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Western Press Review: EU Security Strategy, Liberia, And The Price Of Iraqi Sanctions

Prague, 28 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Coverage in the Western media today discusses the 50th anniversaries of the North Korean and Cuban regimes, encouraging signs for Iraq's judicial system, and continuing calls for U.S. military intervention in Liberia. We also take a look at the new UN administrator in Kosovo, Finland's Harri Holkeri; rethinking the EU's security strategy; and whether a dozen years of UN sanctions on Iraq was the right policy for dealing with Saddam Hussein's regime.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" today discusses the weekend anniversaries of the Cuban and North Korean regimes.

Fifty years ago, on 26 July 1953, "a young Fidel Castro launched the insurgency that became the communist revolution that has enslaved two generations of Cubans." Yesterday (27 July) was also the 50-year celebration of the armistice that ended the Korean War, which left millions of North Koreans to live under the autocratic regimes of Kim Il-Sung and now his son, Kim Jong-il.

The editorial says: "One bitter lesson here is that tyrannies can take a long time to die -- even when their failures are manifest. Castro is now the world's longest-serving leader. Since 1953, North Koreans have been ruled by father and son dictatorships. The U.S. has elected 10 presidents over the same period."

Nevertheless, says the paper, it is "most encouraging [that] the history of the past 50 years elsewhere in the world shows that sooner or later [today's] communist dictatorships will also fall."


Writing in "The New York Times," U.S. lawyer Richard Coughlin discusses a recent fact-finding trip to Iraq, where he says positive developments within the country's legal community offer hope for reforming the judicial system.

Under the former regime, Couglin says, "many judges were Baathists in name only; some had reputations for honesty and fairness. Others, particularly older judges, had not been party members at all. The courage they had shown in retaining their integrity, often at great personal sacrifice, was inspiring."

Coughlin says the group of judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys visiting Iraq "also learned of judges and court workers who, anticipating the post-invasion looting, had hidden legal records in their homes."

Upon meeting with Iraqi bar associations and lawyers, Coughlin says this "diverse corps of educated and capable attorneys [were] ashamed of what the legal system had become." In some provinces, "local bar associations had dismissed corrupt judges and elected temporary replacements." Elsewhere, lawyers' groups had "[declared] themselves independent of the Baathist-controlled Baghdad Lawyers Union."

Coughlin says the U.S. occupation of Iraq "carries with it certain obligations." After decades of Ba'ath Party violence, "[it] will take a modest investment of a well-organized group of lawyers and administrators [to] work with the Iraqis on modernizing the courts and training judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers. This would not only be the fastest way to provide justice, it would also give the new Iraq a foundation built on respect for the rule of law and human rights."


The lead editorial in France's daily "Le Monde" today says the United States must intervene to end the civil conflict in Liberia. After weeks of delaying, U.S. President George W. Bush announced on 25 July that U.S. troops would be sent, but that the U.S. military commitment would remain "limited."

The situation in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, is serious, "Le Monde" says. Intense fighting between rebels and government forces loyal to President Charles Taylor continues, causing hundreds of deaths and close to 200,000 refugees. The Liberian population has been hiding in fear and destitution, suffering from thirst and famine. "Le Monde" says this state of affairs "demands American intervention."

Taylor was responsible for the launch of a bloody civil war in 1989 and succeeded in being elected president in 1997. Meanwhile, "Le Monde" says, he exported conflict to nearby countries such as Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Ivory Coast. These countries today incur regular cycles of violence caused by the collapse of states, ethnic conflicts, and absolute poverty.

Bush's July visit to Africa was designed to show that he was concerned about the world's poor nations. But since then, he has avoided taking any action in Liberia, despite its long shared history with America. Calls for U.S. involvement have been coming from all sides, the paper says, including the UN.

"Le Monde" says the recent peacekeeping successes of 2,000 British soldiers in Sierra Leone and 3,000 French troops in the Ivory Coast should help encourage Washington to take much-needed action.


Writing in "Jane's Defense Weekly," Tomas Valasek of the Center for Defense Information in Brussels says the release of new documents on EU security policy seems to indicate that Europe's security strategy is coming more into line with Washington's, including in approving the use of force to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on 16 June approved the "Basic Principles for an EU Strategy Against the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction" and an "Action Plan for the Implementation of the Basic Principles for an EU Strategy Against Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction." Valasek says the two documents signify what is for the EU an "unprecedented [focus] on threat assessment."

Until recently, the "traditional security goals of defending lives and territory played a secondary role [within the EU] to the political need of building a distinctive European defence identity." In contrast, Valasek says Washington's strategic thinking "traditionally began with identification of threats, from which it proceeded to generate budgets and define equipment, partnerships and strategies required to defeat the threat. [The] latest EU documents move toward a similar approach." The EU view is now "shifting from what is affordable and politically permissible to what is necessary."

But a "key difference" remains between the European and U.S. approaches to security, namely "the centrality of international law and institutions." In the EU view of security, the use of force "is always understood within the context of a UN Charter resolution or at least with the Security Council acting in a central role."


In "Die Welt," Stefanie Bolzen discusses the 25 July decision by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to appoint Finland's former prime minister, Harri Holkeri, as UN governor in Kosovo.

Although Holkeri has no experience in the Balkans, he was chosen as the compromise most acceptable to all sides to replace Germany's Michael Steiner amid squabbles between the United States and the European Union, which finances most of the operation.

International interest in Kosovo is fast diminishing, says the commentary. Nevertheless, the troubled province remains "a mighty test for international crisis management on both sides of the Atlantic. After all, the frustrated capital town Pristina has the largest UN mission in the world."

Holkeri is assuming his office at a particularly critical moment. After four years of UN supervision, impatience is growing from day to day. There are still brutal encounters among the various ethnic groups in addition to financial scandals among the UN authorities, compounded by recent attacks on a police station following the sentencing of ethnic Albanian war criminals.

The Kosovar Albanians are firmly convinced that Holkeri is not only the fourth but also the last UN governor to rule Kosovo, in anticipation of independence within the next two years. On the other hand, Bolzen writes, Belgrade has officially declared that it will never give up Kosovo and will at most accede to stronger autonomy.


Writing in "The New York Times," author David Rieff takes a comprehensive look at whether the rule of Saddam Hussein or UN sanctions were ultimately more responsible for the suffering of Iraqi civilians in the past dozen years. Rieff says it is becoming clear that Iraq's major problems are due less to the recent war and more to the long-standing economic crisis in the country.

Some U.S. officials argue the use of sanctions is sometimes necessary as a midway point between doing nothing and declaring outright war. But Rieff says this does not answer the question "of whether any policy, no matter how strategically sound, is worth the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children," the number estimated by the UN to have died under Iraq's sanctions regime.

Rieff says South Africa may be the one instance in which multilateral sanctions "appear to have succeeded in producing 'regime change.'" There is a "terrible conundrum at the heart of every sanctions policy," he says. While the threat of sanctions is supposed to inspire a rational cost-benefit analysis of complying with the international community, many dictators such as Saddam Hussein are "fundamentally irrational." And so sanctions, even so-called "smart" sanctions, "will continue to exact an appalling human toll."

As hard as some Western officials tried to mitigate the worst effects of sanctions through the oil-for-food program and other reforms, the implementation of the sanctions regime ultimately meant choosing security concerns "over Iraqi mass suffering."


Cuban President Fidel Castro's remarks during a speech on 26 July marking the 50th anniversary of the start of the Cuban revolution that brought him to power was "driven by old-age radicalism rather than wisdom," says Werner Balsen in the "Frankfurter Rundschau."


Wolfgang Boehm, writing in the Austrian daily "Die Presse," says Castro "is suffering from a state of political amnesia." As a response to offers of help from the European Union, Castro has reacted as if "not the Cuban sun but his warped old-age thinking and revolutionary fervor have scorched his brain." Castro considers EU aid, offered subject to certain conditions, as "impudence," and he resents offers of assistance being tied to human rights issues in Cuba.

"Castro's stance is, of course, short-sighted," says Boehm, "for the Cubans and many Cuban nationals living in exile cannot wait to see the day the island gains a chance for a new future. Without allies, without economic support, not only is the communist experiment endangered but even more so the independence of the island, which, following an unlikely counterrevolution, might want to be more than just the 51st state of North America."

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