Accessibility links

Western Press Review: What Role For Europe In U.S. Response To Attacks?

By Khatya Chhor and Dora Slaba

Prague, 20 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Several analyses in the Western press today consider what the European role might be in a U.S. response to the 11 September terrorist attacks. Some question whether the continent's initial overwhelming support for the United States will give way to ambivalence as military retaliation seems increasingly likely.


A "Wall Street Journal Europe" editorial considers the prospect that Islamic extremist Osama bin Laden, considered by the U.S. to be the prime suspect in the attacks on New York and Washington, may have numerous organizational cells in Europe.

"Bin Laden bragged in 1996 that he had operations in Albania, Britain, the Netherlands, Romania, Russia and other countries, according to the Sunday Times of London," says the editorial. "British and American government officials have acknowledged that bin Laden's [Al] Qaeda organization has operated in the U.K., Albania and perhaps elsewhere in Europe."

Albania, in particular, may have been a key staging area for bin Laden's operations in the Balkans, it continues. "Using Albania as a base, bin Laden's crew may have purchased anthrax and other biological weapons from sources in the Czech Republic, according to an investigative report by a British newspaper, the Mail on Sunday."

The editorial goes on to say that while for many the idea of the "war against terrorism" now under discussion seems far off and highly theoretical, if such allegations are true, Europe must consider themselves to be directly involved.

The editorial concludes: "While Europe decides what level of support it will give to its American ally, it might want to consider the number of bin Laden's men who may be circulating within its borders."


A second "Wall Street Journal Europe" editorial looks at the effects of the U.S. attacks on internal political affairs in Europe. It says that European politicians have expressed overwhelming support for the U.S. as it prepares a response to the attacks, and notes that this is occurring as both France and Germany prepare for elections. But the editorial adds: "Nobody knows how long any of this [support] will last, to be sure, as the roots of pacifism are deep in Europe. But for the present those roots have been shaken. Some of the leaders who initially were hesitant to join a war on terrorism are now reconsidering. Those who from the start voiced their solidarity and said this terrorist attack will not stand are riding high in opinion polls."

The editorial says that as French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder get ready for elections, they "may continue to reap the benefits of standing firm against terror well into the future if they continue to communicate with their countrymen as they have so far. Clearly, for the time being, the people want to hear a different message from those that have been so pervasive in Europe in the recent past."


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Professor Karl Otto Hondrich of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurter considers the moral and political implications of a U.S. retaliatory strike on Afghanistan. He writes: "So the most powerful country in the world goes to war against the most powerless in retaliation for a crime that probably involved none of its citizens. This very idea [clashes] with our most elementary moral instincts..."

Hondrich says that the attacks on the U.S. served to unify the world in moral condemnation of the act, and have made the perpetrators global outlaws. But this moral high ground will be lost if the world submits to a desire for revenge. "[The] opportunity for a global morality by way of [this] global crime is lost the moment we declare war on the perpetrators," he writes. "The urge to do so is inexorable, as [the] crime cries out for punishment. This is not a pathological thirst for vengeance, but rather a mundane desire for reciprocity..."

If the U.S. retaliates militarily, he says, "Instead of being universally ostracized criminals, the perpetrators will once again become part of a people whose common fate is to be attacked by the United States. If the Americans decide to bomb [Afghanistan], the world's sympathies and solidarity -- especially those of the Islamic world -- will shift away from the United States and toward Afghanistan."

Hondrich concludes: "The evil we are so vehemently fighting or believe ourselves to be fighting is in reality being generated by this very collaboration between us and our enemies."


France's "Le Monde" carries an editorial comparing the new war on terrorism to America's Gulf War of 1990-91. The parallels are tempting, says the paper. To form a coalition against Iraq, former U.S. President George Bush, the sitting president's father, needed the cooperation of moderate Arab states. President George W. Bush the son is in a similar situation. To respond to the attacks on the U.S., he must forge a battle on Muslim territory. And he must do so at a time when his lack of involvement with the Israel-Palestinian conflict and his sanctions against Iraq are coming under fire. Even more than his father did, he needs the support of Arab nations. And he will obtain it only if he makes progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, says the paper.

Le Monde writes: "Yasser Arafat has not repeated the error he committed in 1990-1991 by showing solidarity with Saddam Hussein. This time, he denounces [Osama] bin Laden and affirms his place by the side of the United States." In contrast, the paper says, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "has done all he could to exploit for his own purposes the diversion of attention created by the attacks. The Israeli army has led particularly offensive operations in the territories [and has] not hesitated to compare Yasser Arafat with bin Laden ..."

President Bush, "Le Monde" says, must pressure Sharon to take positive action. The U.S. president desperately needs moderate Arab opinion, and "nothing is more urgent than relaunching the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue."


The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" says in an editorial that time is running out for the Taliban. Everything else is uncertain. But there are indications from Afghanistan that the Taliban is somewhat helpless, the paper says. When its spiritual leader questions where bin Laden had the pilots trained, he must know that this question has already been answered by America. If the Taliban is so certain of the innocence of their "guest," they could be far more vigorous in their performance, says the editorial.

But the paper goes on to say that "[No where] is there any enthusiasm for war. There is no government, not even the U.S. administration, that gives the impression that they can't wait to unleash a war."


Another commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" deals with the issue of a coalition to fight terrorism. Whereas the immediate reaction was to rally to the American cause, to fight back, a few days later the unanimity is not quite so evident, it says. U.S. President George W. Bush, who can undoubtedly act even without the sanction of the United Nations, can nevertheless expect backing from the world body. This would make his challenge easier. But China, for example, is taking a more problematic stance. In the second resolution of the Security Council, China, as well as Malaysia, abstained from voting. The commentary asks, "Are these the first signs of small reversals?"


A "Financial Times" editorial says that in the wake of the U.S. attacks, many unanswered questions and diplomatic challenges lie ahead for Europe. It writes: "The intense diplomacy across the Atlantic this week underlines concern in European capitals about how the Bush administration intends to manage the next phase of the crisis. A military response is inevitable. But the timing, the targets -- and above all, the objectives -- in the new war on terrorism remain unclear."

The editorial also asks what form the international coalition against terrorism will take: "Is it a broad alliance with the narrow objective of punishing the perpetrators, or does President George W. Bush favor a narrow U.S.-led coalition with the broad objective of a war against terrorism around the globe?"

The editorial concludes by suggesting that Europe's leaders "should reinforce the case for proceeding carefully -- but not to the point of ruling out any action that could risk civilian casualties. The issue should not be whether the retaliation should be proportionate, but whether it is precise if it comes to commando strikes against Mr. bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan."


A "Chicago Tribune" editorial says that after the initial pledges of support following the 11 September attacks, the resolve of European governments has turned to ambivalence. The editorial suggests that this is evidence of a one-sidedness in trans-Atlantic relations. The Tribune asks, "What obligations does Europe have to help defend America in one of its darkest hours? Plenty," it says. "What have Americans been doing in Europe for most of the last century, if not defending Europe in those two world wars, a rebuilding crusade and a Cold War? Is NATO a one-way street or a two-way street? Is it a pact that delivers mutual aid -- or a U.S. protectorate for European countries that have not been able to protect themselves?

The editorial goes on to acknowledge some of the European concerns. It writes: "Of course it is important not to run off half-cocked...[Nor] does anyone want to touch off more terrorism. That's why [U.S. President George W.] Bush is trying to build an alliance."

"It's unclear what, exactly, paralyzes the Europeans," the editorial continues. "They can plainly see that last week's attack struck at all free, Western, industrial democracies, not just one. Yes, Bush must listen to European concerns and build a coalition that has clout and credibility. [So] what, other than fear, explains the reticence? And [why] are thousands of U.S. troops still on the ground defending Europe?" it asks.

The editorial concludes by saying, "It is startling -- in the wake of history, formal alliance and last week's pledges of support -- that the U.S. does not know whether it can count on its European allies. But we are about to find out."


In Eurasia View, CIS affairs analyst Igor Torbakov examines the effect Russian involvement in the international anti-terrorism coalition will have in the Caucasus and Central Asia, and particularly in Chechnya. Russia stands to play a major role in the coalition, he says, but the cost of this participation "may be a considerable expansion of Russian influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia, as well as an all-out blitz to crush Chechen separatism."

A decisive strike against the Taliban would greatly benefit Moscow's security aims in the region, he says. The Taliban's sponsorship of Islamic radical groups, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU, has fueled instability in Central Asia. As a result, Moscow is anxious to stem the growth of Islamic radicalism and strengthen their own influence in the region as a security measure.

Torbakov says that Russia's tactics in Chechnya are also likely to shift. He writes: "It would appear that Russia's rulers intend to use the worldwide wave of indignation against terrorism to 'solve the Chechen question' as they see fit. [Over] the past two years, the international community has repeatedly condemned Russian human rights violations in connection with Moscow's struggle to crush Chechen separatism."

He quotes Moscow analyst Yefim Dikii as saying that from now on, the "world public" will not be able to condemn the Russian military's brutal tactics in Chechnya.