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Western Press Review: Missile Defense In Tri-Polar World, Chechnya, Sharon in Moscow

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 6 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in today's Western press focuses on the issue of missile defense and what the development of such technology will mean for the global power balance between China, Russia, and the United States. Other issues examined include NATO's "Operation Essential Harvest," the alliance's ongoing effort to disarm ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia; Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to Moscow; the conflict in Chechnya; and the UN's summit on racism.


An editorial in "The Washington Post" takes another look at missile defense and urges the United States to increasingly involve both China and Russia in its plans to develop the technology. It says that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush should seek to create what it calls "a real structure for engagement on strategic issues."

As the paper writes, "A missile defense initiative carried out with the cooperation or at least acquiescence of the world's other nuclear powers could be an important addition to global security, while one launched over their opposition might well end up making the world more dangerous." Thus far, the paper says, the Bush administration's engagement of Russia and China on this issue has seemed "vague, even confused, in its aims."

Regarding Russia, the administration seems to be pursuing two different strategies. Administration officials have at times indicated that the U.S. will withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, regardless of what Russia does. There have been other indications that the U.S. seeks an accord that would offer Russia assurances on the scope of missile defense and would include agreements on mutual reductions of existing arms.

The newspaper writes, "If it were willing to make commitments about the shape and limits of missile defense, the Bush administration might well be able to win such cooperation from Moscow and Beijing."


In a contribution to "The Washington Post," Rose Gottemoeller of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace examines the Bush administration's engagement of China on the issue of missile defense ahead of next month's summit in Shanghai. Specifically, she considers the Bush administration's signal to China last weekend that it might be willing to consider a return to nuclear testing so that China could field new warheads -- multiple, independently targetable warheads, or MIRVs.

She says that, on one hand, MIRVs would assure China that the U.S.'s missile defense would not negate its strategic offensive deterrent. On the other hand, MIRVs are a stepping stone to strategic superiority.

She writes, "Encouraging a boost in Chinese warheads in this way is highly destabilizing and will do nothing for U.S. national security." For the past decade, she says, China has employed "a full moratorium on nuclear testing that would sharply constrain the development of the new warheads needed to deploy MIRVs. [Now,] at a single stroke, the Bush administration's signal will [undermine] those figures in the leadership who have been holding the line against testing."

Gottemoeller continues: "[It] makes no sense for the Bush administration to encourage nuclear testing, given the enormous potential cost to U.S. national security of new, more accurate Chinese warheads. If we are going to go to bizarre lengths to convince the Chinese that our limited missile defense system is not designed against them, then we would be better off helping them directly with their countermeasure technologies. Or perhaps," she says, "we should encourage the Chinese and Russians to work together on countermeasures to the system."


Columnist Stefan Kornelius, writing in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," says NATO should be prepared for the long haul in Macedonia.

The predictable is now being proven, he says: NATO troops have become the victims of a ball game being played by various interest groups, and they have become party to a conflict in which they wanted to play a neutral and limited role.

True, he writes, their arrival has brought an end to what he calls an "as yet not full-blown civil war." But how this matter is to be brought to a happy end is becoming more puzzling by the day, he says.

Of course, Kornelius continues, in all truth, NATO did not expect anything else, in spite of its optimistic rhetoric. It was clear from the start that the hostile parties would not cooperate peacefully within four weeks. It would be a mistake to think that changes in the constitution and the collection of weapons would end years of hostility. The plan for a limited 30-day presence in the country was doomed to failure. Hence, he writes: "The ambassadors in NATO should seriously rack their brains over 'Operation Essential Harvest.' The concern is a follow-up mandate."

The lessons learned in Bosnia and Kosovo have to be applied here, too. Now that the soldiers are in Macedonia, "they will not be able to depart so quickly. But if they do leave," says Kornelius, "the disputes will break out once more. The cycle of wars in the Balkans has taught us that the battles always subside in winter and that the units gather strength in the spring. This is exactly what is going to happen to the UCK in Macedonia, which first of all is winning semi-diplomatic recognition as a negotiating partner, and which will then be stronger in the forthcoming spring and become active again."

Given this situation, says Kornelius, it is imperative that a "firm mandate" be given to any Western-backed troop presence in Macedonia, and this probably requires a mandate from the United Nations.

Finally, although no one has said this aloud, "there must come a time for someone to come forward with a saving idea whereby public order will bring enduring stability to the Balkans," Kornelius concludes.


A commentary by Rolf Paasch in the "Frankfurter Rundschau" says Europe's policy in the Balkans has been grossly insufficient. In describing the initial measures taken in NATO's "Operation Essential Harvest," the commentary points out the naivete of Europe's approach. He calls it "grotesque and insufficient" and says the truth of this is only now becoming apparent to those involved.

Now the West is finally taking action, but Paasch asks, "Why didn't they do anything in the first place?"


The "International Herald Tribune" includes a contribution from Frederick Bonnart of the independent military journal "NATO's Nations." He joins several other commentators in suggesting that plans must be made for NATO to remain in Macedonia to prevent an armed conflict, should the situation deteriorate.

Bonnart says that if the current NATO mission succeeds, "and makes all groups feel confident in their ability to participate in national decisions affecting them, the country could achieve security and prosperity within a short period. [But] if the exercise fails because constitutional changes are not ratified or carried out, fighting is likely to resume with increased intensity and brutality. The economy would collapse, and elections due in January would return extremist parties to power."

A rapid response on the part of the alliance would be crucial, he says, to prevent more clashes. But Bonnart adds that NATO would be able to intervene "only if three preconditions applied: a request from the Macedonian government or a mandate from the UN Security Council; full agreement by NATO's 19 members; and commitments from them for adequate forces."

"Such an operation would be costly, and risks would be involved," Bonnart writes. "But if the situation deteriorates, costs in resources would be far greater, and the human cost incalculable."


In "The New York Times," columnist William Safire discusses Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to Moscow this week to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Safire says the meeting does not necessarily indicate that Russia will be taking on a larger role in the Middle East peace process, as some observers have suspected. Instead, he writes, "What brought Sharon to Moscow was partly to cement ties among the Russians, Israelis, and Americans regarding intelligence-sharing to combat international terrorism."

Part of their mutual concern is over Iran, which Safire suggests is a significant threat to Israel. He quotes Sharon as saying that Iran "is calling for the destruction, the elimination of the state of Israel." Safire adds that Russia has been supplying Iran with scientists and material to build nuclear warheads on missiles -- an issue that was the subject of meetings between nuclear experts from both Russia and Israel.

Safire says that another reason for Israel's engaging with the Russians is that both nations have much to offer each other in space technology and economic cooperation. He writes: "The Israeli leader [may] be too optimistic about the former K.G.B. operative now stifling dissent at home and helping Iraq's Saddam Hussein remain in power. I tried the question on Sharon that embarrassed George W. Bush: Does he trust Putin? He didn't bite: 'Yes, I trust him, but I remember what President Reagan said -- "trust and verify,"' Sharon answered."


In the French daily "Le Monde," Theo Klein of the Council of French Jewish Organizations writes an open letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Klein says he writes because Israeli policy has reached the point of absurdity. "It is no longer about politics -- which implies thought and a potentially recognizable objective -- but about a tragic battle in which, regrettably, all of our morals are sinking."

Klein continues: "Yes, these actions are absurd because they are only feeding the passion and the hatred, because they mobilize the Palestinian population around those that it considers its fighters, and because it maintains for the Israeli population the illusion of a false security."

"When will you admit that it is the Israeli tanks and the missiles that [feed] revolt every day with barriers, searches, systematic distrust that gives our neighbors the feeling that they are constantly suspected of terrorism, simply because they are not Israelis?" Klein asks.

He concludes by saying: "I know that my words do not have the visible solidity of a military action. [Only] intelligence can overcome violence. Please," he implores Sharon, "be firm and brave."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" looks at recent clashes in Chechnya over the past few weeks. It says these events have received surprisingly little press coverage and notes that Russian President Vladimir Putin has made statements to the effect that there are "no hostilities" in Chechnya.

The paper writes: "There was next to no news reporting, in or outside of Russia, about the latest fighting; Mr. Putin's campaign against the NTV television station earlier this year has evidently had the desired effect of silencing most of the Russian media. Hardly anyone writes or speaks anymore about the daily horrors of life in Chechnya: about the 'cleansing' operations in which Russian troops sweep into villages, round up dozens or hundreds of men and hold them in pits; the brutal assassinations of Russian-appointed Chechen officials by the rebels; the dumps of bodies, one of them outside Russia's largest military base; or the hundreds of thousands of refugees living in miserable camps in neighboring republics, who prefer the risk of disease and starvation to that of facing the Russian occupation at home."

The editorial continues: "Foreign governments say nothing; Western leaders are following the lead of President Bush, who has made no public mention of Chechnya since his first meeting with Mr. Putin in June. For that matter, Mr. Putin's comment consigning the continuing bloodshed to oblivion was itself widely ignored. All the better, from the Kremlin's point of view," writes the paper. "Crazy as Mr. Putin's statement may sound, the world is proving it true."


In "The New York Times," Bob Herbert comments on the UN conference on racism in light of the walkout earlier this week by the United States and Israel. He says that the meeting's aims were noble but unrealistic.

Herbert writes: "There was no chance that the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance would end up being more than a grandiose gathering of the cynical and the naive. [Even] if absolutely everything had gone well at the heroically named conference, [all] that could have emerged would be a paper telling us that racism, anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance are bad. In its essence, the paper's theme would be, 'Now, now, you stop that!'"

Herbert wryly adds that "the conference would close with handshakes and congratulations, and all the nations of the world -- especially the ones teeming with ethnic and religious hatreds -- would proceed to ignore the admonition."


A "Los Angeles Times" editorial applauds the U.S. and Israeli departure from the conference in Durban. "Washington provided plenty of warning that unless language branding Israel a racist state was removed, the U.S. would leave," the paper says.

The paper continues: "The U.S. delegation tried to negotiate the offensive language out of proposed documents. At one point, there was progress. A member of the Palestinian Authority said Palestinians would not equate Zionism with racism but wanted to discuss discriminatory policies by Israel against Palestinians. A U.S. delegate said Washington was prepared to accept a compromise referring to Palestinian suffering."

But this potential compromise did not succeed in bringing the sides together. However, the paper says that the conference will manage to do some good even with its overly grand hopes and amid the bitter controversy.

It writes: "Participants certainly cannot think that the 'plan of action' they hope to adopt this week will end oppression and racism any time soon. But the downtrodden do benefit by having their concerns brought to the world's attention. Done properly, the conference would have allowed Kurds, Gypsies, Tibetans, India's untouchables and other groups whose views are often squelched to make their cases on the world stage. Instead," the paper says, "the Arab-Israeli conflict has overshadowed legitimate demands."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)