THE UNITED NATIONS
Old Promises Die Hard
The ghost of campaigns Past came back to visit Gerhard Schröder, with Germany taking a seat in the United Nations Security Council just as the body braces for renewed debate over a war against Iraq. Schröder was re-elected Chancellor last fall on a pledge to oppose such a war, which he dubbed a U.S. military "adventure." He has since softened his position, but aware of overwhelming German opposition to a war has been cautious about saying so. When the debate comes to the Security Council, however, Schröder will have no place to hide. To complicate matters, Germany's new ambassador to the U.N., Gunter Pleuger, will take over as chairman of the council in February.
Schröder tried to give himself some wiggle room in his New Year's address, hinting that a war may be necessary to topple Saddam Hussein. "We Germans know from our own experience that dictators sometimes can only be stopped with force," he said. But the Chancellor has been attacked in recent weeks for violating a key election pledge by raising taxes; going back on a second promise could be disastrous. Pacifist members of the Green Party, part of his ruling coalition, have warned that government support for an Iraq resolution would strain relations between rank-and-file Greens and party leaders, as well as relations between the Greens and Schröder's Social Democrats.
Still, Schröder is keen to patch things up with Washington. He has agreed to allow U.S. forces to use bases in Germany and German airspace if war breaks out, and to provide troops to guard American installations in Germany, freeing U.S. soldiers for possible service in Iraq.
Schröder needs American goodwill to pursue Germany's long-standing dream of becoming a permanent member of the Security Council. For that reason it is inconceivable that Germany will end up the lone dissenter on an Iraq resolution. Such ambitions will no doubt take precedence when Schröder decides how to cast his vote. By Charles P. Wallace/Berlin
Ready to Rule
The Turkish parliament cleared the way for Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), to become Prime Minister later this year. Erdogan, whose Islamic-leaning party won a landslide victory in November elections, had been barred from taking the top post because of a Turkish law excluding from public office anyone convicted of inciting religious hatred as Erdogan was in 1997, for reading an Islamic poem at a rally. But the new AKP-dominated parliament lifted the ban, despite an initial veto by secularist President Ahmet Necdet Sezer. Erdogan will likely run in, and win, a local election in Siirt province, due within three months. The enigmatic populist can then officially take over from his close ally Abdullah Gul, who took the job until the legal problems could be sorted out. The changes should do away with the anomaly of a leader who "clearly holds power" but no accountability, says analyst Ismet Berkan in Istanbul. "It will be a huge step to normalizing the political setup." By Andrew Purvis
Landlubbers and sea dogs alike could only shake their heads at the New Year's Day news that the tanker Vicky had collided with the submerged wreck of the car transporter Tricolor in the English Channel. A spokesman for the British maritime union NUMAST said the accident "beggared belief." How could the tanker have failed to register the five luminous buoys one equipped with a radar beacon surrounding the wreck, the French naval ship guarding it, and French, British and Belgian coastguard transmissions every 30 minutes to all traffic in the vicinity? And how could the captain of the Vicky have missed the wave upon wave of media attention that has broken over the Tricolor in the past month? First, she was hit by the freighter Kariba on Dec. 14, and keeled over in shallow water off Dunkirk. Two days later, the wreck was hit by another ship, the Nicola. That raised fears not enough had been done to prevent further collisions in the world's busiest shipping lane: hence the buoys and the coastguard signals.
But the precautions were wasted on the Vicky, which even ignored a direct instruction from a French patrol boat to change course. French authorities launched an investigation, and the Vicky was taken to Ostend for inspection. Luckily, little of its cargo, 70,000 tons of highly flammable fuel oil, had leaked.
Changing the Guard
In its first overseas security operation, the E.U. officially took over the U.N.'s decade-long peacekeeping role. The NATO-led Stabilization Force handed control of Sarajevo airport to Bosnian authorities. A 500-strong E.U. Police Mission (EUPM) assumed the U.N.'s mandate of reforming and monitoring the local police force and ensuring that none of its 16,000 members are war criminals. The EUPM mandate will continue until 2005, at a cost of €38 million per year. The mission was welcomed by the U.S., which has long urged Europe to take a greater role in peacekeeping in the Balkans.
A baggage handler arrested at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport after guns and explosives were found in the boot of his car was placed under formal investigation for the illegal possession of weapons and criminal association with a terrorist organization. Abderazak Besseghir, a French citizen of Algerian descent, said he had been framed by the family of his late wife, who blamed him for her death in a house fire last July. Fingerprints found on the weapons and explosives did not belong to Besseghir, but a sniffer dog detected traces of explosives on the back seat of his car.
Thousands joined Islamist-led protests against a possible war on Iraq and a disputed U.S. bombing on the border with Afghanistan. Pakistani politicians claimed the U.S. had bombed a disused Islamic seminary inside Pakistan, but U.S. officials said that the incident took place on the Afghan side of the frontier.
President Laurent Gbagbo promised to expel foreign mercenaries and stop aerial bombings, after government helicopters attacked a fishing village and left 12 civilians dead. France condemned the raid as an "intolerable" violation of the cease-fire between the government and the main rebel group, the Ivory Coast Patriotic Movement (MPCI). The attack took place in an area controlled by the MPCI 50 km north of a cease-fire line established after a failed MPCI coup in September. French troops had been enforcing the truce, but two other rebel groups continue to fight in the west of the country.
Russia refused to extend the mandate of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission after the failure of last-minute talks to determine the body's exact role in the breakaway republic. Moscow had insisted that the OSCE limit itself to providing humanitarian aid, but the 55-nation body wanted to continue monitoring human rights. The OSCE was the last international organization to maintain a permanent presence in Chechnya.
The U.S. accelerated its military buildup in advance of a possible war against Iraq. Washington mobilized an additional 50,000 troops to join the 60,000 already surrounding Iraq, bringing the total to well over 100,000. A similar-size force is on standby in Europe and elsewhere, making a total planned force of 250,000. Pentagon officials said they'll be ready to strike by the end of January. Details of what the war might be like also became clearer. The number of troops is just half the size used in the first Gulf War, because the U.S. military plans to use far more precision-guided munitions, and because the Pentagon believes many Iraqi troops will sit out this war if they think Saddam's rule is doomed. U.S. commanders are planning for a short air war followed by a multifront invasion of Iraq. Instead of building up their forces along the Iraqi borders and invading on the ground, many U.S. troops are likely to fly directly into Iraqi airfields that are expected to be seized by U.S. troops in the conflict's opening hours. One setback to U.S. plans is that Turkey seems unlikely to allow its bases to be used as stepping stones to open a northern front against Iraq. Nearly nine in 10 Turks opposed a U.S.-led war against Iraq in a recent survey.
The remote islands of Tikopia and Anuta were devastated by Cyclone Zoe, but the extent of the damage was difficult to assess because the islands are isolated and lack an airstrip. Initial fears for the safety of the islands' population of 3,000 seemed unfounded when the first contact with Tikopia, by helicopter, discovered that all of the islanders had survived by sheltering in mountain caves. Regional leaders criticized the Solomon Islands government for its slow response to the calamity. The first relief boat was due to arrive a week after the cyclone had struck.
At least two people were shot to death and dozens injured as fighting erupted in the capital, Caracas, between supporters and opponents of President Hugo Chávez. The violence broke out when tens of thousands of protesters at an antigovernment demonstration marched to an army barracks to call on the military to join them and were confronted by Chávez supporters. Authorities used tear gas and rubber bullets to halt the fighting. A national strike aimed at forcing Chávez to step down has entered its second month.
Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien from around the world celebrated what would have been the author's 111th birthday on Jan. 3. The number is especially significant to devotees of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, as the hobbit Bilbo Baggins is seen in the first installment, The Fellowship of the Ring, holding a party for his own "eleventy-first" birthday. Tolkien, who died aged 81 in 1973, described the milestone as "a rather curious number and a very respectable age for a hobbit."