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Western Press Review: Bush In Europe, NATO, EU

  • Khatya Chhor
  • Dora Slaba

Prague, 13 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary continues to focus largely on the first official visit of U.S. President George W. Bush to the European Continent. Bush's expected discussions on missile defense, NATO expansion, global warming, and the future of trans-Atlantic cooperation command the most media attention.


A news analysis in "The Washington Post" by Dana Milbank notes that as Bush began his tour of the Continent, several European leaders were restating their disapproval of some U.S. policies. Writing from Madrid, Bush's first stop, she cites a statement issued after a meeting yesterday between German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac, which reiterated their conviction that the missile threat is best dealt with through a focus on nonproliferation rather than on a defense system.

Milbank also notes the protest demonstrations that greeted Bush in Madrid. She writes: "The demonstrators' causes included the Kyoto accord [on emissions controls], the death penalty, and trade sanctions against Cuba, but the protesters seemed united in their opposition to what they viewed as Bush's American imperialism."


Mark Steyn sees the matter quite differently in a commentary for the Wall Street Journal Europe. He writes: "Mr. Bush is the U.S. president Europe's been demanding for decades. [After] years of deploring American imperialism, Europe's anti-Yank elites have seamlessly moved on to being just as snide and patronizing about American isolationism."

Steyn says that "it's clear that the two pillars of the Western Alliance (Western Europe and the U.S.) are coming apart, and not because of the Americans. [To] European leaders left [and] right," he adds, "the U.S. is increasingly the misfit of the Western democracies -- wedded to such bizarre propositions as capital punishment, gun rights, non-socialized health care, non-metric weights and measures, compulsorily pasteurized cheese, non-confiscatory taxation, free speech, etc."

He goes on: "So now we have the curious spectacle of the unelected apparatchiks of an ersatz superpower [that is, the EU] jetting to Washington to lecture the administration on the death penalty. Who's the global bully now?" he asks.

Steyn concludes: "The heirs to the old Continental empires believe they've found a structure -- the European Union -- that can challenge the pre-eminence of the U.S., and they're in a hurry to do so. The EU, which can't even prevent genocide on its own frontier, prances round the world sticking its nose into areas where it either knows nothing (Korea) or lacks the will to make any useful contribution (Palestine). Welcome to the age of the Ugly European."


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger examines what he sees as the diverging interests of the United States and Western Europe. He says, "notwithstanding the obvious links, one can just as soberly see that there are a significant number of areas of contention, which in some cases threaten to become the source of major conflicts."

Frankenberger says further that many Europeans view President Bush as a "self-satisfied, execution-supporting president of a world power so intoxicated with itself that it pays little or no heed to the concerns and interests of others, and sees in itself the measure of all things -- a power that does not care about international rules, principles, and organizations, but behaves as if its sole desire is to achieve the greatest possible advantages for itself." He considers this view an exaggeration, even a caricature, but he adds that Washington "would do well to exercise a degree of restraint and modesty, as Mr. Bush originally intended."

As for the Europeans, Frankenberger says that they "would be well advised to banish arrogance and hysteria from their repertoire of reactions whenever they are confronted by U.S. decisions and intentions that do not necessarily coincide with their own."

Summing up, he writes that "there can be no doubt that the order, security, and stability of the world depend upon a strong United States-European partnership. [Only] if the United States and Europe confront the major tasks together is there a solid chance of success."


An editorial in "The New York Times" says that Bush "needs to set a steady, productive course for trans-Atlantic relations," adding that this "will require commitment to genuine consultation and cooperation with Europe [on a number of issues.]"

The paper says that recent U.S. calls for abandoning the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty have understandably unsettled Europeans. It warns that "haste [in unilaterally abrogating the ABM Treaty] could unravel the whole structure of exiting arms control treaties. It makes far more sense," the editorial says, "to continue abiding by the ABM treaty while trying to negotiate a new agreement with Moscow permitting limited missile defenses." In any case, it notes, "with no technology that can reliably shoot down enemy missiles yet available, there is no compelling need to cast off the ABM treaty now."

The editorial also notes that the Bush administration has remained unwavering in its rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, committing the United States to "little more than further study of a problem [that is, climate control] that has already been extensively researched." It says that "Mr. Bush needs to listen carefully to the concerns of European leaders on these and other issues. [U.S.] leadership is most effective when exercised in concert with Europe, not in opposition to it."


A commentary in the "International Herald Tribune" by analysts Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay looks at President Bush's missile defense proposals, and suggests four principles that should be adopted when considering missile defense systems. They write:

"[Proceeding] with missile defenses in ways that ignore or dismiss European concerns, on the presumption that Europe has little choice but to follow the American lead, [is a] unilateralist prescription [that] posits a false choice, and would lead to a diplomatic disaster."

The analysts propose that, first, "defenses must be imbedded in a broader non-proliferation strategy. [Second,] the overriding objective of any missile defense system should be to defend the United States, friends, and allies against the rogue state missile threat. [The missile defense system] should not be aimed at Russia or China." Daalder and Lindsay say, "third, missile defenses should be deployed only after they have been shown to work. [And finally,] the administration should make good on its pledge to cooperate with Russia where it can."

The writers say that Washington should "pledge to modify or replace the [ABM] Treaty with an agreement that allows limited defenses against rogue states but bars the United States and Russia from developing defenses that threaten the other's nuclear deterrent." In modifying arms control policies to meet the needs of a new world, they write, "the Bush administration should not forget that formal agreements continue to be in the fundamental interest of the United States."


In the "Financial Times," commentator William Wallace argues that the broadest issue that NATO will have to address this week is "whether [it] should develop into a European regional security organization -- focusing on crisis management, partnership and cooperation with the former communist states -- or whether it should provide the framework for the projection of Western power across Eurasia and beyond -- as geopolitical thinkers in Washington would prefer."

Wallace says that "European governments will want to manage NATO enlargement delicately, in parallel with EU enlargement and with a close security partnership with Russia." He adds, "many in Washington want to push ahead faster, although without yet accepting that a larger NATO will become a different organization, whose new members are likely to be more narrowly focused on regional problems."

The most immediate question facing the alliance, as Wallace sees it, is "whether the U.S. administration can reassure Moscow of its willingness to work within the constraints of international agreements rather than strengthen suspicions among Russian leaders that they are being deliberately disadvantaged by Western defense initiatives."

On 15 June, the writer notes, the U.S. president will be speaking in Warsaw about his desire for NATO enlargement. On 16 June, he meets Russian President Vladimir Putin. He comments: "It will be hard to satisfy both."


Europe needs the United States just as much as the United States needs Europe, says Michael Stuermer in a commentary for "Die Welt." He writes: "NATO remains indispensable to both sides as does cooperation on global trade and global finance and in protecting against instability and insecurity. The [trans-Atlantic] community must not only look after what it has in common but must also learn to deal with differences. A dialogue conducted by two hard-of-hearing parties clearly is not good enough."

Although he says each party will naturally pursue its own interests, Stuermer believes "it is possible for both sides to offer each other mutual support and reinforcement." He says that official trips such as President Bush's are not that important. What matters is that a "transatlantic partnership [be] more of a community of equals. This is the measure by which the success or failure of Bush's current trip to Europe will be judged."


Stefan Kornelius, commenting in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," is far more critical of U.S. foreign policy. He writes, "One can hardly say a love relationship between the U.S. president and his European allies will be created this week." The writer says that from the outset of the Bush administration, Europeans have regarded him with suspicion. He is seen, the writer says, as the rebirth of "the ugly American: Bush the cowboy, the brutal one, the trigger-happy guy."

Kornelius says that this these cliches are as mistaken as the idea that the president is driven by intellectual curiosity. For the commentator, the truth lies somewhere in between. Kornelius says Bush's biggest failure was his intention to "set about doing everything differently [because] he knew everything better."

Kornelius, like the other commentators, points to the current frictions between the U.S. and Western Europe. He concludes: "Should such antipathies strengthen and even grow, then one day both sides will have to acknowledge that their alliance and their much-prized common values exist only as a shadow."