than preparing an assault on the court, he says, the Bush administration "should become involved in the development of this institution to ensure that it effectively promotes justice." Schwartz says the administration's current course threatens to damage U.S. security interests and alienate American allies whose support is needed in the war on terrorism and perhaps other U.S.-led campaigns in the future.

"It is probably far too much to ask Bush to embrace the International Criminal Court," writes Schwartz. "But it is certainly reasonable to expect his administration to abandon an arrogant and self-defeating campaign against the ICC, which will serve only to antagonize valued allies and undermine U.S. leadership around the world."


In "The New York Times," Serge Schmemann discusses the trans-Atlantic differences emerging in the wake of U.S. objections to the International Criminal Court. Schmemann says the U.S. threat to pull its forces out of Bosnia carries "troubling connotations" regarding America's commitments in Europe.

Even if a new agreement is reached regarding peacekeeping missions, he says, "the very fact that the United States cast a defiant veto in the teeth of its closest allies -- and that Britain and France were prepared to do likewise against Washington -- spoke of sharp differences and a growing mutual irritation."

At the heart of this divergence is "a fundamentally different vision of global organizations," he says. Historically multilateral, Europeans "have always placed a greater premium on international organizations." But in the United States, "international organizations like the United Nations have always been viewed with suspicion.... [The] emergence of the United States as the sole military, economic, and cultural superpower has only deepened the resistance [to] any potential international restraints on American powers."

Europe views U.S. objection to the International Criminal Court as "a double standard: one set of rules for the United States, another for the rest of the world." They suspect the U.S. administration of "actively trying to curtail a court that they regarded as a major achievement in the struggle for global justice and human rights, issues on which the United States regarded itself as the global standard."


In a contribution to "The Washington Post," former high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina Wolfgang Petritsch discusses international intervention and peacekeeping in struggling states. He says often the "emergency" fixes that the international community seeks to apply miss "an essential point: If you're going to go in, you must stay in. Commitment to such states is far more open-ended that the neat plots" of television dramas, he says.

Petritsch says when his post began in 1999, "every legal and economic byway had to be trodden to buttress Bosnia and Herzegovina's future as a functioning state that protects the rights of all its citizens." But he says such intervention, if extended over the long term, would have failed. It would have undermined "the whole reason for international engagement in Bosnia and Herzegovina, namely, to have the country stand on its own two feet. And it would only earn growing enmity from the country's citizens themselves."

Today, he says, Bosnia and Herzegovina "is a functioning state with a clear European perspective." And this has been achieved "through the painstaking adoption of political and administrative measures in the context of a coherent long-term strategy. Rather than simply being an exit strategy," he says, the successful approach "has been to develop an entry strategy: Bosnia and Herzegovina's entry into Europe."


An editorial in France's daily "Le Monde" bids "Welcome to the ICC." The paper says the creation of the permanent International Criminal Court has few equivalents in modern legal history and marks the continuing evolution of international law in setting limits on the sovereign power of nations.

The paper says such limits may now prevent a chief of state or political official from citing the principle of national sovereignty to escape prosecution for some of the gravest international crimes. The creation of the ICC may mean the end of such legal immunity.

"Le Monde" remarks that the establishment of the international court has divided international opinion into two camps. The first condemns the idealism of the utopian notion of international justice, and warns the risk is being underestimated that the ICC will be subject to "political exploitation and manipulation."

The second camp, to which "Le Monde" says it belongs, welcomes "an important step in the establishment and imposition of a new legal order." The paper says the ICC brings the promise of a world where those responsible for the most horrific crimes will be pursued by justice, even if an individual state cannot or does not wish to do so.


Today's "Chicago Tribune" carries two commentaries discussing U.S. President Bush's speech last week on the Middle East. One is by syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer and another is by "In These Times" senior editor Salim Muwakkil.

Krauthammer calls Bush's speech "a radically new idea," and expresses his support for the American president's calls for a change in the Palestinian leadership. "After a decade of ignoring the Palestinian Authority's corruption, its incitement to hatred, its militarization of Palestinian society, its glorification of violence, the United States has declared that with this leadership there can be no peace."

Krauthammer equates a change in the Palestinian leadership with a democratization of Palestine, and says President Bush is right to apply what he calls "the fundamental principle of American foreign policy -- the promotion of democracy -- to the one area where it has always been considered verboten: the Middle East."

Krauthammer says this is an important step because the Mideast conflict "is often dismissed as one of those incurable they-have-been-killing-each-other-for-centuries ethnic conflicts." He says: "There is never any guarantee of peace, but democracy comes close. There is no reason in principle why an open and democratic Palestine could not resolve what is essentially a border dispute with an open and democratic Israel."


"In These Times" senior editor Salim Muwakkil says President Bush's speech on the Middle East last week was "totally bereft of historical context." Bush "barely mentioned Israel's illegal, 35-year occupation of Palestinian land, or its violations of UN resolutions and Geneva Convention protocols. Nor did Bush note the evidence of Israeli human rights violations -- including the targeting of civilians -- consistently reported by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, and several other humanitarian groups."

Muwakkil says while it is perfectly legitimate for the U.S. to support Israel, it should be remembered that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's conservative regime "is not Israel." The Israeli prime minister has been using war-on-terrorism rhetoric "to lead Israelis -- and Americans -- further into the turbulent cycle of occupation-resistance-revenge, and growing global enmity -- of war without end."

He says the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) -- along with American right-wing and neo-conservative activists -- have unduly influenced U.S. foreign policy to support Sharon's hard-line policies. But Muwakkil says by erroneously equating Israel's national interest with Sharon's policies, AIPAC is merely "dragging the U.S. deeper into this quagmire."


Today's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses the Middle East in light of the moral issues at stake in the conflict. The paper remarks on the futility of the vicious cycle of tit-for-tat killings. Moreover, it says Israel's claim that it is fighting terrorists cannot be entirely justified.

"The shortcut that Israel has been undertaking for months against Hamas and the Islamic Jihad entails more danger than expediency," says the commentary. "After all, Tansim chief Marwan Barguti, who was the leading light behind several assassinations, was taken into custody and is now in a prison in Jerusalem." He may be there forever, the paper observes, but Barguti's case is in accordance with the laws of a democratic state.

Israel's past policies of liquidating people are "irreconcilable with democracy," the editorial says.


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Michael Oren of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem says building a wall in the West Bank to prevent additional suicide-bomb attacks would ultimately result in complicating Israel's security situation.

"High fences may make good neighbors, but they can also create elusive and hard-to-punish enemies," writes Oren. He says many Israelis "have pinned their hopes for safety on constructing a formidable high-tech fence separating them from the Palestinians in the West Bank. But while the fence may inhibit suicide bombers and gunmen from reaching Israeli targets, it will also render Israel increasingly vulnerable to other, potentially more devastating, forms of aggression."

On the diplomatic front, he adds, the fence will erode Israel's position by creating a border that the international community will consider inviolate. This will limit Israel's ability to maneuver in the area, undercutting Israel's negotiating position "while substantively strengthening the Palestinians'"

Israel's West Bank fence "threatens to create more problems than it solves," Oren concludes.

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