Prague, 4 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A review of the Western media today finds discussion on topics ranging from the possible reunification of Russia and Belarus to Kyrgyzstan's divided political opposition. Other topics include the "political roots" of the 11 September attacks, the World Summit on Sustainable Development, and the debate over a possible U.S.-led military action against Iraq.
JANE'S FOREIGN REPORT:
An analysis by "Jane's Foreign Report" looks at the prospect of Belarus reuniting with Russia. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has long been a proponent of this idea, but a meeting last month (14 August) with Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed the two leaders have "fundamentally different ideas" of what this union would mean. While Lukashenka envisions Belarus maintaining its sovereignty within such a union, Putin favors unification "into a single state on the basis of the Russian Constitution," the election of a common parliament and president, and the introduction of the Russian ruble as a single currency.
"Jane's" says Putin also made clear "that he has lost patience with Lukashenka's reluctance to dismantle [his] state-owned industries, and [with the] high cost of the transit of Russian oil from Belarus to Central and Western Europe."
Lukashenka absolutely rejected Putin's proposals, saying that the Belarusian people would never submit to this type of union. "Jane's" predicts that Putin will be successful in implementing at least some of his proposals in "a year or two," when "the Belarusian economy, already on its knees, falls apart."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," former Pakistani government official Husain Haqqani says Pakistan must ensure upcoming elections on 10 October are open, free, and fair, and not merely a show of democracy. He says 10 million eligible voters have not been issued a national identity card, a prerequisite for voting. This oversight could be a result of bureaucratic incompetence, he says. But it could also be "part of a deliberate policy to contain the influence of the two major political parties led by former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif." Haqqani says Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf "has made it clear that he will not allow the two former leaders to return to office."
Haqqani remarks that the United States has been hesitant to criticize Musharraf over issues of democracy, due to his crucial support for the war on terrorism. "But any impression that the United States supports a military-controlled polity will turn Pakistan's civilian leaders against Washington," Haqqani writes.
He says any government attempts to deny political parties or leaders participation in elections "should not be condoned." Otherwise, he warns, Pakistan "will end up with another ineffective civilian government under the shadow of a pervasive military."
In an editorial today, the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses the 10-day United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development, meeting today for its final session in Johannesburg, South Africa. The editorial focuses attention on the issue of energy production, saying it is regrettable that the potential of renewable energy sources found so little support among the delegates.
The American hesitation to set binding limits on industrial emissions is not as much to blame as the generally negative attitude toward any new and natural energy sources, the paper says. But reality will soon force the world to adopt a more positive attitude toward alternate sources, it says. As soon as there is economic proof of the benefits of energy from the sun and wind it will become "an export hit," and the first to harness such methods will be "the ones to harvest the fruits of high-tech."
Developing countries, too, urgently need a decentralized energy system, says the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung." A modest solar panel, for instance, installed in distant rural areas, could power a pump that provides clean water from greater depths, and could finally help win the longtime battle against contagious water-borne diseases.
A commentary in France's "Liberation" by Patrick Sabatier says any criticism of the results achieved at the UN Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg would be both justified and shortsighted.
It is true that there is a lack of "the necessary concrete, enumerated, and dated commitments" to ensure sustainable development and reduce the gap between rich and poor, he says. But one would be wrong to dismiss the summit's achievements entirely, he says.
Johannesburg has helped put the spotlight on the long-term challenges that humanity must face, and illustrated that these challenges demand international cooperation -- a cooperation from which the United States has perilously removed itself, he says.
This summit was a stage in what one hopes is an inevitable evolution, toward a political consideration of the issues of human development from perspectives other than the purely economic. But this shift in perspective and the summit's proclamations must result in action, he says, "and quickly."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
A contribution to "The New York Times" by former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski says the U.S. administration is not confronting the real roots of terrorism, even as it pledges to fight the phenomenon on a global scale. He says, "Missing from much of the public debate is discussion of the simple fact that lurking behind every terroristic act is a specific political antecedent."
But the U.S. administration's rhetoric discusses terrorism as "an abstract phenomenon, with ruthless terrorists acting under some Satanic inspiration unrelated to any specific motivation."
Brzezinski says U.S. involvement in the Middle East is "clearly the main impulse" of the violence directed at it on 11 September and in other attacks. Yet instead of confronting the historical motivations for this violence, he says the U.S. instead relies "on abstract assertions about terrorists hating freedom or about their religious background making them despise Western culture."
He says the "rather narrow, almost one-dimensional definition of the terrorist threat" used by the U.S. administration also allows other nations to "seize upon the word 'terrorism' to promote their own agendas -- as President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of India, and President Jiang Zemin of China are doing. For each of them, the disembodied American definition of the terrorist challenge has been both expedient and [politically] convenient."
In the regional daily "Eurasia View," Central Asian political affairs analyst Ibragim Alibekov (a pseudonym) says the opposition to Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev lacks unity, and may thus be undermining its common cause.
Some opposition members seek to engineer social unrest, says Alibekov, while others are following "a more cautious strategy" and are planning to hold peaceful rallies later this month. Akaev has made advances toward the moderates in the opposition, pledging to surrender some of his powers to other government branches and to rework the constitution.
For many in the opposition, Alibekov says, the constitutional commission charged with this reform "represents the last chance for Akaev to peacefully acknowledge dissidents' claims." But the more "assertive" opposition figures plan a march to Bishkek "to coincide with the meeting. The march aims to pressure Akaev into broader reforms, possibly including his resignation."
Alibekov says while the government's recent conciliatory moves "will probably not erase citizens' frustration with hard social and economic conditions, they may help Akaev stave off his more radical critics."
He says Akaev "may only defer, rather than squelch, calls for reform by coopting the opposition." Meanwhile, he says, the Kyrgyz economy "remains a recipe for unrest."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
In a contribution to "The New York Times," former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak says the debate over a potential U.S. strike on Iraq can be reduced to three questions: whether a UN Security Council resolution calling for new inspections is needed now, whether action against President Saddam Hussein would need to honor the timetable of such a resolution, and whether the resolution's wording or timetable would provide Saddam with the means to postpone or cancel a future attack against him.
Barak says, "Saddam Hussein's nuclear-weapons program provides the urgent need for his removal. His previous violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions already provide the legal ground and legitimacy to remove him.... [But] at the end of the day, [a] Security Council resolution is a must."
But the "timetables for compliance by Iraq should be short and the deadlines non-negotiable." The U.S. should also give a clear message that it would "be ready to act and will expect the Security Council to back it if immediate and full Iraqi compliance is not forthcoming."
Barak says, "If the United States does need to act, it will be in a much stronger position for having consulted first."
Stefan Kornelius, writing in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," also examines the Iraq debate. He says there is no doubt that Saddam is "a terrible dictator, [whose] removal would be a blessing for his country and the world as a whole."
But the world is faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, it cannot accept the abuse of power and the contempt for international law from the Iraqi leader. On the other hand, the consequences of an invasion intent on "regime change" are "unpredictable, and can only be legitimized in stretching human rights norms."
Kornelius suggests there is a way out of this quandary. It seems the pressure from Washington has exerted some influence on Baghdad, which is weighing the various evils and is opting for a resumption of UN arms inspections. This time, he says, the United Nations should avoid its prior mistakes and up the pressure.
Pressure and restrictions -- two oft-used tools for dealing with dictators -- are on offer as options, he says. The UN must not permit any alternatives this time. Credible and consistent threats must force the dictator's hand.
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" looks at the results of the UN Summit on Sustainable Development ending today in Johannesburg, South Africa, and says even while the delegates tried to hammer out resolutions on which the future of mankind depends, individual biases also played a role.
The "FAZ" says, "When you read and hear all the things that were said on this occasion, one can understand why there are those in the U.S. who do not wish to have anything to do with UN conferences."
The presidents of Namibia and Zimbabwe took the conference as an opportunity to vent their anger at British Prime Minister Tony Blair, as a representative of the rich. But the commentary says they were not shunned for this. One cannot respond by telling these African leaders that if they want to ruin their countries they should go ahead.
"Nobody in the West would condone this attitude, and that alone proves that the criticisms of 'neocolonialism' are unsubstantiated," the paper says. But it adds that Blair had cause to protest this "brazen" attack. The industrial countries are expected to be self-critical in their attitude toward developing countries, but self-criticism should apply equally to all, the commentary concludes.
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)