Prague, 7 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- With NATO foreign and defense ministers due to meet in Brussels later this week, Western press commentary is focusing on U.S.-Western Europe relations and the Alliance's future mission. There is also some comment on internal European Union affairs, both military and economic.
GUARDIAN: This new era has the character of a New Year's resolution
Two British newspapers assess the Anglo-French summit meeting late last week (Dec. 3-4) in the French Atlantic port of St. Malo that discussed West European defense questions. The Guardian's editorial says that the declaration issued at the summit's end, which called for the EU to have its own defense role, was "trumpeted...by British Defense Secretary George Robertson as the start of a new era in defense cooperation."
The paper disagrees with Robertson's assessment, saying that "this new era has the character of a New Year's resolution. It rings with good intentions," the Guardian adds, "has minimal substance, and of course we heard it last year and the year before that."
The editorial goes on: "As a sop to the Americans, the declaration talks of "Western Europe's capacity for 'autonomous' rather than 'independent' actions.... It avoids the thorny issue of Europe's security architecture and whether the West European Union, which groups largely those nations which are members of both NATO and the EU, is to fade away or grown stronger."
FINANCIAL TIMES: The Anglo-French Declaration should turn Europe into the strong NATO partner
The Financial Times is more positive about the St Malo meeting, calling its declaration "historic." The paper notes it came from "the only two European countries with all-round military forces and a tradition of using them....It could," the FT believes, "provide the EU with is missing security dimension."
The editorial continues: "Giving the EU a voice in security policy ought to make Europeans face up more readily to tackling the crises around the union's borders. In short, it should turn Europe into the strong NATO partner the U.S. has always said it wants."
The FT adds: "The Anglo-French declaration may be enough to create a real EU defense role without further treaty chance.... (But) many questions remain unanswered. How will the EU's four neutral partners (Ireland, Austria, Sweden and Finland) fit in? What is to become of the West European Unions...?"
FINANCIAL TIMES: "We want a Europe that can act" (Madeleine Albright)
Just opposite its editorial today, the Financial Times runs, together with other West European papers, a commentary on NATO by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright entitled "The Right Balance Will Secure NATO's future." She writes: "Our goal is to reach agreement (at the April 1999 NATO summit in Washington) on a long-term program to develop the right capabilities to ensure both self-defense and the ability to respond quickly and effectively to crises."
Albright goes on: "That is why we welcome the call from (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair for Europeans to consider ways they can take more responsibility for their own security and defense....We want a Europe that can act with modern, flexible military forces that are capable of putting out fires in Europe's backyard and working with us through the Alliance to defend our common interests."
The commentary adds: "European efforts to do more for Europe's own defense makes it easier, not harder, for us to remain engaged....We will examine all proposals on European defense and security with a simple question in mind: does it improve our effectiveness in working together. Like Mr. Blair, we believe the emphasis should be placed on enhancing the practical capabilities Europe brings to our alliance."
IRISH TIMES: The European discussion of defense will pick up rapidly
The Irish Times also devotes its lead editorial to West European defense questions. The paper says that, "in a major shift of policy, Mr. Tony Blair has decided that his country's interests in the EU are best served by the development of a common defense policy, the potential framework for which was agreed in the (1997 EU) Treaty of Amsterdam. By throwing in his lot with France," the paper adds,. (Blair) has ensured maximum political attention for this new policy and sent out a clear message that...he means what he says when he talks about putting Britain at the center of Europe."
The IT goes on: "This is high politics by the two most powerful military states in the EU. At their meeting in St. Malo, Mr. Blair and (French President Jacques) Chirac were careful to insist that enhanced European cooperation would not be at the expense of their collective defense obligations in NATO and to say that 'the reinforcement of European solidarity must take into account the various positions of the European states.' This is a reference to the distinctive position of France within that Alliance and to the four neutral members of the EU --Ireland, Austria, Sweden and Finland."
The editorial also says: "Now that Britain has made this shift, the political pace of the European discussion of defense will pick up rapidly." It warns that "Ireland is ill-prepared for this debate....The (Dublin) Government should (now) take the lead...so as to raise the public profile of the issues at stake in European security and defense"
NEW YORK TIMES: NATO should be worrying primarily about its role in Europe
The New York Times says that "though NATO has played a useful role in suppressing violence in the Balkans in recent years, it remains a military alliance without a clear purpose in the wake of the Cold War." The paper, which has long opposed the alliance's expansion to Central Europe, calls "Washington's answer to this identity crisis...mischievous."
"First," the NYT goes on, "(Washington) pushed through the admission of three new members from Central Europe without adequately weighing potential consequences. Now it is pressing ideas that could ultimately lead to transforming the Alliance into a global strike force against threats to American and European
interests. Such a role would go far beyond any sensible mandate."
Rather, the paper believes that "NATO should be worrying primarily about its role in Europe, which requires much clarification. NATO operations need to be better coordinated with European civilian institutions, like the EU and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe."
The NYT concludes: "NATO's new role should be premised on more equal partnership in European defense. America should maintain its commitment to helping defend its allies against outside threats. But it should expect them to take on more responsibility for managing anarchy and strife in their own backyard, not in far corners of the world."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: The U.S. has an opportunity to align strategy with the security challenges of the 21st century
In a commentary in the Los Angles Times, strategic analyst Robert Manning writes: "It drew a swift and disdainful rebuff from the Clinton Administration when members of Germany's new (Left) Government first suggested that NATO abandon its Cold War nuclear theology and adopt a 'no first-use' doctrine.
Manning continues: "The nuclear issue is emblematic of NATO's larger problem: defining a clear mission as an alliance after its original raison d'etre has evaporated....If (in their Brussels meetings this week), they avoid reconsidering prevailing nuclear doctrine, NATO's ministers will not only reveal their conceptual poverty and bureaucratic inertia, but they also will miss an opportunity to adapt to new security challenges."
The analyst calls outright for a revision of U.S. and NATO nuclear doctrines, saying: "There is a compelling logic to joining moral imperatives with Realpolitik.... Politically, it is highly improbable that any U.S. president would a priori renounce the option of nuclear reprisal. But this does not make the case for retaining Cold War NATO doctrine.... Rather, it is an opportunity for the U.S. to align strategy with the security challenges of the 21st century and take the moral and political high ground as well."
WALL STREET JOURNAL: The Europeans are getting their unified central bank off to a splendid start
Finally, the Wall Street Journal Europe assesses in an editorial last week's coordinated reductions in interest rates by the 11 EU nations due to join the union's single currency in three weeks. The paper writes "A successful launch of the euro...will have enormous economic benefits to Europe...Businesses will no longer be afflicted by the wasteful costs of exchanging currencies....It is no accident that multinational corporations have been the principal driving force behind the creation of the euro."
The WSJ continues: "The Europeans are getting their unified central bank off to a splendid start. If the bankers remain observant of 'facts and arguments' (a phrase used by Bundesbank President Hans Tietmeyer last week), and if governments are allowed to compete in fiscal and regulatory policies, Europe may shake off its inertia and start to be an engine of the world economy."