Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: The Earth Summit, Chechnya, Iraq And Turkmenistan

Prague, 29 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Several Western dailies today devote attention to environmental issues, as the World Summit on Sustainable Development continues in Johannesburg, South Africa. Other issues discussed include the "key elements" of a possible U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq, Russia's military operations in Chechnya, and Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov.


In "The New York Times," chief economist for Deutsche Bank Group Norbert Walter says the United States "stands to forfeit much political capital, moral authority, and international goodwill by dragging its feet on the next great global issue: the environment." He says the unwillingness of the George W. Bush administration "to take a leadership role -- or, at the very least, to stop acting as a brake -- in fighting global environmental degradation will threaten the very basis of the American supremacy." Walter says the conspicuous absence of the U.S. president from the World Summit on Sustainable Development taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa, "symbolizes this decline in authority."

Walter remarks that when the United States, as "a country that emits 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, acts as an uninterested, sometimes hostile bystander in the environmental debate, it looks like unbearable arrogance to many people abroad." He says the Bush administration "seems to believe it is merely an observer," that environmental issues are not its concern.

But Walter says doing nothing "amounts to ignoring a key source of current world tension, and no superpower that wants to preserve its status can go on dismissing such a pivotal dimension of political and economic conflict."


An editorial in "The New York Times" today also weighs in on environmental issues, and warns that access to water may become a major issue in the coming decades, perhaps leading to armed conflict as shortages grow more severe.

This potential for conflict over water is illustrated in the Euphrates River Valley. Turkey, situated upstream, has commandeered much of the Euphrates' water through building dams and irrigating fields. This has forced Syria, downstream, to limit its own water development projects "and has left Iraq, even farther downstream, at risk as well." The paper says this and similar disputes on rivers crossing national boundaries "underscore the need for a globally accepted formula on how to divide up the water from streams shared by many countries."

The paper says according to UN estimates, by 2015 at least 40 percent of the world's population will live in regions where it is "difficult or impossible to get enough water to satisfy basic needs."


Morton Kaplan, an editor and publisher for the Washington Times Corporation, enumerates some of the "key elements" that must be included in any U.S.-led campaign in Iraq. First, he says, the U.S. Congress must hold hearings in which Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's crimes -- such as the killing of 100,000 Kurds -- are documented.

Next, a political rationale must be laid out. The U.S. must secure an agreement among all Iraq's exiled ethnic elements "on the general outline of a [postwar] federal structure," and on sharing oil revenues among the regions.

Finally, says Kaplan, defections from the Iraqi Army should be induced, and amnesty and safe havens provided to protect these defectors from prosecution in international courts. Defecting groups should also have "a guaranteed role in the new Iraq, and very generous payments for service," writes Kaplan. But he adds that courts should also be established to penalize those who commit crimes or who do not surrender within specified time limits.

Kaplan goes on to say that any campaign in Iraq should be patient, and elections should be held "as soon as they can reasonably be organized." Civilian suffering should be minimized, and providing "food, water, and medical attention, particularly for children, should be part of the campaign."


In the German daily "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Stefan Kornelius discusses current attitudes in the U.S. toward a possible war with Iraq, in light of Vice President Dick Cheney's recent speech outlining the administration's rationale of an attack. If public resistance is overcome, then it may well happen that war can no longer be avoided, says Kornelius. "The world is witnessing an internal American conflict, which could easily result in a badly reasoned, dangerous, and not well-thought-out war in one of the most unstable regions on Earth."

For all that, however, Kornelius says Cheney's campaigning has more to do with election campaigning than the actual war on Iraq. In the final analysis, he says, the U.S. will not stumble into a war adventure while the arguments are still inconclusive and the threat is not tangible. If the allies' support weakens, U.S. enthusiasm for an Iraqi war will diminish also. Kornelius says the real decision will be made on 6 November with congressional elections. Bush must make sure that he still has an emergency exit at that point, he says. If Cheney continues his aggressive campaigning, then the president will only have a choice between war and a devastating foreign policy defeat.


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Claudia Rosett says Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov's repressive ways, misrule, and his "tendency to treat the entire economy as his private purse," keep Turkmen citizens "horribly poor," hungry, and scared. She remarks that Turkmenistan is the most failed country of the 15 new nations that emerged from the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union.

"Niyazov's state security service, successor to the Soviet KGB, shuts down any twitch of dissent," she says. "Earlier this month, some dissidents went to the main bazaar in the capital of Ashgabat and began handing out leaflets denouncing Mr. Niyazov. Security forces immediately closed in and cordoned off the bazaar."

Moreover, she adds, Niyazov's regime has produced a spate of "high-ranking defectors," including the country's former deputy prime minister, Boris Shikhmuradov, who defected last year.

But nevertheless, following the 11 September attacks in the U.S., Niyazov's decision to allow supplies for Afghan refugees to cross Turkmenistan "has earned him praise as an ally of the West, most recently from [U.S.] General Tommy Franks." Franks met this week (27 August) with Niyazov in Ashgabat, to arrange closer U.S.-Turkmen cooperation of their military and security forces. But Rosett remarks that this must be "cold comfort for the Turkmen people themselves."


Michael Miersch, author of numerous bestsellers on science and politics, comments on the current Earth Summit in the German daily "Die Welt." Miersch says according to critics, the meeting in Johannesburg is far too concerned with economic development and focuses too little on the environment. But Miersch says this is actually its strength, that this is "what puts this conference a step forward."

He says it was wise of the United Nations to give priority to combating poverty instead of the hypothetical dangers of climatic catastrophes or large-scale extinctions. He argues that if economies improve, if there is greater overall global well-being, then the air and water will also eventually be cleaner. On the other hand, he says, if the rich industrial countries put a brake on their economic growth, this would create a catastrophe for the developing countries. Miersch expresses the hope that this summit will be able to actually implement its ideas. He says every step toward greater economic growth and better conditions in poor countries is also a step toward an improved environment.


In Britain's "Financial Times," Robert Cottrell says the breakaway republic of Chechnya "may well be the most devastated and brutalized place in all Europe. The rebels are responsible for much of that," he says, "but so too is the Russian Army, and its conduct is applauded or ignored by the Russian government." Ongoing mopping-up operations "are portrayed by the Russian government as a final stage in the pacification of Chechnya, a hunting-down of rebels who have taken refuge in villages. But their brutality has become infamous," he says.

Cottrell goes on to discuss a visit last week to the region by Oleg Mironov, Russia's human rights commissioner. He says Mironov "was careful to point out" that Russian soldiers were also being murdered by rebels, and "operating often in conditions of extreme hardship or provocation." Even so, Mironov conceded "the discipline and training of the soldiers was all too little in evidence."

Cottrell says it would be best if Mironov could communicate his findings to the Russian public, who treat the war with "impatience and indifference." But he says the Russian government, which takes "special care" with the coverage of Chechnya, "seems to want the public to remain as indifferent as possible -- at least until it has some better ideas of its own about what do to next."


In a contribution to France's daily "Liberation," Victor Ferreira of the nongovernmental Max Havelaar organization asks how the billions of people without access to subsistent levels of food or drinking water -- not to mention education and electricity -- can become involved in the international trade that might better their position. He says if the U.S. and EU stop subsidizing their farmers, thus allowing more agricultural imports from developing countries, and if development aid is increased and Third World debt canceled, then international trade could finally play a role in sustainable development. But this is not the case today, he says.

Fair business practices would empower labor and producer organizations in developing countries, granting them "direct access to international markets under satisfactory conditions," including a guaranteed minimum price for their goods. Gradually, says Ferreira, these structures would improve their commercial capacity and their autonomy, to the point that they can invest in health and education, and ensure the better protection of the environment.


In "The Washington Post," columnist George Will says the U.S. must demonstrate that it has sufficient provocation, a casus belli, to launch a preemptive military offensive against Iraq. He says the administration is "conscientiously groping for a way to do something morally defensible and to do it in a way consistent with norms of international and constitutional practice." But as preemptive war is unprecedented in U.S. history, without historical guidance, the administration is "improvising diplomatic and constitutional etiquette for launching preventive war without what has normally been recognized as a casus belli."

Once the Bush administration has made its provocation clear, Will says it "should solicit -- indeed, insist upon -- affirmation of its case by Congress. The prudential reasons for seeking this are obvious," he says. And the "constitutional requirement to seek it should be obvious."

Will writes says the administration "has arrived at an unprecedented yet defensible policy, but has not committed itself to seeking the sort of sustaining ratifications that are particularly vital when acting beyond precedents."


A "Financial Times" editorial says "Dick Cheney, George W. Bush's powerful vice president, appears to have set the U.S. administration inexorably on a path to war with Iraq."

But Cheney's assertions "have not dispelled domestic and international doubts about the right way to deal" with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The paper says, "Indeed, when [Cheney] says sending back United Nations inspectors to root out Iraq's remaining weapons of mass destruction would be counterproductive, he undermines Washington's few allies on Iraq, such as [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair," who has stated otherwise.

The editorial says Washington must better present the balance of risks in dealing with Iraq. "No one doubts that U.S. military might would eventually prevail; the question is at what cost, and whether it would be less risky to continue boxing Mr. Hussein in." The paper remarks that Iraq's regime is probably weaker than it looks. "That makes it tempting to go after him. But it may also make it more tempting for Mr. Hussein to use his worst weapons."

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