Power Diplomacy--Or Just Politics?

Talk about disdain. The very public flap between Europe and the United States over Iraq doesn't do justice to the word. When George Bush delivered his "axis of evil" speech to Congress, American diplomats were almost as jarred as the allies--so much so that Secretary of State Colin Powell had to instruct his striped-pants set not to undermine the president by trying to "take the edge off" his words. But then came the European reaction, this minister and that accusing Washington of being "simplistic" or "absolutist." Stateside squeamishness soon turned to annoyance, followed by a deep sense that enough was enough. "There go the whine-and-cheese Europeans--whine, whine, whine about consultations, not asking how can we help," says one senior State Department official, summing up the mood within the administration. With Iraq now preoccupying American policy, the erstwhile transatlantic partners are utterly sidelined. What does Europe think? "Nobody here really cares," says this State Department source.

At bottom, Washington sees the Europeans as fakes. Their shows of prickly rhetoric are considered to be purely for domestic audiences. With presidential elections looming in France and Germany, especially, Foreign Ministers Hubert Vedrine and Joschka Fischer hoped to boost their political standing by striking high-minded and "responsible" positions on the international stage. After all the hemming and hawing, the Bush administration expects Europe to fall quietly back into line. Indeed, British Prime Minister Tony Blair did so last week, declaring his support for "phase two" of the U.S. war on terror--a campaign against Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

The price for Blair's backing seems to be a commitment sought by other Europeans--that whatever policy the United States ultimately adopts, it must at least go through the motions of multilateral diplomacy. In other words, to put maximum pressure on Saddam to accept a return of U.N. inspectors, and to do so without restrictions or procrastination. What happens if Saddam doesn't go along? The Europeans will be back at square one, with America determined as ever to go after Saddam alone, if need be. Will it be whine and cheese all over again, or a united front? "It's too nice a day to be Europhobic," says a senior U.S. official.


War and Peace

War: Most of the world's recent violent conflicts have been fought in mountain ranges. And bombs--no matter how smart they may be--just don't do a mountain any good. The most serious problems are in the Himalayan, Karakoram and Hindu Kush ranges.

Peace: Peace-lovers are loving their mountains to death. Recreation and tourism have made the Alps the most threatened range in the developed world. Mountain development is "a success story gone wrong," says Jack Ives, who headed the U.N. research. Same in the Rockies, where Americans are climbing peaks, rafting rivers and four-wheeling into the wilderness. New roads and increasing traffic are polluting mountain valleys and lakes, fragmenting habitats and severing migration routes. To top it off, all the most fertile river valleys are being filled... with mountain McMansions.

Conservation efforts and restrictions are needed, say environmentalists. But those are mountains many nations are unprepared to scale.


Swept Under The Carpet

Not so, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch. Russian military "sweeps" on civilians continued in the region throughout last summer. Hundreds of Chechens have reported violations of human rights in the past nine months. Worse still, since September 11 further abuses have been ignored, as the ongoing war on terror has stolen the spotlight. Civilians continue to "face a daily threat of being arbitrarily detained, tortured or just 'disappearing' in custody," says Human Rights Watch executive director Elizabeth Andersen. "That's a far cry from normal."

Human Rights Watch is now calling for an international commission of inquiry to monitor all human-rights violations, as Russian investigations are proving too slow. As the deputy chief of the Russian General Staff, Yuri Baluyevski, says: "The Army is not a democratic institution. It never has been and never will be." The generals want discipline across the board, he adds, "but that doesn't always work out."

Wildlife: Killer Inuit?

Is idyllic Greenland gone for good?
The postcard myth of the lonely hunter in his kayak is being blown to pieces. People talk rubbish about the Greenland Inuit being born environmentalists. It's lying, denial and betrayal.

Why are they killing off wildlife?
Greenland is still hunting with rules from the good old days. The outboard motor, automatic rifles, snowmobiles, GPS navigators and satellite telephones allow huge kills, [but] many of the hunters will still shoot at anything that moves--not just to gather food.

What about regulations?
Among Greenlanders there is a popular saying: "Hunting rules only apply within sight of a township."

What's likely to die off first?
Beluga whales will be gone within 20 years. The thick-billed murre population has been cut in half, 16 of 40 colonies shot to oblivion, mainly from illegal summer hunting. Common eider numbers are down by 80 percent, mainly from egg collecting and shooting females on nests. Walrus have stopped visiting Greenland's shores, except for two spots in the northeastern national park. Hunters in boats still travel out to the drift ice and kill 300 [to] 600 walrus a year. Many behead them to sell the tusks to tourists, and leave the skin and meat behind. If this were the rhino in Africa, you'd have armed guards protecting the walrus.

Are Greenlanders aware of the situation?
Collective denial is a big part of the problem. Inuit people in Greenland can do nothing wrong--that is still the credo.


Going After Karadzic

The first attempt came up empty-handed. According to unconfirmed reports, German soldiers prevented Karadzic and his bodyguards from crossing into Yugoslavia near the village of Celebici. After an exchange of fire, Karadzic and his men apparently fled into nearby woods on the Bosnian side of the frontier. Another NATO swoop followed on Friday. Using explosives to blast into buildings, the soldiers found three weapons caches in what were suspected to be Karadzic's hideouts.

His whereabouts may now be unclear, but the message isn't. "Your time is running out," said NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson. Expecting heavy opposition, SFOR sent in the usual number of large armored vehicles, backed by helicopters and APCs; many vehicles were marked ambulance. Most of the troops were French and German, but villagers saw dozens of American soldiers, too. All wore green or black balaclavas.

As the net tightens around Karadzic, it loosens around military chief Ratko Mladic, suspected of living under Yugoslav Army protection in Belgrade. Should Karadzic escape across the Montenegro border, he, too, could find refuge.


Close Calls


Goodbye to an Old Goon

God's creations:His time as a soldier:Contraception:Education:Esperanto:Money:Marriage:Parents:Death:Heaven:


Rio's international airport is noticeably bereft of signs in English. Stories on the nightly TV news are almost all about Brazil. On my first trip there recently, when I asked a Brazilian acquaintance if there was a local English-language newspaper, he responded quizzically: "Why would we need that?" Brazilians get by just fine on their own--without foreign influences, he explained. It's not that Brazilians are unconcerned with the outside world; it's just that everything and everyone there screams: "Brazil is the best!"

At first blush, the country seems to be its own arrogant superpower--another United States of America. But underneath the pride, I found a deep sense of insecurity and denial. Take the language, which initially seems one of the country's strengths: most visitors don't speak Portuguese, and many resort to Spanish instead (like me). Some might shrug that off, but consider this: if you spoke German in the United States, just because English and German are related, share a few words and sound relatively similar, would Americans be insulted? You bet. Brazilians suffer this indignity every day. Even in some international institutions where Portuguese is an official language, high-ranking Brazilian and Portuguese members are often asked to please speak a language that other members understand.

Then there's football, the sport Brazilians dominate. Or do they? Endemic corruption and injuries to stars like Ronaldo threaten to destroy Brazilians' once-justified faith in one-named greats like Junior, Pele, Zico and Socrates. When I asked a few Rio locals who they thought would win this year's World Cup, they all predictably cried, "Brazil!" But they immediately corrected themselves. "Probably France," they admitted sheepishly.

You'd think that Brazil's famed sexuality would be a realm of utter self-confidence. (In what other nation does the average citizen have the guts to sport nothing but the thinnest of thongs?) But that's not really the case. Brazil has become one of the cosmetic-surgery capitals of the world. Clearly, Brazilians don't think it's that OK to show off a butt that bulges not-so-boastfully out of its bikini. Worse still is Brazil's AIDS crisis--more than half a million Brazilians are infected with the HIV virus. Brazil is well known for its medical movement to fight AIDS, and in recent years has launched pro-condom campaigns. But in the bars I went to in Rio and Salvador, neither abstinence nor safe sex seemed to be on anyone's mind. Perhaps naively, I had expected condoms to be used instinctually. From the surprised look I saw on one young lady's face when the subject came up, I gather they aren't.

The sad truth is that although Brazil is the biggest nation in South America, and the fourth largest country on earth, it has never been considered sophisticated and glamorous by outsiders--or, deep down, it would seem, by Brazilians themselves. Nonetheless, I left the country with a sense of faith in the raw self-confidence that had initially struck me. I can't help but feel that one day Brazil will outgrow its insecurities. Its exuberance, however conflicted, is just too infectious. On New Year's Day, as I watched a promising dawn break over Copacabana Beach, one of the girls I was sitting with summed it up: "Brazil is the best!" she exclaimed. In Spanish, of course.