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Western Press Review: Cheers For NATOs New Leader And Boos For U.S.s China Policy

  • Don Hill



Prague, 4 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The subject of new leadership for NATO attracts commentary in newspapers of three Western countries, and the Western press comments on a mix of other topics.

Britain's Financial Times celebrates in an editorial the likely accession of British Defense Secretary George Robertson to the secretary generalship of NATO. Robertson's record has, in the newspaper's words, "won him admirers in the United States and Europe." His record constitutes what the editorial calls "a strong platform" from which to address questions such as NATO's strategic role and its relations with Russia.

Leading NATO remains, however, a difficult task that, according to the Financial Times, "ultimately [will] depend upon the wit and wisdom of its political masters on either side of the Atlantic."



Correspondent Kevin Cullen, writing in a Boston Globe news analysis, tells a several-years-old anecdote of Robertson, then a British legislator from the Scottish town of Dunblane, calling for revocation of a local man's gun license on the grounds that the man seemed unstable. Robertson's political rival wouldn't endorse the calls, the license stood unrevoked, and the man went on to gun down schoolchildren in a national tragedy. Subsequently, Robertson refused to draw attention to his prescience.

In Cullen's words: "That story captures the essence of Robertson," whose "self-effacing style has defined his career." The NATO job, Cullen says, calls for an effective politician who doesn't necessarily seem like one. As the writer puts it: "Under the North Atlantic treaty, it is the civilian secretary general who tells the military generals what to do. But it is because NATO operates under rules of consensus that the secretary general must be a master politician."

Sueddeutsche Zeitung commentator Peter Muench says that Robertson has identified his two main goals for NATO: to increase Europe's influence inside NATO and to build NATO's relationship with Russia. But, says Muench, NATO's Kosovo experience seems in conflict with both aims. Muench writes: "Despite the rhetoric, the long weeks of the NATO bombardment produced little concrete justification for European pretensions to more autonomy of military action." He says that Britain, Germany and France supported the war, but the Americans ran it.

Muench sees little cause for optimism for Robertson's hopes. The Kosovo campaign ultimately succeeded, but, he writes; "The dilemma of wielding such massive military force was a sobering experience, driven home to NATO-member countries and governments for 11 nerve-wracking weeks." Muench concludes: "Despite all the changes in NATO, not much has really changed fundamentally at all."

Denmark's Berlingske Tidende says NATO would be choosing wisely to name Robertson. In an editorial, the newspaper says: "NATO will be getting a leader with vision, with political patience, and with knowhow." The Danish daily says that NATO's nature as what the editorial calls "a purely defense organization" changed with the Kosovo war. NATO now is a political as well as military actor, it says, and adds these words: "To continue the debate about how this role can be perfected will be one of George Robertson's most important tasks."

The Wall Street Journal Europe editorializes approvingly on Turkey's efforts to rebuild its economy and Sueddeutsche Zeitung Istanbul correspondent Wolfgang Koydl foresees a useful, if cynical, finale to Turkey's Ocalan melodrama. The Wall Street Journal's editorial notes that Turkey was one of the world's fastest growing economies in the early 1990s, but bled capital at the decade's end until moribund.

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's tax and pension changes and stepped up privatization of state enterprises comprise part of what the editorial calls "an impressive list of reforms." The Wall Street Journal Europe says that if these reforms hold the changes can only strengthen Turkey's case for EU membership.

Wolfgang Koydl's Sueddeutsche Zeitung commentary says that Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan's jail cell call to the Kurdish Workers' Party to cease violent activism in Turkey may be for him literally a life or death matter. In Koydl's words: "His success or failure will determine whether he is handed over to the hangman."

But what if, Koydl asks rhetorically, Ocalan cannot persuade the Kurdish guerilla fighters to suspend violence? Koydl says that the Turks might turn that to their advantage also. He writes that they would have no fear of hanging such a powerless Ocalan and, in Koydl's words: "Before that stage is reached, Turkey can still blackmail the Europeans along the lines of how much will you give us if we let him live."

In the United States, The Washington Post and the Boston Globe comment on aspects of U.S.-China tensions. The Post opens an editorial this way: "In just the past few days, China has illegally seized a Taiwanese ship, sent jet fighters provocatively across the Taiwan Strait, repeatedly hurled threats at Taiwan and its elected president and test-fired a new ballistic missile built in part with stolen U.S. technology. It also has cracked down on a peaceful spiritual sect, rounding up hundreds of members for some old-fashioned Communist re-education, and has -- just on Monday -- sentenced two pro-democracy activists to terms of eight and nine years in prison on charges of subverting state power."

The response of the U.S. administration of President Bill Clinton to this behavior has been flaccid, The Post complains, pursuing what the editorial terms "a policy of strategic ambiguity." This is unwise, the newspaper says. As The Post puts it: "In the long run, there will be more chance of deterring war, securing peace and even fostering good relations with China if the United States opts for clarity, not ambiguity," on China and Taiwan.

The New York Times joins editorially a growing chorus of voices casting doubt on claims of massive anti-U.S. espionage by China. The newspaper particularly criticizes the targeting of Los Alamo Laboratory scientist Wen Ho Lee as a spy. In the discussion of Chinese espionage in the United States, the editorial quotes approvingly the words of former U.S. Senator Warren Rudman: "Possible damage has been minted as probable disaster."

The New York daily condemns pillorying Wen Ho Lee, an American. It says: "Scapegoating Wen Ho Lee without evidence of espionage and deterring foreigners and foreign-born citizens from working at Los Alamos or other federal labs can only harm American science and traduce the American tradition of fairness."

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