Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: Mobilizing In Pankisi Gorge, America's Tactical Errors, And The Earth Summit

Prague, 26 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the Western media today and over the weekend discusses Georgia's mobilization of 1,000 troops to Pankisi Gorge; America's overreliance on traditional strategy in tackling nontraditional terrorist networks; the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development opening today in Johannesburg, South Africa; and the ongoing debate over a possible U.S.-led military intervention in Iraq.


In a contribution to the "Financial Times," Dominique Moisi of the Paris-based Institute of International Relations says that since the 11 September attacks, the United States has overestimated the influence of military power, "while Europeans fall prey to the equally dangerous illusion of underestimating it."

In response to the challenges of an interdependent world, the U.S. is "looking for simple responses to complex problems. [Americans] call for revenge without always realizing that their emphasis on 'hard power'" -- or military might -- "undermines their 'soft power' -- the ability to influence allies and foes alike."

The U.S. is "wrong to disregard the destabilizing impact of their new doctrine of preemptive warfare on the international system, and on their own image," adds Moisi.

Europe, for its part, needs "a minimal military credibility" in order to provide what Moisi calls "a much-needed political and cultural dimension to U.S. strategy." Europe's new role is to "moderate the U.S. -- to mitigate, with the help of the moderate Americans who still form a majority, the dangerous tendencies of the new brand of American imperialism."

But to be taken seriously by Washington, he says, Europe "cannot continue to be perceived as an irresponsible civilian power dreaming of a world of perpetual peace at a time when reality is much more brutal and dangerous."


Defense analyst professor John Arquilla of the U.S.-based Naval Postgraduate School writes in the "Los Angeles Times" that the United States' overreliance on traditional tactics in conducting its war on terrorism has lead to three major strategic errors.

"The most egregious error," he says, "has been to pronounce the effort a 'war on terrorism'" in the first place. Such a "simple" war metaphor implies that the conflict is traditional, that it can "be waged like other wars, where more force is almost always better." The war on terrorism is not a conflict between states, he emphasizes, but between networks. In a "netwar," he says, "strategic bombing means little."

A second error has been the U.S. administration's move to create new cabinet-level departments, security bureaus, and other hierarchies to deal with new threats. "A hierarchy is a clumsy tool to use against a nimble network," says Arquilla. "It takes networks to fight networks."

The third tactical error has been the U.S. insistence on leading the campaign. The 11 September attacks did provide the U.S. "just cause for fighting," Arquilla says. But if America is to "hope for sustained international support in what is likely to be a protracted conflict, [it] must persuade, encourage, and inspire rather than simply command."

He suggests the U.S. must "loosen the reins" and also view itself as part of a network.


In the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," commentator Tomas Avenarius discusses the situation in Pankisi Gorge following reports that Tbilisi has sent some 1,000 troops into the region, which lies near the border with Chechnya. Russia says the gorge has become a refuge for Chechen rebels.

Avenarius remarks that the 90-square-kilometer gorge has become a playground for high-power politics. He says the Chechen rebels that withdrew there two years ago without any opposition from Georgia are using the Pankisi Gorge as a retreat in the face of the Russian Army.

There is sufficient grounds for a conflict to erupt between the two neighbors, he says, were it not for the U.S., which is "holding a protective hand over Georgia" and warning Moscow against incursions into the gorge and any infringement on Georgian sovereignty. But he says because Moscow's anger can no longer be ignored, Georgia must now take "visible" measures to force the Chechens back across the Russian border.

But Avenarius says this may prove difficult. If Russia is stumped by the rebels, he asks, how can the Georgian police possibly cope? The Pankisi Gorge could develop into a genuine aggravation for the U.S. Originally, it was America's intention to train Georgian security forces to combat terrorism. This, in Avenarius's opinion, places considerable responsibility on the U.S. for any further developments in the Pankisi Gorge.


An editorial in "The New York Times" from the weekend discusses the UN's World Summit on Sustainable Development, opening today in Johannesburg, South Africa. The paper says the conference is tackling "a formidable if now familiar challenge -- figuring out ways to bring economic well-being to billions of people now trapped in poverty without destroying the land, water, air, and biodiversity required to sustain life itself."

The paper notes that this will be "the third such meeting in three decades," and remarks that "if the past is any guide, the Johannesburg conclave [will] be long on good intentions and short on specific solutions." It says the absence of U.S. President George W. Bush is "regrettable, and reinforces his well-deserved reputation [for] indifference to environmental problems and reflexive hostility to multilateral remedies."

"The New York Times" says there is "little doubt that current patterns of development are unsustainable over the long term. [In] 25 years, two-thirds of the world may be living without enough water. Meanwhile, use of fossil fuels means increased global warming."

The editorial adds that "health problems arising from poor sanitation, habitat destruction, and loss of biodiversity also carry a high economic price." As a result, conference organizers "have rejected the notion that nations must choose between economic growth and environmental protection." The paper says, "Both are indispensable."


The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" also looks at the UN's World Summit on Sustainable Development. Despite the grand scale of the assembly, with some 40,000 delegates, the paper is skeptical of its outcome. It recalls how little has been accomplished since promises were made 10 years ago in Rio de Janeiro at a similar convention aiming at protecting the environment, at which the richer northern nations pledged to help the poorer south.

The climate-protection program adopted in the Kyoto Protocol is also halfheartedly being implemented. The paper says that, since no progress is being made on essential points, the concept of postponing action is being "forever stretched and diluted."

The editorial says too many disparate issues are being considered, and that this "arbitrary overloading" should not be the end result of the Johannesburg meeting.


An editorial in the French daily "Le Monde" today expresses meager hopes for the UN conference on sustainable development opening today in Johannesburg. When one considers the last several major conferences the UN has held on various subjects -- the situation of women, racism -- one must adopt a certain skepticism in relation to this conference, says the paper. "Le Monde" notes that the last earth summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 adopted two important agreements on climate change biodiversity, but characterizes the follow-up to these declarations as "non-existent." Today, in 2002, the paper says 1.1 billion human beings have no access to drinking water, 1.6 billion have no electricity, and 2.2 billion subsist on less than one euro a day.

But "Le Monde" says nevertheless, the Johannesburg summit remains important. Coupling the issues of development and preservation of the environment calls for joint mobilization; only this can raise the awareness and bring the solutions which both require. "Johannesburg will be a success if it fixes some clear and limited objectives, defines a realistic action plan, and avoids grandiloquent rhetoric on either big question on the agenda: access to water and the management of the planet's energy resources. The paper suggests that on these two issues, poorer nations should benefit from an international policy of "positive discrimination," a system of privileged treatment to make up for the inequalities of the last century.


In a contribution to "The New York Times," former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker says there is no question that Iraq, under President Saddam Hussein, "is an outlaw regime, is in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, is embarked upon a program of developing weapons of mass destruction, and is a threat to peace and stability." Other nations "have a moral responsibility to fight against the development and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by rogues" like the Iraqi regime, says Baker.

But the only realistic way to carry out a regime change, he says, is "through the application of military force, including sufficient ground troops to occupy the country -- including Baghdad -- depose the current leadership, and install a successor government. Anyone who thinks regime change can be effected in Iraq with anything less than this is simply not realistic." Afterwards, the issue will arise of "how long to occupy and administer a big, fractious country and what type of government or administration should follow."

Baker says Iraq "will have to be occupied militarily. The costs, politically, economically, and in terms of casualties, could be great." But they will be lessened if the U.S. administration "brings together an international coalition." He advises against the U.S. "going it alone," saying the political risks of such a policy would be much greater, both domestically and internationally.

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