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Western Press Review: EU Warms To U.S. Missile Defense Project

  • Daisy Sindelar

Prague, 10 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentators in today's survey of the Western press look at the relatively warm reception extended to the U.S. officials currently in Europe for consultations on missile defense -- with some pointing to holes in arguments of the plan's U.S. critics. Other comments look at the reasons behind the United States' dwindling popularity in Europe, the death penalty, and the political ambitions of Bulgaria's King Simeon.


Columnist Hugo Young writes in Britain's "The Guardian" daily: "On the day the [British] election was announced, the American missile men came to [London.] As [Prime Minister Tony] Blair delivered his opening speech about social mission and democratic humility to an audience of school-girls, his officials were listening to experts from Washington deliver the first big sell of missile defense, or NMD. [for National Missile Defense]" The British hosts, he continues, received their visitors' message "politely."

He says further: "The Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defense have been privately skeptical, on myriad counts, about both the technology of any version of NMD and its capacity, if done with the crude unilateralism Bush trumpeted during his election campaign, to destabilize world security."

But, he adds, "one part of the skepticism has begun to evaporate. Countries that were scornful of the rogue-state threat now acknowledge that there could be a threat, even though they're not persuaded how best to deal with it. [French President] Jacques Chirac periodically spits at Washington, but even official France does not always demur. One of the most lucid recent studies of NMD, stating that 'the hypotheses of U.S. policymakers cannot be easily dismissed,' was written by an official at the French Defense Ministry. [But] that is not the only reason why Washington's sortie went off quite well in London, in Brussels and maybe even in Paris. Another is that so much of missile defense is a long way off. The pain of it can be stalled."


Columnist George Will, writing in "The Washington Post," offers a counter-argument to critics who question the wisdom of subscribing to missile-defense proposals without proof that such a system will work. He writes: "By the logic of some commentators hostile to President Bush's determination to deploy defenses against ballistic missiles, the government should stop trying to develop an AIDS vaccine. Attempts to produce a vaccine have encountered failures and have not yet produced a product that works 'perfectly' or 'fully.'"

He continues: "What do such people mean by the verb 'work'? [And] as to whether missile defenses can work 'perfectly' or 'fully,' have you ever owned a car that worked 'perfectly'? What would it mean to say that any complex system -- a bomber, a tank, a destroyer -- 'fully works'? Weapons have varying degrees of usefulness in various contexts. Even a nation with a more-than-minimal missile force would find that even a less-than-perfect U.S. shield would complicate an aggressor's ability to make a credible threat."


Entering the debate over the United States' dwindling popularity in Europe, "The Wall Street Journal Europe" writes in an editorial: "If any of these [American critics of U.S. policy] spent as much time talking to normal Europeans as they spend talking to European politicians they would likely find that, at least among those under 35, it is a minority who would not emigrate to the U.S. to escape their own state-heavy economies, were emigration easier. If the U.S. really wants to hurt the European Union with 'unilateralism,' all it has do is unilaterally grant Europeans more visas."

The paper continues: "Europe's political classes know this. [But many] European leaders believe that to be relevant in the age of the American 'hyper-power' they have to be different -- that is, opposed. And that natural tendency of postwar European diplomacy may be aggravated by a number of so-called '68ers' -- Europe's Clinton generation -- now in powerful positions."

The editorial also says: "In Britain, both Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Robin Cook cut their political teeth in the 1980s Campaign for [unilateral] Nuclear Disarmament. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, and Defense Minister Rudolph Scharping all have a history of anti-American activism stretching from Vietnam protests in the '60s to opposition to American deployment of cruise and Pershing missiles in the '80s. (Mr. Fischer was even photographed attacking a policeman during a 1970s demonstration.) And EU foreign policy supremo [that is, chief] Javier Solana, the former NATO secretary-general, once led opposition to U.S. bases in Spain and opposed his country's entry into NATO. Never mind the French."


In an editorial, the "Financial Times" writes that "Americans are not the only ones asking why countries such as Libya, Pakistan, and Sudan are judged to be better qualified to sit on the [UN Human Rights Commission]. The U.S. may have been complacent ahead of last week's secret vote but this does not justify a result of breathtaking double standards."

Still, the paper says, "the [Bush] administration and the U.S. Congress should not respond to the UN vote by withholding back dues or taking other punitive action. This would simply invite retaliation. The administration should instead pursue constructive engagement on commission issues."

The editorial adds: "The EU should work to ensure that the U.S. is voted back on the panel next year. Whatever the present strains, there is more to unite than divide America and Europe. Especially when it comes to democratic values and human rights."


Next week (16 May), the United States is scheduled to execute Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. In a commentary for "The New York Times," analyst Andrew Kohut writes: "Every [U.S.] poll taken has found the vast majority of Americans favoring the execution. [But] this comes at a time when the same nationwide surveys are finding diminished support for capital punishment [in general]. A Gallup poll in April uncovered a [great] dissonance in opinion when fully 22 percent [of people surveyed] said they opposed the death penalty but wanted to see Mr. McVeigh die."

Kohut continues: "[Since the early 1990s,] emerging doubts about fairness in the application of the death penalty have led to greater reservations about it. At the same time, the public's thinking about capital punishment as a deterrent to murder is changing. [A survey] released last month found for the first time in 15 years that a majority did not believe the death penalty lowered the murder rate."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" looks at the political ambitions of Bulgaria's Simeon II, the former king who has now taken an early lead heading into next month's scheduled parliamentary elections. The paper writes: "The pain of economic reform, added to the fragility of newborn democracy, has more than once left the former communist nations of Eastern Europe vulnerable to charlatans promising miracle cures. A decade ago, path-breaker Poland saw its celebrated president, Lech Walesa, nearly ousted by a previously unknown businessman who promised his 'Party X' would make everyone in the country rich. Last year Romania's political system was nearly undone by a fanatical nationalist who reached a presidential election runoff by capitalizing on the poor results of that country's economic reform.

"Now," the editorial goes on, "it is Bulgaria's turn. Out of nowhere, a former Bulgarian king forced from his throne in 1946 has taken a huge lead by promising to solve the country's problems in 800 days."

Should he win, the paper says, the results could be "disastrous" for Bulgaria, which, "after years of delay, finally embraced free-market reforms [and became] a serious candidate for eventual admission to NATO and the European Union." It continues: "The current government, led by Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, has made remarkable progress during its term. [As] with numerous reformist leaders before him, however, Mr. Kostov's reward for sound leadership has been bitter enmity from those thrown out of work or impoverished by the reforms -- and impatient expectation of better times from many others. With his regal bearing and grand gestures, Bulgaria's former king seems to offer quick relief. [The West] can only hope that the shallow spell he casts wears off before election day."


Columnist Jeff Jacoby writes in "The Boston Globe" that the 2008 Summer Olympics should be held anywhere but Beijing. As the International Olympic Committee prepares to announce on 12 July which of five cities -- Osaka, Paris, Toronto, Beijing, or Istanbul -- will host the games, he writes: "Normal human beings would blanch at the thought of inviting athletes to compete at the site of an infamous massacre. But China's communist rulers are not normal human beings. So it should come as no surprise that they propose to hold [Olympic] events in and around [Tiananmen Square], where the People's Liberation Army killed as many as 2,000 pro-democracy student demonstrators in June 1989."

He continues: "There are those who suggest that awarding China the Olympics could help reduce atrocities -- [the] reformers would be empowered and the government would have to be on its best behavior. But if recent Chinese conduct is any guide, it is more likely that giving the Olympics to Beijing will embolden the communists to crack down even more savagely on dissenters and minorities."

And he adds: "No doubt [Chinese officials] know that the IOC has never pulled the games from a host city because of belligerent or offensive behavior -- not even in 1936 and 1980, the only times the Olympics were held in a totalitarian state (Berlin and Moscow, respectively)."