Sat, 05 Mar 2005
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Choppers and change

Not for the first time, a British politician stands accused of an unlikely infatuation with the idea of British-built helicopters -- and of losing sight of broader goals in the process. Eighteen years after Michael Heseltine resigned as Defense Secretary during the Westland helicopter saga, Lord Bach, the Minister for Defense Procurement, has followed him to the defense of the fabled Westland plant in Yeovil.

Lord Bach, a new Labor peer, may also have electoral considerations in mind: 4,000 high-tech jobs are said to be at stake. But even taken at face value, the justification offered for a non-competitive "partnership" between Agusta-Westland and the Ministry of Defense is deeply flawed.

Contrary to the impression given by frequent histrionic headlines, British defense procurement is not in crisis. It is more transparent, and thus more scrutinized, than in any other Western economy including the U.S. Except when ministers invoke the supposedly overriding interests of British industry, it is also more competitive; helicopters apart, the Defense Procurement Agency is less nationalistic than most of its European counterparts. -- The Times, London

U.S. and the death penalty

The decision by the United States Supreme Court to abolish the death penalty for juveniles under the age of 18 is rightly seen as a landmark judgment. It should be a step on the way towards abolishing this barbaric punishment in the U.S., as has been done in many other states around the world -- notably in the European Union, where this is a condition of membership.

Of the 39 executions of juveniles that have taken place since 1990, 19 have been in the U.S., with the remainder being in Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

All these countries now regard the practice as illegal or have put it under review, bringing them into line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Only the U.S. and Somalia have failed to ratify this convention.

"There are some 3,500 prisoners on death row in the U.S. While capital punishment is banned in many of its states, it remains a lamentable symbol of U.S. exceptionalism. -- The Irish Times, Dublin, Ireland

Middle East future

The war in Iraq has put into motion powerful forces that have shaken the area. The first free elections in Iraq and in Palestine have released a wave of democracy destined to endure.

The road to Middle East democratization will certainly be very long, and will cost who knows how many massacres and homicides.

(Former U.S. President Ronald) Reagan came to be strongly criticized in Europe when he chose to deploy Euromissiles to counterbalance Soviet missiles. But as a result of his efforts, he brought the Soviet Union to its exhaustion point and implosion. And no one today can discredit the effectiveness of his strategy.

Maybe in ten years, those who have said that President (George W.) Bush is a stupid cowboy will be obliged to admit that with the war in Iraq, political times in the Middle East have started to change.

In the Middle East, democratization is only beginning, and no one expects to immediately implant democracy such as we conceive of it in the West.

It can however be asked of those who have condemned the war in Iraq, to recognize that 'history is again on its way', and that our obligation as Westerners is to do whatever possible to help the Arab world to liberate itself. -- Il Corriere della Sera, Milan, Italy

On gays serving in the armed forces

The Pentagon policy on gays in the military, known as "don't ask, don't tell," isn't working. It hurts recruitment, impedes retention and costs too much. That's the conclusion of last week's Government Accountability Office report that underlines the need to rethink this 12-year-old policy.

The report found that the Pentagon had to spend at least US$191 million to recruit and train replacements for some 9,500 soldiers discharged for their sexual orientation. Of that number, the GAO said, 750 held critical occupations in the military, including translators with skills in languages such as Arabic and Korean that are vital to existing U.S. security concerns.

Most of the discharged personnel wanted to remain in the service. More important, there is no evidence that they were causing problems. They ran afoul of the service rules because their sexual orientation became known, which, under the policy, is forbidden.

Perhaps "don't ask, don't tell" made sense at one time, relaxing the rule that banned homosexuality altogether. It makes no sense today. The policy should be repealed, and men and women who want to serve their country in the armed forces should be allowed to do so without regard to sexual orientation. -- The Miami Herald, Miami, Florida





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