Prague, 27 August 1997 (RFE/RL) - The North Atlantic Treaty Organization may have outlived Soviet communism, but it hasn't outlasted the challenges it faces across Europe. Western press commentary concentrates today on stresses testing NATO, from the Kremlin to the presidential residence in Republika Srpska.
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Western readiness is working to tame the Russian bear
Independent commentator Elizabeth Pond writes today from Ukraine that, from the perspective in Kiev, NATO expansion to include some former Warsaw Pact members hasn't isolated the others as feared. She says Ukraine's experience is just the opposite.
Pond comments: "Many Westerners have predicted that NATO expansion will create a new dividing line in Europe, leaving countries like Ukraine to dangle in the Russian sphere of influence. They should ask the Ukrainians themselves. From their point of view, this week's Sea Breeze (joint military) exercise on the Black Sea coast is yet more evidence that Western readiness is working to tame the Russian bear."
She writes: "The Ukrainians don't mind at all that the Russians suspect ulterior motives behind Sea Breeze. For them, the whole point is to put Moscow on notice that the U.S. superpower -- this is formally a bilateral rather than a NATO exercise, with Washington footing the whole $ 700,000 bill -- cares a lot about Ukrainian security and would disapprove of any Russian bullying of its southern neighbor."
She contends: "Far from relegating non-member Ukraine to a Russian sphere of influence, alliance expansion pressed (Russian President Boris) Yeltsin to adapt to post-Cold War realities and accept Ukraine as something more than an obedient client state."
THE NEW YORK TIMES: The eastward growth of NATO makes life harder for Russia's democrats
But the West fails to grasp the depth of Russian unease over NATO, writes Alexei Arbatov, deputy chairman of the Defense Committee of the Russian Parliament, and a member of the Yabloko party. In a commentary published yesterday, he said that NATO's growth eastward makes life harder for Russia's democrats and may threaten ratification of strategic arms limitations.
The Arbatov commentary said: "The enlargement of NATO, although still in the initial stage, already has revived some traditional misunderstandings and created new misperceptions between Russia and the West. There is a broad political consensus in Russia that the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization not only runs counter to Russian security interests, but also violates some commonly accepted rules on which the cold war was ended."
"It is not," he wrote, "that Russians want to abolish NATO. They would prefer, however, that this great military alliance find other post-cold-war functions."
He said: "As for Start 2, which calls for a deep reduction in long-term nuclear weapons by Russia and the United States, the agreement reached in Helsinki in March to extend the period for implementing the treaty by five years improved the pact's chances of ratification by Russia this fall. So did the appointment of a new minister of defense, Igor Sergeyev, an advocate of the treaty. However, the political tensions over NATO enlargement may be used by opponents of the treaty in the Russian parliament to block it once again."
Arbatov concluded: "I would never claim that Russia has been without fault in its relations with other nations and on domestic issues. I'm sure NATO expansion will not topple Russian democracy, but it will make the goals of Russian democrats much harder to achieve."
THE WASHINGTON POST: Romania is NATO country, with a zeal the Marlboro Man can only envy.
Edward Cody writing in a news analysis from Bucharest, Romania, said yesterday that, far from acting like a jilted beau, Romania is treating its first round neglect by NATO as a signal to accelerate its suit for alliance membership. Cody said: "This is NATO country, with a zeal the Marlboro Man can only envy. Left out of the Western alliance's first wave of expansion last month in Madrid, Romania is swallowing its disappointment and making an all-out effort -- political, economic and military -- to guarantee it is on the second list of expansion countries scheduled to be named in April 1999."
Cody wrote: "The determination to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization rises almost to the level of national obsession, with 95 percent of the population voicing approval despite the high price tag. More than desire for NATO's nuclear umbrella, official here say, the eagerness reflects an ache to see Romania anchored once more in the West after a generation of communism and the erratic dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu. Although opinion surveys show enthusiasm is highest in Romania, the campaign for NATO membership here is part of a widespread desire across Eastern Europe to join the winning side of the ideological struggle that concluded at the beginning of the decade."
A different set of issues challenges NATO in Bosnia, where the alliance is struggling to perform as a peace keeper rather than a defense force. The NATO-led Security Force (SFOR) is being called on for Solomon-like intercessions to counter civil fracturing and legislative manipulations.
THE WASHINGTON POST: International institutions must have firmness and vision
The director of migration programs at the New York-based Open Society Institute, Arthur C. Helton, commented yesterday that a form of ethnic cleansing still prevails in Bosnia, and that international institutions must take a corrective stand. He wrote: "As the political debate rages about refugee return and the implementation of the Dayton peace agreement, an insidious form of ethnic cleansing continues on the ground in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Those seeking to build ethnically pure societies have manipulated outdated laws governing property rights and tenancy to achieve their misguided aims. They have effectively frustrated the return of the refugees and displaced persons, a key to lasting stability in Bosnia. In some instances, residents, including returnees, are driven from their homes by threats to their lives. This was the case earlier this month in the town of Jajce where Muslim returnees were forced to leave by groups of Croatian thugs."
Helton wrote: "The problem must be tackled at the source. Wartime property and tenancy legislation is at the root of property rights violations, and it directly affects the non-return of refugees and displaced persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Office of the High Representative has unsuccessfully demanded the repeal of such laws and an end to discriminatory practices in both entities of Bosnia. Additional measures at the highest political level are now required."
He said: "The Dayton peace process is at a crossroads, and immediate steps need to be taken to ensure the prospect for peace and stability in the region. The international community, including the relevant international institutions must have firmness and vision if this exercise is to be more than just a brief interlude in a cycle of vicious conflict."
SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The danger is that the Bosnian-Serb republic is on the brink of civil war
Peter Munch comments today that the events in Jajce and other signs of disintegration in Republika Srpska are creating new chances and dangers for the West. Munch says: "The danger is that the Bosnian-Serb republic is on the brink of civil war. Renewed internal violence on the Serbian front could rapidly spill over to other parts of the country where the trenches have been filled in only provisionally. There are unrepentant nationalists aplenty on the Croat and Muslim sides too, who would see a chance of realizing their own crude aims under cover of Serbian confusion.
"There are enough hot spots on the map of the Muslim-Croat Federation where new conflicts could ignite. The latest events in Jajce, where Croats set fire to the houses of returning Muslim refugees, should be taken as a warning. So if the SFOR peace force does not want to find itself in the middle of a sudden new flare-up, it must stifle any new budding violence at the outset."