Prague, 3 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western media today focuses on the North Korean nuclear threat, in light of Pyongyang's recent announcement that it will renew its uranium-enrichment program at Yongbyon. Other analysis looks at the possibility of a U.S.-led offensive in Iraq, the EU takeover of peacekeeping in Bosnia, the Middle East conflict, and the weaknesses of the UN Security Council in a unipolar world dominated by the United States.
In a contribution to Britain's "Financial Times," David Kang, a Dartmouth College professor and co-author of a book on North Korea's nuclear program, says the U.S. administration is right to ease pressure on North Korea, as recent tensions over its nuclear program "threaten to spiral out of control." But the United States must work on developing a long-term strategy for the Korean peninsula, he says.
In short, says Kang, current tensions between Washington and Pyongyang are escalating because the United States "refuses to give security guarantees to North Korea until it proves it has dismantled its weapons program. The North refuses to disarm without security guarantees from the U.S. Hence, stalemate." Kang says that unless North Korea's security fears are addressed, "resolution of the nuclear weapons issue will be limited."
Kang points out that, unlike Iraq, North Korea "is actively seeking accommodation with the international community." Pyongyang has instituted economic reforms over the past decade, introduced a limited free market system, and made moves to reconnect a railway system between the two Koreas.
"Economic reforms can be slow to have an effect," writes Kang. But it "makes no sense to criticize the North for being isolationist and then refuse to trade with it. The North needs economic assistance to help open up its economy and ultimately its political system. The U.S. should encourage this trend, not work against it with a policy of pressure and isolation."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
In the "International Herald Tribune," William Potter of the Monterey Institute Center for Nonproliferation Studies says North Korea poses a "far more serious nuclear weapons threat than does Iraq." The distinguishing feature of Pyongyang's weapons program is its highly developed ballistic missiles program, he says, which is already advanced enough to target most of Japan.
He writes: "Given North Korea's record of exporting ballistic missiles to anyone for the right price, one should be very concerned about its readiness to export nuclear material, and even nuclear weapons, to other countries and to terrorist organizations."
Potter calls on the international community to undertake an "immediate and concerted response" to counter the threat from North Korea. "[International] acquiescence in Pyongyang's defiance of its nonproliferation obligations risks serious erosion of global safeguards against the spread of nuclear weapons," he warns.
Potter suggests that the permanent members of the UN Security Council should formulate a tough plan of action to dismantle the North Korean nuclear weapons program. Such a concerted global effort would help redress one of the main shortcomings of the current global nonproliferation regime -- the inability to enforce compliance.
A "Chicago Tribune" editorial today says it is not clear "what Pyongyang is trying to achieve" by pursuing an "aggressive" strategy vis-a-vis the United States. It may be trying to pressure the U.S. administration into negotiations, the paper suggests. Or it may be trying to secure new economic aid. Or it may merely be seeking to become a "full-fledged nuclear power." In any case, the paper says, Pyongyang's conduct "presents a vexing challenge for the [U.S.] administration just as the U.S. is preparing for a possible invasion of Iraq."
So far, the paper says, the administration of President George W. Bush "has chosen not to rise to the bait. This week, Secretary of State Colin Powell emphasized "that the U.S. has no intention of carrying out a preemptive strike" on the Korean peninsula.
"The presumption that North Korea already has one or two nuclear warheads obviously limits American options," the paper says. "But the administration also thinks that a calm, firm approach is the best hope for dealing with a regime that thrives on brinkmanship." U.S. President Bush has little choice but to take a firm [stand], while reminding other nations North Korea presents a growing danger to the world order." The paper says a containment strategy "offers no guarantee of success, but rewarding bad behavior is a sure way to get more of it."
In the German daily "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Christian Wernicke discusses the EU takeover of the Bosnian police mission, which has until now been the responsibility of the UN. The new police mission, comprising 512 police officers backed up by some 50 civilians, is due to train and supervise Bosnia's police until 2005. This is the first-ever such mission for the EU, and Wernicke says it is a development that will preserve security in the Balkans as well as help defend the EU from international drug and human trafficking.
The commentary goes on to say, "At last, the EU is preserving the peace in its own backyard." Eight years after the end of the war in which the EU disgraced itself by being a helpless onlooker to the nationalist excesses that caused at least 230,000 deaths and displaced 2 million refugees, Brussels is now taking on the role of establishing order and proving that Europe is growing into a power for peace.
Unfortunately, says Wernicke, given the recent focus on Iraq, the EU takeover is now seen more as an emergency measure to help out the United States by freeing up resources for it to focus on the more important mission in the Middle East. In that endeavor, he says, the EU is far from ready for engagement.
The EU can now demonstrate in the Balkans that it is not as weak as it appears -- but Iraq could yet prove that this new image merely masks its persistent military limitations.
A Stratfor (Strategic Forecasting) commentary says the new composition of the UN Security Council could create obstructions for the U.S. administration's policies, particularly its plans for a possible invasion of Iraq. Germany and Spain are joining the Council for two-year terms, and together with permanent member France they could form a powerful voting block. Berlin has already made clear it opposes an offensive in Iraq, and Paris has expressed reservations. "Taken together, the five new members (Angola, Chile, Germany, Pakistan and Spain) also possess a much greater degree of geopolitical power than their predecessors, and that power could be harnessed to counter the United States."
Stratfor says that in reality, however, the new makeup of the Security Council is "unlikely to have any real effect on Washington's push for forced regime change in Iraq." And this "underscores a deeper reality about today's geopolitical playing field -- namely, that the United Nations in its current form has become incapable of effectively challenging the United States. With the absence of any other superpowers and no other means of wielding their collective strength, Europe and the international community in general will be hard-pressed to counter Washington."
In the London-based "Financial Times," former British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd says in the case of a U.S.-led war with Iraq, it is fairly certain Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would be overthrown. After that, he says, some optimistic analyses predict "that Arabs throughout the region would be encouraged to get rid of their own undemocratic rulers [and] embrace Western-style democracy."
But Hurd says this view may prove to be "a breathtaking example of the human capacity for self-deception." A new Gulf War would take place "in a very different context from the war of 1991." At that time, "a genuine international coalition, including the main Arab states, came together to free Kuwait." Hurd says while many Arab governments are no fonder of Saddam Hussein's regime than they were back then, "the overthrow of an Arab regime, however odious, by an overwhelmingly Anglo-American military force would seem to them different [from] the liberation of Kuwait." The greatest danger might prove to be the aftermath in a region "that would see itself unmistakably under the domination of the U.S., the protector of Israel."
"For another factor looms larger today than in 1991," Hurd writes, and that is a profound difference in perspective. If much of the Arab public were asked "to name a country in their region that possessed weapons of mass destruction, followed a policy of oppressive occupation and defied Security Council resolutions, they would name Israel, not Iraq."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
An editorial in "The Washington Post" says there has been a recent lull in Palestinian attacks against Israelis. A shooting attack last week that left four dead in the West Bank "was the first major incident in a month," it says. "But almost every day, Palestinian civilians, including many children, are being killed by the Israeli army and police." The paper cites several instances over the past month of children under 16 years of age being gunned down by Israeli forces.
"Israeli explanations of this grinding carnage long ago acquired a routine quality," says the paper. "Youngsters are often accused of having thrown stones at troops; in other cases, soldiers are said to have been responding to sniper fire in the vicinity. Investigations are invariably said to be underway -- but rarely are results reported." The paper cites the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem as reporting that only one Israeli soldier has been convicted of excessive brutality since the current Palestinian uprising began 15 months ago. Yet "during that time, some 2,000 Palestinians have been killed, compared with 700 Israelis."
The paper says reports "of calculated brutality by [Israeli] soldiers have been growing ever since the army reoccupied the West Bank six months ago." But Israel will not achieve "real security in this way," the paper says -- it can only hope for "a relative respite."
An item in France's daily "Le Figaro" discusses the failure of NATO troops to capture war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic, in light of a raid carried out yesterday by SFOR (Stabilization Force) troops on a radio station run by his daughter. Karadzic has been indicted by The Hague tribunal for war crimes committed during the Bosnian war. The paper says that, like previous SFOR raids, this one -- officially described as a "routine operation" -- accomplished nothing.
The editorial says High Representative for Bosnia Paddy Ashdown has publicly stated what many diplomats believe privately: that Karadzic's capture will not result from a military operation but from a gradual withering away of support for him among the Bosnian population, much of which still regards him as a hero. The international court's most-wanted man can still roam freely through the Bosnian mountains, as support for Karadzic, one of the principals responsible for atrocities during the war, extends even past the borders of Bosnia. Since the transfer of former Serb President Slobodan Milosevic, support for him and Karadzic has grown. But ultimately, the paper says, Karadzic's transfer to The Hague is merely a question of time.
Stefan Kornelius in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says the Iraq conflict is edging away from political argument and considers whether war can still be averted.
While the United States is amassing troops and weaponry in the Gulf region, which seems to indicate war is inevitable, there are still plenty of arguments against the prospect of war.
Kornelius cites several issues which strongly counter the war scenario: First, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein still has a chance to comply with UN resolutions to prove he is not in possession of weapons of mass destruction. Second, President Bush still has to prove, unequivocally, that there are grounds for war. He needs evidence, Kornelius says, but "Saddam has not been persuaded, and Bush has not been convinced."
In the end, however, the worse-case scenario is to be feared. "Saddam will not be absolved from accusations -- his history and the knowledge and experience of serious-minded analysts speak against an acquittal based on a lack of evidence. And Bush will construct a half-baked reason for war, based on a UN resolution that was approved by the Security Council out of fear of marginalizing the UN organization rather than out of the conviction of its permanent members."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)