Prague, 4 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics addressed in media commentary today are a thaw in relations between India and Pakistan; the challenges ahead for Croatia's new government; the risks of Russia becoming a "petrostate"; and the apparent death knell for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions, as Russia announces its decision not to ratify it.
An editorial in the "Financial Times" discusses the recent thaw in relations between India and Pakistan, which have been at odds over the disputed territory of Kashmir since 1947. The two subcontinent neighbors recently restored diplomatic relations, announced a cease-fire over the Line of Control dividing Kashmir, and reopened transit links. But the "FT" says whether they are now ready to tackle the main issue of their dispute -- control over Kashmir -- remains to be seen.
To date, neither side has seemed compelled to end the conflict -- "despite three wars and a 15-year insurgency." In fact, the "FT" says the confrontation "has suited leaders on both sides: rallying people around a national and religious identity is so much easier than the unglamorous drudge of economic and social development." And the religious right in both countries seems able to dominate the agenda, scuttling armistices and refusing compromise.
But Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf "is beginning to feel the conflict's incalculable price in arrested development. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in New Delhi is "in the twilight of his career, [and] may be looking for his place in history," which could be secured by achieving a historic accord with Pakistan. "The two leaders now have an opportunity -- and maybe an incentive -- to lead."
THE WASHINGTON TIMES:
"The Washington Times" says Croatia's parliamentary elections have brought about a "sea change" in the nation's political futures. The nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) ousted the ruling Social Democrats from power. The new HDZ-led coalition must now concentrate on bringing about much-needed economic reform.
"Although inflation is under control, the unemployment rate remains disturbingly high at nearly 20 percent. [And] Zagreb's crushing foreign debt threatens the country's long-term economic future." The paper says two good places to start would be to modernize the tax-collection system and scale back the public sector.
"The Washington Times" says a "stable and prosperous" Croatia is important for the region and beyond. While Zagreb "has a pro-European center-right government, neighboring countries are slowly sliding back toward the kind of ethnic and religious extremism that ravaged the Balkans during the 1990s."
Bosnia is experiencing a rise in Islamic fundamentalism, and in recent Serbian presidential elections -- which nevertheless failed to achieve a voter quorum -- "radical nationalist" Tomislav Nikolic received the most ballots. "Hence, Zagreb can serve as a counterweight to both Serbian revanchism and Bosnian Muslim extremism. Croatia needs to become [a] pivotal small, democratic ally that is a Western outpost in a volatile area of the world."
But ultimately, the HDZ government's success will depend on how it handles the economy. The paper suggests, "Conservative policies have worked in reviving the economies of Italy, the Czech Republic, Chile, Ireland, Britain [and] the United [States]. There is no reason why they cannot work in Croatia as well."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
Writing in "The New York Times," Moises Naim of "Foreign Policy" magazine discusses the risk that Russia is running of becoming a "petrostate" -- an oil-rich country that is "plagued by weak institutions, a poorly functioning public sector and a high concentration of power and wealth" concentrated in the hands of a few.
Naim says, "When oil revenues flood a nation that has a weak system of democratic checks and balances, dysfunctional politics and economics ensue. A strong democracy and an effective public sector help explain why oil has not distorted Norway the way it has Nigeria or Venezuela. A lot of oil, combined with weak public institutions, fuels poverty, inequality and corruption. It also undermines democracy." The massive gap "between a petrostate's rich natural resources and the chronic poverty of its citizens often leads to political unrest and frustration."
Although the oil sector "generates export revenues and taxes for the government, it creates few jobs." The "inevitable concentration" of the energy sector into the hands of a few large companies gives a handful of corporate owners and CEOs "enormous political clout. In turn, corruption often thrives." Naim adds that it is "no accident" that Moscow's current political crisis involves control of the Yukos oil giant and the arrest of its former CEO, Mikhail Khodorkovskii.
Naim suggests that a strong, independent public sector, "tempered by the checks and balances of a truly democratic system, will help Russia to compensate for the economic and political weaknesses that plague all countries where oil is the biggest industry and the most potent political force."
Writing in the "Financial Times," former British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd says amid rising concern over the threat posed by terrorism, people worldwide may be wondering how to keep themselves safe.
It is best to answer this question "crisply," he says: "We cannot and should not pretend that we can." Security measures against terrorists targeting the West may mitigate but are unlikely to eradicate the danger.
"We recognize, if we are wise, that one day they will, like other groups in the past, become isolated and wither away," says Hurd. "Meanwhile, there are sensible and less sensible things we can do. We should avoid policies that increase their number."
He says as long as the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq "is killing and being killed by Iraqis it will be much more difficult to rally Muslim opinion against terrorism." Washington and London "confused two things. Most Iraqis feared and hated Saddam Hussein. It did not follow that they welcomed cruise missiles and a clumsy military occupation." As the accidental deaths of innocent Iraqi civilians mount, "you do not have to invoke al-Qaeda or shadowy Syrians to explain terrorism."
The West must "think realistically about personal safety," says Hurd. "There is no point in doubling and redoubling security measures that make ordinary life impossible in the search for a mythical security."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
A "New York Times" editorial says while the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on limiting greenhouse gas emissions "has many flaws," it provides the "only international response to the global warming problem." It also lays out "a plausible framework for collective international action."
But Russia seems to have decided to follow in Washington's footsteps by announcing this week it had decided not to ratify the treaty. After the U.S. administration's earlier rejection, a Russian refusal "would have effectively killed it."
But the paper muses that perhaps Russia's move was merely "a negotiating tactic," used in hopes of fortifying Moscow's position in economic talks with the European Union. "Let us hope this is the case," it says.
Corporate volunteerism "will not work," says the paper. "While some companies seem willing to do something about global warming on their own, history has shown that the private sector as a whole will neither create new technologies nor, more to the point, put them into broad use without strong financial incentives."
The Kyoto Protocol "provides just such incentives because it combines mandatory limits on emissions with substantial, market-based rewards for operating more efficiently."
A commentary in the German financial paper "Handelsblatt" discusses Russia's apparent ambivalence toward ratifying the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions. The paper says Moscow's hesitation "has many causes, except for the aim of actually protecting Russia's environment."
The collapse of the Soviet economy in 1991 drastically reduced its emissions-producing greenhouse gases, so Russia is at no risk of surpassing the allowed emissions levels specified by the international agreement. The result is that a considerable section of industry in Russia favors the Kyoto Protocol so it can take part in carbon-trade schemes.
Moreover, Russia is "exploiting rivalries between the U.S. and EU with the aim of gaining clout on the international scene." Russia is trying to use the Kyoto Protocol as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the EU over World Trade Organization entry terms or to pressure the U.S. to invest in Siberian oil fields.
"It therefore makes sense for Russia to prolong the suspense before signing the Kyoto Protocol," "Handelsblatt" says.
Writing in "Liberation," Jean-Pierre Thibaudat says the plight of residents in Russia's breakaway republic of Chechnya is getting some "discreet support" from France.
Yesterday, two members of the Foreign Affairs Commission -- Jack Lang of the Socialist Party and Noel Mamere of the Greens -- arrived at the National Assembly to show their support for a Chechen peace plan and the campaign connected with it. The plan, which envisions a tripartite division between Chechnya, Russia, and the international community, was proposed in the name of the independent Chechen government and presented by Omar Khanbiev, its minister of health.
Khanbiev foresees a gradual process of demilitarization and democratization over the next five to 10 years. Independence for Chechnya would be the ultimate goal, although under the plan it would be granted by the international community.
Thibaudat says in the health minister's eyes, independence is not negotiable. As Khanbiev put it, independence is necessary to Chechen survival after four centuries of fighting Russia. He believes this plan to be Chechnya's most realistic plan for gaining its autonomy, but Thibaudat says it would have been more so if the Foreign Affairs Commission members were able to offer their support officially, for their respective parties.
Mamere ensured that the Greens supported the plan and Lang said he would consult with his Socialist Party members. Even so, two more National Assembly representatives -- Arnaud Montebourg of the New Socialist Party and Jean-Claude Lefort of the Communists -- added their signatures yesterday to the roughly 11,000 others pledging support for the Chechen initiative.
Writing in the London-based "Times," Peter Riddell says the development of an independent European Union defense force "is good news for Britain, for Europe, for the United States and for NATO."
Washington's "disillusionment with NATO" has been long-standing and precedes the current administration, he says. "Following its success during the Cold War, the alliance's first military operation in Kosovo in 1999 exposed many shortcomings, both cumbersome decision-making and a huge discrepancy in capabilities between the U.S. and Europeans. Americans became more skeptical about NATO."
This was exacerbated after the 11 September 2001 attacks, when Washington's security priorities were further transfigured.
The United States has in the past shown "little interest in peacekeeping, as opposed to war-fighting." Riddell suggests NATO could remain responsible for mutual defense on the continent, while the EU "would be limited to humanitarian work, conflict prevention and peace-keeping. There is no reason why this should undermine NATO's pre-eminence," he says. It is "in America's interests if the EU can be more effective militarily in tackling threats of insecurity and terrorism."
European troops "[form] the bulk of the forces in the Balkans. This is good sense," Riddell says. "Europeans should take most responsibility for stability in their region." But he warns there is a real danger is "the inadequacy of European military capabilities, especially in rapidly deployable forces."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)