Thursday, November 18, 1999

Summit should decry
the war in Chechnya

Bullet The issue: The Russian war in Chechnya and Russia's firing of test missiles cloud a European security summit.
Bullet Our view: Western leaders should apply pressure to halt Russia's military operations in Chechnya but should not cause Moscow's economic isolation.

RUSSIA'S continued bombing in the breakaway province of Chechnya and its testing of nuclear-capable missiles threaten to damage the prospects for strengthened partnership with the West at a two-day security summit in Istanbul. Western leaders should apply pressure on Moscow to rein in its military in Chechnya but must recognize the complications of Russian domestic politics.

A decade after the Berlin Wall came down, Russia has made little progress in its quest for economic health through market reforms. The failure of a plan for swift privatization has led to the dismissal of reformers, greater inequality and growing poverty. The flexing of Russia's military muscles has been a popular diversion as the 2000 presidential election nears.

Indiscriminate bombing in Chechnya has resulted in high civilian casualties and forced more than 200,000 Chechens to flee their homes. But retaliation for the Chechen rebels' defeat of Russian troops in the 1994-95 fighting and for terrorist bombings in Russian cities that have been blamed on Chechens is popular.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, President Boris Yeltsin's choice to be his successor, has taken credit for the Chechnya military campaign. Obscure before Yeltsin appointed him to the post in August, Putin has risen to the top of the popularity polls. Yeltsin and Putin have insisted they will not be dissuaded by the West from carrying on the war in Chechnya. This stance is popular among Russians nostalgic, in their economic misery, for their country's Cold War superpower status.

Russia's three test-firings of missiles in a month is another example of military bravado. The commander of Russia's navy has said the firings were a partial response to U.S. proposals to revise the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to permit development of a missile defense system.

Yeltsin has warned Clinton of "extremely dangerous consequences" if the United States goes ahead with its missile defense project.

The Kremlin knows full well that the U.S. wants to deploy a system to defend itself against missile attacks by rogue states such as North Korea or Iran and it would be no threat to Russia. The test-firings probably were intended more at Russian opinion polls than at U.S. policies.

Although Yeltsin and Putin have said they have no intention of yielding to Western criticism of the war in Chechnya, President Clinton and other Western leaders attending the summit of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe must continue to exert pressure on the Kremlin to end the war and stop its saber-rattling without threatening to cut off Western economic aid. Isolating Russia would only make matters worse.


Army general demoted
for sexual misconduct

Bullet The issue: A general who formerly commanded the 25th Infantry Division has been demoted and will retire with a reduced pension as punishment for sexual misconduct.
Bullet Our view: The action is important because it shows that the military is willing to deal with these cases without regard for rank.

The demotion for sexual misconduct of a general who formerly commanded the 25th Infantry Division and the Army in Hawaii should give this problem the immediacy it deserves for the military establishment here.

Maj. Gen. John J. Maher III was demoted two ranks and will retire after 29 years of service with a reduced pension. He was ordered to pay a fine of $8,600.

Maher served at Schofield Barracks from 1995-97.He had been working until last month at the Pentagon as vice director of operations with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

An Army hearing found that Maher had improper sexual relationships with the wives of two subordinate officers and attempted to have an improper relationship with a female subordinate soldier. The Army said the misconduct occurred between 1991 and 1998 but would not say where it took place.

In another case this year, Maj. Gen. David Hale pleaded guilty to eight counts of sexual misconduct and was fined $10,000, with another $12,000 to be taken from his pension.

Hale retired last year while under investigation. He was the first general ever to be court-martialed in retirement. As in Maher's case, the charges against Hale involved the wives of subordinate officers.

Hale's honorable retirement while under investigation had led to criticism that the Army treated senior officers more leniently than enlisted personnel in sexual misconduct cases. Earlier a series of cases involving drill instructors and female recruits made newspaper headlines.

The Hale case prompted the Army to change its retirement policy. Generals under investigation are no longer permitted to retire honorably.

Army Secretary Louis Caldera said Maher's reduction in rank "should send a very clear, strong signal that there is no place in the Army for this behavior."

It is essential that in enforcing prohibitions of sexual misconduct the military apply its standards consistently regardless of the rank of the accused. By disciplining two generals, the Army has demonstrated a determination to do just that.

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