International Papers

New Fallout From the Balkans War 

The {{Independent#2:}} and the {{Guardian#2:}} ripped the British government for waiting until this week to finally screen Balkans veterans for signs of uranium poisoning. The Independent {{reported#2:}} that Armed Forces Minister John Spellar “delivered a sledgehammer speech in which he told parliament that there was no risk of this, no link with that, no evidence of the other,” but then announced a voluntary screening program for soldiers and civilians who served in the war theater. TheIndependentcriticized the government and others who have proclaimed that there is no connection between depleted-uranium weapons and ill health. How do they know that’s the case, the paper wrote, in the absence of proper studies. Although welcoming the government’s new tack, the paper described the response as “far too grudging, as though loyalty to the US ally—which has been chief cheerleader for depleted uranium from the start—counts for more than finding out the truth.” (For a primer on DU weapons, see {{this#1790:Show=1/8/2001&idMessage=6827}} “Explainer”; for Anne Applebaum’s take on the brouhaha, see “{{Foreigners#96584}}.”) The Guardianwas {{furious#2:,3604,420175,00.html}} that Gulf War veterans, excluded from the program, were left out in the cold.

The{{Times#2:}}, in contrast, {{found#2:,,56-65113,00.html}} the government’s announcement “balanced and reasonable.” Its editorial blamed foreigners—”reports from other Nato countries, notably Italy”—for fomenting panic, which the Brits were forced to squash: “There is no reason to assume that this speculation has a sound medical basis but the power of publicity has its own toxicity. Ministers have an obligation to provide maximum reassurance to troops and to their families.”

Germany’s{{Frankfurter Rundschau#2:}}suggested that the difference in European and U.S. attitudes to the uranium issue will test the NATO partnership, especially if the Bush administration goes forward with the Star Wars missile-defense system: “What would happen if the United States insists on the use of depleted uranium munitions and on stationing missile systems regarded almost unanimously by the European NATO partners as a medical or political threat?” (German-language translation courtesy of {{BBC Monitoring#2:}}.)

The{{Financial Times#2:}}{{agreed#2:}} that this controversy will challenge NATO unity. An editorial pointed out that unless European fears about health risks are allayed, “they may be reluctant to continue to participate in Balkan peacekeeping forces.” It also warned about the effects of DU on civilian populations: “If there are health risks for allied soldiers serving short peacekeeping assignments long after weapons have been fired, the problems of local people must be much greater. The international community must accept its responsibility to undertake an environmental clean-up in the Balkans.” In an editorial headlined “NATO Syndrome,” Spain’s{{El País#2:}}also {{urged#2:}} NATO to consider “collateral damage”:

The way in which countries that have bombed and that are sending troops have overlooked the possible effects on the local populations is shameful. The World Health Organization is morally obliged to send missions to Iraq and Kuwait to investigate whether, as Baghdad maintains, cases of cancer have multiplied and, if so, to take appropriate actions, there and in the Balkans. Weren’t they humanitarian interventions?

Robert Fisk, the Independent’s veteran war correspondent, {{published#2:}} an impassioned “I told you so” Wednesday. Fisk returned from southern Iraq blaming depleted uranium for the high incidence of leukemia and cancer among children who lived in areas hit by airstrikes in the final days of 1991 Gulf War. Although newspaper readers gave generously to a campaign to raise money for the stricken children, Fisk was appalled by the lack of response by government officials. His op-ed concluded:

Of course, the victims were Iraqis. They were Muslims. They lived—and died—in a far-away country. They were not Caucasians or Nato soldiers. But I do wonder if I’m going to have to tour the children’s wards of Bosnia and Serbia in the years to come, and see again the scenes I witnessed in Iraq. Or perhaps the military wards of European countries.

PO’d no more: After 365 years in business, Britain’s Post Office is changing its name. In March, when the Post Office becomes a government-owned public company, it will be rebranded as Consignia. {{According to#2:}} the Financial Times, the change was driven by international concerns because the company now owns around 20 international companies based in Europe and North America in businesses as diverse as financial services, telecommunications, home shopping, utilities, and marketing. The PO’s chief executive {{told#2:}} the Daily {{Telegraph#2:}}: “The Post Office is a generic term which cannot be legally protected and does not differentiate the organisation from other postal administrations. The name describes the full scope of what we do in a way that the words ‘post’ and ‘office’ cannot. To consign means to entrust to the care of, which is what each of our customers does every day.” However, the Communication Workers Union, which opposes the rebranding, pointed out that another definition of consign is, “To commit or hand over to misery, the grave.” A writer in the Daily Telegraph {{noted#2:}} that his newspaper was “named after the very last word in modern communications technology when it was founded in 1855, and … has resolutely refused to change its name ever since.”