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Western Press Review: Debating Iraq At The UN And A Political Solution In Chechnya

Prague, 30 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Our review of the Western press today first takes a look at analysis on Iraq. One columnist suggests "muscular containment" as a "third way" strategy for dealing with the suspected weapons of the Iraqi regime, while others warn of the dangers of unilateral action.

Other commentary focuses on the challenges of finding a political solution in Chechnya, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's search for new strategic allies, and a possible rethinking of Western policy in Bosnia.


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," former U.S. Ambassador to Finland James Goodby says the debate at the UN over a new resolution on Iraq is a necessary process in accordance with international law. But "American impatience with proceedings in the UN Security Council has been evident for weeks," he says.

Permanent council members France and Russia continue to resist a resolution that authorizes an attack on Iraq before inspectors have a chance to disarm the regime without war. The U.S., for its part, continues to suggest it might attack Iraq unilaterally.

But Goodby says, "It has been the work of generations, punctuated by bloody wars, to create even a rudimentary system of international law." Americans should be thanking its allies abroad "for resisting the international equivalent of mob rule and lynch law." Instead, he says, they "are mocked by U.S. media pundits and even by the president, who implies that they lack backbone."

The Security Council is in agreement that Iraq should be disarmed. The lingering question is under what conditions force would be used. And Goodby says, "There is room for more than one judgment on that."

Goodby writes: "As with domestic law, a failure to apply due process in international affairs, especially on matters of war or peace, can undermine the law itself. That is why the moral courage of America's allies should not be scorned, but honored."


In the "Los Angeles Times," staff writers Maggie Farley and Doyle McManus say that to many members of the UN Security Council, the real danger to geopolitical stability is American bullying, not Iraqi defiance.

To some on the Security Council, it appears that the United States "is using its strength not to lead, but to bully. These ambassadors fear that if Washington sidesteps the UN to attack Iraq, the result will be irreparable damage to the institution that should be at the center of international affairs, not on the margins."

The writers say how this debate is resolved "may shape the way future conflicts are addressed in the new world order -- with or without the UN."

As long as the United States continues engaging the United Nations in its foreign policy, it "tacitly accepts boundaries on its power in exchange for the benefits of multilateral backing." But if the U.S. goes it alone, "fewer countries will be willing to share the burden -- not only for Iraq but for other international ventures, such as antiterrorism drives."


In "The Washington Times," Harlan Ullman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for Naval Analyses Corp suggests a strategy of "muscular containment" for dealing with Iraq's suspected weapons systems. He says this strategy is something of a third way between traditional "dovish" and "hawkish" solutions.

Similar to an original proposal by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Ullman says muscular containment dictates that if Iraq were caught developing weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. and its allies would go in to destroy them. A "muscular" response "would expand on the 'no-fly zone' operations [using] air strikes possibly aided by ground reconnaissance and attack."

If launched, he says "attacks would be intense, but full-scale war would be avoided. And Iraqi cooperation would be irrelevant."

Ullman recalls that in December 1998, a similar U.S.-led plan, Operation Desert Fox, which was "discredited at the time for timidity, struck at some of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction." He says operational commanders "privately assessed that this operation, lasting only four days, did considerable damage to those facilities."

Most importantly, says Ullman, muscular containment "could garner international support for the long haul, providing for diplomacy ultimately to win through."


A "Jane's Foreign Report" says Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka seems to have a capricious foreign policy. "Last year, he instructed all his ambassadors that their first duty was to promote foreign trade. But he has recalled his ambassador to the United Kingdom, Uladzimir Sadokha, prematurely -- although the ambassador's efforts had produced a 200 percent increase in U.K.-Belarus trade turnover, "and turned a trade deficit into a surplus."

The report says no official reason has been given for the recall, but some observers suggest Sadokha was seen as "getting too friendly with 'Westerners,' including Belarusian expatriates."

Similarly, another major theme of Lukashenka's policy is alliance with Russia, and the possible future integration of Belarus and Russia into a common union. Yet last week, the report says, two leading Russian officials, Duma Deputy Boris Nemtsov and Duma Deputy Speaker Irina Khakamada, "were deported from Belarus for allegedly being in possession of 'subversive' literature and money intended for the pro-democracy Belarusian opposition."

This action could have become "a major political and media scandal" but was overshadowed by the Moscow hostage crisis. In the meantime, Lukashenka is wooing Iraq as a new strategic ally, which he hopes will "provide major expansion of trade and economic contacts."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" says the hostage crisis in a Moscow theater last week "again demonstrated how terrorism discredits and destroys even legitimate political movements, corrupts civilian leaders, and denies justice to people suffering oppression."

Hostage takers took hundreds of theater patrons hostage on 23 October, demanding an end to Russia's war in Chechnya. The paper says Chechnya "deserves a fair settlement with Moscow that would restore its right to self-rule. But the terrorists have all but eliminated the hope that any such solution will be achieved anytime soon, and they have probably condemned Chechnya's own civilians to a still greater measure of suffering."

The editorial says the "political loser" of the hostage crisis was Aslan Maskhadov, the president of the separatist Chechen leadership. He "is neither a murderer nor an Islamic extremist, and he fairly represents the aspirations of a nation that has been brutally subjugated by Russia. Yet Mr. Maskhadov, like Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, has allowed a cause widely accepted as legitimate to become contaminated by terrorism.

"For years he resisted Chechen extremist groups," the paper says. "But as the Chechen cause has grown more desperate, he has appeared to tacitly accept" them. The paper warns that without a public condemnation of terrorist methods, "[Chechens] -- like the Palestinians -- will find any political progress elusive, and their people will suffer all the more."


In a contribution to the "Financial Times," Anatol Lieven of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says it is not likely that the Moscow hostage crisis will lead Russia to reconsider its policy on Chechnya. And if the war continues, he says, "more such attacks are inevitable. Meanwhile, the atrocious behavior of the Russian forces in Chechnya, far from leading to victory, is only creating more and more Chechen radicals."

But Lieven says a solution "cannot simply involve an agreement" with Chechen separatist President Aslan Maskhadov and a Russian military withdrawal, in part "because the Chechen president does not control the great majority of the fighters." In principle, "large-scale Western peacekeeping forces and a huge international reconstruction package would be highly desirable." But Lieven questions whether -- even if Moscow were to agree to this aid -- "Is it really likely that Western states would come up with such an offer?"

He says for a lasting solution, Russia must accept "the possibility of eventual Chechen independence. It must discipline its troops and punish those guilty of atrocities."

But Lieven adds, "Given the Chechens' proven inability to create a functioning state," Maskhadov and his followers "must recognize that the path to independence will be a long one. It must involve the long-term presence of Russian troops as a guarantee against another victory by the militants."


Andreas Schwarz, writing in the Austrian daily "Die Presse," describes Russian President Vladimir Putin as "invulnerable."

Although Putin seems to be everyone's darling -- as both the U.S. and Austrian presidents make a point of emphasizing their empathy and friendship with the Russian leader -- his admirers ignore the facts, says Schwarz. He points out that Putin's devotees seem to show little concern that "this former KGB agent is conducting a brutal war in his own country," appears driven by cold calculation, and "also mercilessly launches policies which are a step backward to a controlled system rather than toward an open society."

Schwarz says Putin's admirers obviously make excuses for this so-called "modern and enlightened politician," arguing that a strong hand is required occasionally. And it seems that, once again, the invulnerable Putin need not fear renewed criticism in launching a new brutal offensive in Chechnya.


A "Stratfor" (Strategic Forecasting) commentary discusses the discovery by NATO troops earlier this month that Orao, a state-owned company in Republika Srpska, illegally funneled spare military parts to Iraq through a Yugoslav company.

The commentary says the NATO Stabilization Force found "conclusive evidence" of this connection despite official denials. On 28 October, Defense Minister Slobodan Bilic and army Chief of Staff Novica Simic resigned over the sales. But the commentary says the fallout will continue, and both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Yugoslavia could face UN punishment for violating its sanctions on Iraq.

The arms revelation will increase "Western concerns that the Balkans, and Bosnia in particular, are a major weak spot in the war on terrorism." Russian and Yugoslav intelligence sources recently claimed that a meeting of Islamic militants took place in Bosnia on 8 October. Considered alongside the strong showing by Serbian, Croatian, and Muslim nationalist parties in elections on 5 October, the commentary says a "major policy re-think concerning Bosnia" may be in store for Washington, NATO, and the European Union.

The commentary surmises that Washington may shift the priorities of U.S. and NATO forces in the country "to intelligence gathering and monitoring possible connections between extremists within Bosnia and Al-Qaeda and/or Iraq." This shift "could put the United States at odds with the European Union, which -- though equally concerned about terrorism -- has a greater interest in continuing its ongoing efforts at nation-building."


The "Frankfurter Rundschau" carries a commentary by Martin Winter in which he says EU reform negotiations are gathering speed, and there will no longer be a reversion to the days of what he calls "chaotic agreement combinations."

Europe has taken significant steps forward in its search for an EU constitution, a draft of which is due to be adopted in the spring of next year.

Winter says the draft constitution now under discussion has met with an astonishing amount of consent, which again seems to underscore that "meetings such as these develop their own dynamic," even though negotiations do not always go smoothly. And Euroskeptics will look for every chance to put a brake on developments, he says. Moreover, it is still not clear how the 10 prospective new members, who are already wary of integration, will react to it.

But despite disagreements concerning the content of the draft constitution -- whether over its enumeration of rights or the balance of power it envisages -- Winter says a major step has been taken: "The EU has crossed the Rubicon," he says.

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