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Western Press Review: NATO's Moment Is Now

  • Don Hill

Prague, 27 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- As leaders of NATO member states and Russia gather for a summit in Paris today, the influential U.S. voice of a former White House official resounds in its favor. Other Western commentators also speak out -- mostly optimistically.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The Founding Act has the potential to shape a more secure Europe

Writing in today's edition, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to U.S. President Jimmy Carter, says the agreement between Russia and NATO promises to meet both Russia's need for recognition of its status and NATO's requirements for responding to Europe's new order. Brzezinski writes: "The Founding act on Relations between NATO and Russia due to be signed in Paris today has not precipitated a shift in Moscow, as some predicted it would, toward a communist-chauvinist political takeover."

He comments, "The act states specifically that NATO has expanded and will continue to expand its political functions." Brzezinski writes that this pact "contains the potential for satisfying NATO's maximum objective while gratifying Russia's minimus need for some formal recognition of its past status as a global power."

The writer says: "The act has the potential to shape a more secure Europe closely linked to the United States. It also creates the pre-conditions for a more stable relationship between the Euro-Atlantic alliance and Russia, while blocking any lingering nostalgia Moscow may have for a special sphere of influence in Central Europe."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The agreement comes at a price for the alliance and with a loss of face for Russia

Writer Carol J. Williams says in a news analysis today that Russian President Boris Yeltsin in Paris for the pact-signing seems remarkably content. She writes: "After roaring out of Moscow like the proverbial winter lion Monday with warnings that further NATO expansion could destabilize Europe, Russian President Boris Yeltsin purred to his Parisian hosts that Tuesday's historic accord with the alliance means that 'all Europe won' the Cold War."

She says: "Yeltsin's presence at an event Russians have long cast as a colossal threat to European harmony and stability would seemingly embrace the view of President Clinton and other Western leaders that Russia has nothing to fear in NATO's approach."

Williams writes: "Yeltsin's critics in Russia have cast his acceptance of the charter as capitulation to the Western alliance and a humiliating reminder of which side actually won the Cold War. The United States and its allies insist there are no losers with the agreement, but it has come at a price for the alliance as well as a loss of face for Russia."

WASHINGTON POST: Clinton officials see the agreement as vindication of support for Yeltsin

In a news analysis today, Michael Dobbs describes the two-and-one-half-year history of up and down negotiations that led to the pact. He writes: "NATO expansion was always going to be a painful experience for Russian leaders, but they evidently concluded that they had no alternative than to grin and bear it. For their part, Clinton administration officials see (today's) agreement between NATO and Russia as a vindication of their decision to stick with President Boris Yeltsin through good times and bad.

They argue that the negotiating record (since) September 1994, when Clinton first broached the idea of NATO expansion to a suspicious Yeltsin -- supports their view that the 'Boris-Bill' connection was crucial."

Dobbs describes on exchange last March when Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov suggested to Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright a quiet understanding that former Soviet republics would never be admitted to NATO. Dobbs writes: "According to an aide, the Czech-born secretary told the Russian foreign minister that she had no intention of negotiating away the rights of Central and East European countries. 'Neither history nor morality will permit it.' "

WASHINGTON POST: Yeltsin chose to cement ties to the West

David Hoffman says in a news analysis from Moscow that Russia's willingness to compromise on NATO expansion was in part just business. He writes: "Yeltsin is signing, grudgingly, because a deal with NATO is an essential step in his larger effort to integrate post-Cold War Russia into the exclusive clubs of the wealthy nations, according to Russian analysts and Western diplomats."

Hoffman says: "Many in the Russian political elite, ranging from moderates to hard-line nationalists and Communists, had urged Yeltsin to stand up to NATO. Some extremists had called for deploying tactical nuclear weapons to the west, in Belarus, in response. But Yeltsin chose instead to further cement ties to the West -- ties that already included extensive loans from Western financial institutions."

He continues: "Gazprom, Russia's largest company, has sold stock abroad and reportedly is preparing to pay its $1.2 billion in back taxes to the Russian government by borrowing from overseas. While none of these financial deals is directly linked to NATO expansion, many would have been riskier, costlier or impossible had Yeltsin defiantly turned his back on the alliance and threatened a new confrontation with the West, according to analysts here."

NEW YORK TIMES: The U.S. may be sowing the seeds for another partition of Europe

Ronald Steel writes today in a commentary that people who cite the Marshall Plan as a model for NATO expansion have got their history wrong. Steel, international affairs professor at George Washington University, comments: "It is wrong for Clinton Administration officials and their supporters to extol the Marshall Plan as a model for an expanded NATO, as they are now doing. We forget that the earlier creation, as the price of its success, helped sunder the strained links between the two parts of the continent, Eastern and Western Europe. Given a similar effort to unite more of Europe today, the United States may actually be sowing the seeds for another partition between Russia and the West -- only this time the division will be wholly unnecessary."

Steel's commentary continues: "Soviet Russia, consumed by dogma and ruled by a paranoid dictator, bears little in common with the democratizing, free-market Russia of today. Except for one thing: Both are Russian." He adds: "Both share a history of authoritarianism, of heroic repulsions of invasions from abroad, on attraction to and fear of the West and of a determination to be a power in the world commensurate with its cultural greatness. Russia also, indeed eternally, is both a part and not a part, of Europe.

The commentary continues: "Instead of intoning the Marshall Plan as a slogan, the Administration should draw a lesson from it. Living in a time of danger, the architects of the Marshall Plan were prepared to pay its costs because they believed that they had no other choice. Today's NATO expanders in Washington are driven not by fear, but by a combination of ambition and opportunism."

Steel concludes: "Their predecessors opened up a door that Stalinist Russia refused to enter. Today's leaders are locking a door that democratic Russia is knocking on, hoping for admission."