International Papers

What Is Permissiveness?

It’s not easy to tell from the European press where NATO is heading on Kosovo. There seems to be a consensus around Joseph Fitchett’s statement in the lead story in Monday’s International Herald Tribune of Paris that June 18, the date of a summit between the G-7 countries and Russia, is a “make-or-break date for the air war to produce a political solution.” If no breakthrough occurs by then, Fitchett explained, NATO will have to choose between ground action and an admission that President Slobodan Milosevic has won, because NATO’s central war aim of getting the Kosovar refugees home will have become unachievable. But beyond that, there is no clarity on who stands where on what, especially on the controversial issue of ground troops.

The Independent of London led Monday, for example, on an agreement between the United States and Britain to use ground troops “to drive the remaining Serb forces from Kosovo” in either a “permissive” or “non-permissive” environment. NATO is “ready to go in fighting,” it said. And the Times, in its lead story reporting a doubling of NATO’s land force in Macedonia, said that British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has “secured America’s backing for the forces to enter Kosovo without Belgrade’s approval as soon as the Serb army begins withdrawing.”

However the Daily Telegraph, leading on the same thing, reported “a difference between Washington and London about whether troops could be sent into Kosovo without Belgrade’s agreement.” It quoted Madeleine Albright as contradicting Cook’s “significant” statement that the troops are being prepared for deployment into a “non-permissive environment.” She was quoted as saying, “Those troops are going to go in a permissive way.” Under the headline “Britain and US clash again on when to send in troops,” the tabloid Daily Mail said Albright had “flatly contradicted” Cook. In an editorial, the Independent presented the agreed build-up of ground troops as a triumph for British Prime Minister Tony Blair after his “surprising and apparently reckless absolutism in his conduct of the war” by ruling out any “exit strategy” except total victory. “Even when President Clinton and Chancellor Schröder were at their most flaky last week, he blithely insisted there could be no compromise and that all options, including the use of land forces, remained open,” it said. Now he has what he wanted.

A Times of London editorial described Al Gore as a casualty of the war. It said it has made his “essential task” of putting some distance between himself and Clinton much harder. “Mr. Gore cannot do anything other than support the President’s conduct of the conflict,” it explained. “He is therefore tied to an enterprise that has, so far, reflected Mr. Clinton’s political weaknesses. He has never felt comfortable with his role as Commander-in-Chief, and neither has his electorate.” In Paris, Libération led on Clinton’s statement Sunday in the New York Times that he is continuing with the airstrikes but not ruling out “other options.” It called this “a semi-threat of ground intervention.” Le Figaro highlighted a NATO spokesman’s remark that the 19 countries of the alliance are “99 per cent totally agreed” on their Kosovo strategy, although Germany, Italy, and Greece are among countries that last week declared their firm opposition to the use of ground troops. Le Figaro led on NATO’s supposed satisfaction with its achievements so far–14,000 bombs having destroyed a third of Serbia’s heavy weaponry and 100 of its airplanes.

The Asian Age of India led Monday with a report that a “fascist clique” is responsible for a plot to assassinate Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born widow of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was himself assassinated. A delegation of the Congress Party, of which Sonia Gandhi was president until she recently resigned in a huff when her “foreign birth” was criticized, warned Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that the same “clique” that murdered Mahatma Gandhi more than 51 years ago was behind it. The paper said the prime minister has already been warned of “certain plots” against Sonia Gandhi by the Indian intelligence agencies and has increased the security around her. The Daily Telegraph ran an interview with former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in which she said that she too feared she would be murdered and had therefore decided to stay in Britain rather than return to Pakistan to fight a conviction for corruption.