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Western Press Review: Europe Struggles To Define Itself

  • Don Hill



Prague, 14 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Commentators in the Western press range over a number of issues involving European institutions.

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Transatlantic ties loosening

David D. Newsom, a former U.S. undersecretary of state who now is a professor of international affairs at the University of Virginia, comments in today's issue of the U.S. newspaper Christian Science Monitor that European leaders are asserting a new independence from U.S. hegemony.

Newson writes: "An American visitor today leaves Europe with an impression that transatlantic ties are loosening. European nations are concentrating on restructuring their continent, and Washington is largely a bystander. The current focus of debate is the Economic and Monetary Union and the introduction of a Europe-wide currency -- the euro. Although primarily financial, the move is seen as the next major step toward a more politically integrated continent."

The diplomat-professor writes: "Europeans resent pressures that seem to flow primarily from U.S. domestic politics. On NATO expansion, they believe the United States is driven too much by the desire to please Eastern European constituencies at home. Closer to Russia, they worry more about Moscow's reaction. Serious doubts exist about the ability to meet the costs of expansion.

He concludes: "Significant transatlantic ties remain but cannot be taken for granted. The health of the U.S.-European relationship ultimately depends on Europe's success in unification and on Washington's more sensitive understanding of Europe."

NEW YORK TIMES: A moral purpose for NATO

Czech President Vaclav Havel took a different stance in a commentary published yesterday by The New York Times. He said that doubters on NATO expansion often are responding to an outdated Cold War perspective. Modern NATO, Havel wrote, should be regarded as a defender, not of a bloc or of borders, but of moral values.

Havel commented: "The process of (NATO) expansion must be accompanied by something much deeper: a refined definition of the purpose, mission and identity of NATO. The alliance should urgently remind itself that it is first and foremost an instrument of democracy intended to defend mutually held and created political and spiritual values."

He wrote: "For decades, the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact were NATO's opponents. But the threat was not dangerous because it was Russian. It was dangerous because it was Communist and totalitarian." He added: "The real threats today are those such a local conflicts fueled by aggressive nationalism, terrorism and the potential misuse of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction As the case of Bosnia has shown, NATO -- with American leadership -- is the only consolidated force capable of effectively confronting such threats while offering other countries, including Russia, an opportunity to cooperate in defusing them."

Havel said: "Perhaps we have not yet progressed enough in redefining the mission and identity of NATO. I believe that expanding the alliance will be a step forward. Not only will it require serious consideration of the purpose and meaning of the alliance, there will be more of us to take part in this reappraisal."

WASHINGTON POST: Yeltsin's wrong "right" to use nukes

The Washington Post today editorially chides Russian President Boris Yeltsin for announcing that Russia claims the right, if threatened, to first use of nuclear weapons. The newspaper says:

"What is Boris Yeltsin doing running on about the conditions in which he would or would not fire nuclear weapons?"

The editorial says: "Russia is now in the circumstances the United States was in during the decades of confrontation of two huge armies in Europe. Washington then speculated, as Moscow does now, that its conventional forces might be overrun."

It says: "The State Department had a constructive answer to Mr. Yeltsin's foray into what to him is the relatively novel field of nuclear doctrine. The spokesman suggested that comment be directed to lowering the risks of nuclear war and the levels of nuclear weapons." The Post says: "The last thing anyone needs is to have the commander of a still-great nuclear force speculating out loud and uncertainly about when he would push the button."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The WEU's doubtful prospects

In a commentary in today's Suddeutsche Zeitung, Andreas Oldag discusses skeptically efforts of the Western European Union to assert greater influence in NATO. He says that there is a chasm between the principle and its fulfillment. Oldag writes: "The WEU wants a greater say in European security issues. At a Paris meeting of foreign and defence ministers held (yesterday and Monday), mention was made of a dream of old. The 10-member WEU, set up in 1954, was to be reactivated. The plan is to make the WEU a kind of European arm of NATO."

Oldag says: "But the idea and its implementation are poles apart. So far the WEU has barely succeeded in taking part in checks in the Adriatic on enforcement of the arms embargo on Bosnia and in a small-scale police action in Mostar, the capital of Hercegovina."

He concludes: "It is as doubtful as ever whether the WEU has any realistic prospects. NATO certainly is mainly responsible for maintaining European security and will continue to be."

LONDON INDEPENDENT: The EU's role in European security

Writing from Paris today in a London Independent news analysis, John Lichfield says that Britain is moving to cede to the EU greater influence over European security issues. He writes that the new British foreign secretary, Robin Cook, "made a small but atmospherically significant move yesterday toward accepting a limited role for the European Union in defense matters."

Lichfield says: "(Cook) said the new government would stoutly resist pressure from France, Germany, and others to bring defense policy into the legal and constitutional framework of the EU. He (said he) would, however, accept new language in the EU treaties, setting out the principles for European involvement in humanitarian missions, peacekeeping and even peace-making."

The Independent writer says: "Mr. Cook's comments were taken by the Dutch, Germans and others as a welcome first British step towards a clearer definition of a European defense identity." He writes: "It might provide the basis for a compromise on security and defense issues in (a conference in Amsterdam next month) which would allow progress on other treaty changes."
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