Prague, 16 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today and over the weekend touches on a variety of issues. These include the history of the independent Baltic nations and their prospective accession to NATO, Russia-U.S. relations, and Europe's potential for an increased role in the Middle East peace process. Other commentary focuses again on missile defense, following the U.S. announcement of the successful completion of a missile intercept test on Saturday (14 July). Commentators also consider the potential benefits and drawbacks of holding the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing as well as China's relationship with Russia, as their presidents meet today in Moscow.
THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR:
A news analysis by Daniel McGroarty in "The Christian Science Monitor" looks at the controversy surrounding the projected accession of the Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia to the NATO alliance. He suggests that some Western policymakers have too readily acknowledged Russia's objections to granting the Baltic states NATO membership because Moscow considers them as part of its sphere of influence.
McGroarty writes that this view "belies the fact that the Baltics -- as captives -- were never part of the former USSR. Certainly a captive breaking free would 'outrage' the abductor, but that is hardly grounds to grant him veto power over his victim's future."
He says that from June 1940, when Soviet troops occupied the Baltics, U.S. State Department world maps "continued to depict the Baltic nations not as Soviet republics but as independent states, with a legend directing: 'The United States government has not recognized the incorporation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into the Soviet Union.'" Furthermore, he points out, diplomats representing the independent Baltic states continued to be invited to U.S. government functions.
McGroarty says that this history of Baltic sovereignty "is lost not only on major media, but on some present-day policymakers also." He concludes: "[From] 1940 on, the United States has refused to take any official act that implied that the Baltics belonged to the USSR. How ironic now if, after such steadfast resistance, the U.S. government cedes to President Vladimir Putin and Russia what Stalin and the Soviets never won."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
In "The Washington Post," columnist Jim Hoagland reviews the relationship between Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush as the Russian and U.S. presidents prepare for their second meeting, which begins in Genoa on Friday (20 July). He writes that Bush's lavish praise for Putin at their summit last month in Slovenia "counted for naught" when the UN Security Council vote on so-called "smart sanctions" on Iraq came up.
Hoagland notes that President Bush strongly criticized his predecessor's administration for failing to "draw a clear line around important U.S. goals abroad and to deal forcefully with nations that challenged those goals."
The commentator remarks: "Credibility -- of Mr. Putin, Mr. Bush and/or [U.S. Secretary of State Colin] Powell -- is at stake. [Mr. Putin] seems to have read Mr. Bush at their first meeting as a man whose forgiving nature, enhanced by a strong desire for a deal on missile defense, gives the Russians room to maneuver on Iraq, and perhaps elsewhere. He goes into the Genoa meeting with momentum, and more firmly in Saddam's corner than ever."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
In "The New York Times," Geoffrey Wheatcroft writes that on a range of issues, the policy gulf between Europe and America is noticeably widening. "But one potentially important area of divergence is among the least noticed: the Middle East conflict, where Europe and America have sharp differences and where, at the same time, Europe may be set to play an increasingly prominent part."
He notes that the common perception is that the U.S. favors Israel, and that "it isn't very surprising if the Arabs at last reject the idea that America is an even-handed intermediary." By contrast, "there is a rooted Israeli belief that most European governments lean toward the Palestinians. [Israeli] governments have always been very wary about encouraging any European role," he writes. "But the changing political landscape -- not least the Bush administration's uneasy attempt to stand back from the conflict -- could make one necessary. [Throughout] the Middle East, American influence is palpably waning."
Noting that Europe and Israel share many economic ties that continue to bind them to one another, Wheatcroft concludes: "If Europe is drawn more and more into the Middle East, it won't be for only economic reasons. Political nature abhors a vacuum, and one is being created by President Bush's dislike of intimate involvement in the conflict."
A commentary by correspondent Fabrice Rousselot in France's "Le Monde" looks at the United States' successful test of the interception of an intercontinental missile. This test was the fourth American attempt at interception, Rousselot notes, adding: "The last one, in July 2000, failed and led [former U.S.] President Clinton to interrupt [plans for] NMD."
But since the election of President Bush, a system of missile defense has been made a priority, "to the great displeasure of Russia and China." Rousselot adds that the U.S. president let it be known beforehand that whatever the results of the test, the research program would continue. The U.S. test provoked immediate and profound criticism from Moscow, Rousselot writes. He quotes a spokesman from the Russian foreign office as saying, "This creates a situation that jeopardizes all international treaties signed in the sphere of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
An editorial in "The Washington Post" says that the plan for a missile-defense system "lacks clarity in several important respects." The possibility exists, it continues, that "the [Bush] administration will build and deploy a missile defense without meeting two of the most important conditions for success: that it prove the technology before deployment, and that it reach agreements with Russia and other nations that ensure that the defenses will increase rather than detract from global stability."
Referring to certain senior U.S. officials, the editorial writes: "Deployment of a partially effective system, they say, would be better than nothing. The suggestion is that the threat from nations developing ballistic missiles is so great as to override the usual practice of thoroughly testing a weapon before its deployment." The paper further notes that the Bush administration "has advanced bold, if somewhat sketchy, ideas about forging a new strategic understanding with Russia that would cover both offensive and defensive nuclear weapons as well as cooperation on proliferation."
The paper concludes: "The danger is that the administration's haste to ready a [NMD] system [will] lead to unilateral action that will antagonize allies, inspire a weapons buildup by Russia or China and end by worsening U.S. security. At the moment, such haste looks like more of a threat than any ballistic missile."
With the successful U.S. test serving as a backdrop, President Jiang Zemin of China arrived in the Russian capital today for a state visit highlighted by the signing of a treaty on friendship and cooperation. The discussion between the two state chiefs, says Karl Grobe in the "Frankfurter Rundschau," will center on how to join forces against the U.S. defense policy and whether the 29-year-old ABM Treaty, which bans such a defense system, may still be salvaged.
Grobe says that China feels directly threatened, whereas Russia is still in possession of a substantial arsenal of weapons, which the U.S. defense missiles would not be able to counter entirely. The Moscow-Beijing association is on the defensive, Grobe says. But the danger lies in the conception of the ability of these states to impose their will on the world. "Russia and China are incapable of doing this, and they know it."
Daniel Broessler in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" echoes Grobe's sentiment when he refers to the leaders of Russia and China as "small giants." Together they rule 26 million square km, populated by 1.4 billion people. Presidents Jiang Zemin and Vladimir Putin are due to sign a treaty of friendship and cooperation, the two countries having undersigned a similar pact in communist days.
But the writer questions whether the world should fear these giants and responds with a close scrutiny of facts that indicate there is not much need for apprehension. Moreover, as the two leaders shake hands they always look at Washington out of the corner of their eyes: "Russia and China do not make up a duo. They are far more confounded by a triangular relationship with America."
A "Financial Times" editorial says that the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, "took the right decision in awarding the 2008 Games to Beijing. It would have been wrong to reject the bid for reasons of politics or human rights. But the responsibility now rests with the communist leadership to avoid creating a situation in the coming years in which the IOC might be forced to regret its verdict."
The paper continues: "The Beijing government is becoming more open to the world. [Intelligent] engagement can influence the balance towards reform. That is why the IOC's decision reflects the preference of most Western governments to engage rather than isolate China. [Enforced] isolation would only reduce external influence on the regime and breed paranoia in Beijing. [The] award of the games to Beijing will make the communist party more vulnerable to external scrutiny."
But the paper adds: "The Games' importance to China's political future should not be exaggerated. [China's] political future rests firmly with the Chinese people, engagement or no engagement."