Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: NATO Wraps Up In Prague, The Breakdown Of International Law, And The Mideast

Prague, 22 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western media commentary today takes a looks at the conclusion of NATO's two-day summit in Prague; the Middle East conflict; the breakdown of international law agreements; how U.S. air bases in Uzbekistan are affecting local residents; and Yugoslavia's war crimes suspects at large.


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Sean Kay of the Eisenhower Institute in Washington says the push "for a broad enlargement has forced NATO to ignore important enlargement criteria. NATO requires that new members be politically, economically, and militarily prepared for membership. But if all three categories are applied," he says, none of the seven candidate countries invited to join the alliance yesterday "merit NATO invitations."

The enlargement process should be used as an incentive to encourage candidate nations to make reforms, says Kay, "before they are admitted to the alliance."

The Baltic countries -- Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania -- "are the most politically and economically advanced" among the nations formally invited at the Prague summit this week. But their military contributions, as well as Slovenia's, "remain minimal."

Slovakia recently held an election in which authoritarian former Premier Vladimir Meciar "competed seriously for victory." Romania and Bulgaria "offer geostrategic gains, but are weak on the political and economic fronts [and] have high degrees of corruption."

Kay says it is "dangerous" that NATO does not require new members to demonstrate their potential "political, financial, economic, intelligence, and military contributions to countering terrorism." The NATO requirement of a consensus among members before policies can be implemented will also prove a challenge to an expanded alliance.

Kay warns there is "a significant risk that enlargement will result in a NATO that is politically unmanageable, militarily ineffective and irrelevant to contemporary security challenges."


In her monthly column in "The Washington Post," Masha Lipman, the deputy editor of Russia's "Ezhenedelny zhurnal" says U.S. President George W. Bush gave Russian President Vladimir Putin a terrific political boost by comparing the October hostage-taking in Moscow with the attacks of 11 September.

Lipman says Bush's comparison helped Putin "shed responsibility for the Chechen war." The Russian president, "of course, will not admit that the terrorist attack was in any way related to the ferocious and bloody war the Russian army has waged on Chechnya for the past three years."

The Chechen war "has turned into a tragic vicious circle," she says. "Chechen fighters' attacks on the occupying Russian forces [have] been followed by Russian retaliation -- most of it directed at civilians, since it's much easier to carry out punitive operations against them than to go after guerrillas in the mountains."

And Lipman notes that almost all of the more than 120 people who died in the Moscow hostage crisis died from the gas used in the "bungled rescue operation" and Russian authorities' secrecy regarding the substance.

None of these events are comparable to the attacks of 11 September, Lipman writes. She concludes, saying what Bush was really after in making the parallel "was not to defend Putin, [but] rather to enlist the Russian president's support for his impending war in Iraq."


An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" today says as long as Serb politicians are unwilling to recognize that Serbia's violent policies are chiefly to blame for the murders and war in the Balkans, "there will be no genuine reforms in Belgrade." This statement was prompted by the unwillingness of Yugoslav Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic to hand over General Ratko Mladic to the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Mladic is alleged to be responsible for the massacre of thousands of unarmed Muslims in Srebrenica five years ago.

A blatant example of the Yugoslav authorities' reluctance to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal took place during chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte's recent visit to Belgrade. On 20 November, while she was negotiating the handover of war criminals -- notably Mladic and Serb leader Radovan Karadzic -- the former was enjoying an uninterrupted meal in a cafe in Belgrade, according to local papers reporting after the incident.


In a contribution to "The New York Times" reprinted in today's "International Herald Tribune," international law professor and author Michael Glennon says the high-profile, reasoned UN Security Council debate on Iraq concealed the "reality behind it: the breakdown of international rules governing the use of force."

Glennon points out that without Security Council approval, the UN Charter "prohibits the use of force except for self-defense. NATO, which led the Kosovo war, never seriously claimed a defensive rationale, and the United States has yet to advance such a justification concerning Iraq."

He asks, given the disparity between the mandate of the UN Charter and U.S. policy on Iraq and Kosovo, "what has happened to the law?" One must conclude "that the charter provisions governing use of force are simply no longer regarded as binding international law." But policymakers are loath to admit this. Glennon says it is "much easier to throw up a smoke screen by contending, for example, that the [Security] Council's 1990 authorization for the Gulf War continues to provide all the authority needed."

Otherwise, the world would have to admit that there has been "a frontal assault on the core principle of the international legal order." Glennon says, "Of course, it remains useful politically to act with the backing of the Security Council. But the charter was supposed to be about more than politics."


The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" devotes one of its editorials today to discussing Pakistan's new parliament, which yesterday elected Zafarullah Khan Jamali, a moderate known for his unswerving loyalty to the military regime, as prime minister. He will head Pakistan's first civilian government in three years -- although President Pervez Musharraf, who announced two days ago he would hand over control to the government, retains considerable power.

The paper says Pakistan has not shifted to a democratic system. Its regime remains a military dictatorship and the fact that "Musharraf has employed all kinds of tricks and subterfuge in positioning his desired candidate has not enhanced the former's popularity. The radiant image Musharraf enjoyed three years ago when he came to power in a bloodless coup, presenting himself as a modernizer who will do away with nepotism and corruption, has faded considerably." The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says far too often it is clear that General Musharraf "acts irresolutely and fails to undertake the most important reforms."


In a contribution to "The Washington Post," former U.S. national security adviser Brent Scowcroft urges the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush to devote "the same kind of skill, audacity and laser-like attention" to the Israeli-Palestinian issue as it did on Iraq. "Such a move could assuage some of the ill will stimulated [by] the hard-hitting Iraq initiative," he says. "It would show U.S. determination to deal with the one issue that is the primary lens through which the Arab world views the United States. It would reduce the appeal of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups and the negative reaction that would ensue should force against Iraq prove necessary."

The Israeli Labor Party's selection of a moderate new leader "has put the peace process at the top of Israel's election agenda." Now is the time for the Bush administration to present a clear vision for the region as well.

Scowcroft says the Palestinians "need to end terrorist attacks and reform the Palestinian Authority. To require total compliance as a precondition, however, is simply to put control of the process in the hands of those on both sides who do not want it to succeed." In Israel, there "must be a willingness to pull back forces from West Bank" areas. "Any type of settlement expansion must cease."

Scowcroft says a clear, high-profile U.S. effort could open the way for "revolutionary" change in the region.


An article in "Eurasia View" remarks that it has been over a year since U.S. forces deployed at Uzbekistan's Khanabad air base as part of the campaign against terrorism. Since that time, the paper says, the "quality of life for area residents has changed dramatically. For many, proximity to the base has translated into jobs and rising income. But arrival of U.S. troops has also caused economic dislocation -- especially for area farmers."

The U.S. deployment has "transformed" Khanabad village, says the paper. "Barbed-wire fences were erected that effectively cut the village off from the outside." Soldiers at checkpoints supposedly allow only officially registered village residents to enter, but Khanabad locals say "exceptions" are made "for those who offer either a payment or a gift to a sentry."

But despite some inconveniences, many locals "are glad to be living near the U.S. base. Unemployment has declined dramatically in the area, as many previously out-of-work young people have found jobs" at the U.S. outposts.

Local farmers are less enthusiastic. "Many of the best cow pastures are now off limits, behind barbed-wire fences." Cows "are vital to the village's livelihood, not only for meat and milk," but for additional fuel provided by cow dung.

Some farmers have applied to receive other land in compensation for that used by the Khanabad air base. But the paper says regional officials have yet to take action on the matter.


An item in the "Chicago Tribune" says the students in Iran who have been continuing antigovernment protests are doing so "at considerable personal risk. The last time there were widespread protests, over the shuttering of a newspaper in July 1999, the government cracked down violently. Several students were killed, hundreds injured, and a handful of student leaders were sentenced to death. That stopped the protests. But, as it is plain to see now, it didn't kill the spirit."

Iran's hard-line clerical rulers are in a "tight spot," for several reasons. Two-thirds of the Iranian population is under 30, and there is despair among them "over job prospects and a troubled economy." Recent polls have shown that most Iranians favor rapprochement with the United States.

The paper says there is also "no mistaking the students' growing impatience with the glacial pace of reform in Iran." President Khatami has promised change, but is "thwarted by the hard-line mullahs who control the courts and security forces."

The "Chicago Tribune" says it is "inspiring to see Iranians willing to risk their lives for a freer society. That should be a powerful message to Iran's religious tyrants. There's an abiding, universal power in the freedoms sought by many Iranians. Ignore them at your own peril. Some leaders may be jailed or executed, but there will always be more who are willing to risk everything in a fight for liberty."


A "Le Monde" editorial today notes that henceforth, the alliance created in 1949 to counter the communist threat to Western Europe will extend right up to the borders of Russia. That the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia were admitted to the alliance without Moscow raising violent protest could have been inconceivable a number of years ago, says the paper. But now, as U.S. President Bush heads to St. Petersburg today to see his old friend Vladimir Putin, Bush can once again declare that the Cold War is truly over.

But the reunification of Europe under the auspices of NATO is rather paradoxical, it says. When NATO newcomers applied for membership 10 years ago, they wanted a form of insurance that would guarantee them against potential threats from the east. But today they find themselves joining something of a fire brigade that will be called upon to put out any conflicts that might ignite around Europe and, perhaps, even beyond. But the paper says even if the specter of a massive attack from the East has disappeared, the security of the European continent can still be threatened by international terrorism or by the complicity of terrorist organizations with unscrupulous states such as Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The paper says President Bush has a point when he exhorts his European allies to ready themselves to deal with today's new dangers, rather than preparing for the wars of yesterday.

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