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Western Press Review: Russian Pragmatism And The Antiterrorist Coalition

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 4 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary and analysis continues to focus on issues related to the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Several analyses in today's editions also concentrate on how brokering a Middle East peace might affect the antiterrorism campaign and what Russia stands to gain by joining the global coalition.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says that in order to create a viable Palestinian state, one must look beyond Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to moderate Palestinians. It notes that the creation of a Palestinian state has been the desired goal of the peace process ever since the Oslo Peace Accords. But the paper says that since the 11 September attacks, things have changed.

"Terrorists are no longer popular," it writes. "Arafat has spent most of his life leading the Palestine Liberation Organization in a campaign of bombing and terrorizing, ostensibly for the 'liberation' of Palestine."

The paper says that in accepting Arafat as the legitimate leader of the Palestinian people, "Nobody seems to have asked Palestinian moderates who had lived under the threat of PLO terror for years. The argument was [that] moderates would be dismissed as tools of the West or of Israel."

The "Journal" goes on to say that in order to create a Palestinian state, "it is time to look beyond Arafat for those Palestinians willing and capable of bringing into being a state that is more than the gangster dictatorship over which Arafat has presided for years."

The paper concludes that if peace is going to be made in the Middle East, "it will be made with those moderates prepared to do the hard work of establishing a state that recognizes the rule of law and rights to both property and civil liberty."


A "Financial Times" editorial looks at the recent outbreaks of violence in both the Middle East and Kashmir. It says that if the antiterrorist coalition is going to hold together, "urgent action must be taken to restrain the combatants and defuse the violence in both places. For each threatens to destabilize important countries in the wider conflict."

The paper says that the U.S. in particular should intervene to stop the violence between Israel and the Palestinians. It writes: "To keep their coalition together, the U.S. and its allies have sought to de-link the Arab-Israeli conflict from the wider campaign against 'global terrorism.' But in popular perception across the Middle East, the two issues cannot be separated. In order to back the campaign against global terrorists, they need to believe the U.S. will be more even-handed and engaged in promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians."

The paper also considers a report, leaked to the U.S. media, that the Bush administration was ready to support the creation of a Palestinian state before the 11 September attacks. It writes: "President George W. Bush's explicit support for the creation of a Palestinian state amounts to an overdue gesture to Arab public opinion. It has long been clear that any solution must include that goal."


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger says that since Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Brussels earlier this week, issues that were previously contentious -- such as the possibility of Russia joining NATO and its resistance to the alliance's eastward expansion -- seem to be closer to agreement.

Frankenberger says that Putin "is seizing the opportunity that has been offered to him as a much-sought-after partner" in the U.S.-led antiterror coalition. He writes: "[Putin] obviously expects Russia's participation in the war against terrorism to pay an excellent dividend. [He] has not lost sight of Moscow's strategic goal of putting Russia at the center of European security policy. This is a legitimate interest," writes Frankenberger, "and it is worth protecting the links to Russia that NATO has already forged and that the European Union now wishes to create."

But any consideration of Russian membership in the alliance must bring with it the awareness that it would then become "a fundamentally different NATO," writes Frankenberger. "At best, it would be a political organization of the kind that Moscow always wanted, possibly with dual U.S.-Russian leadership. [For] all the relief about Mr. Putin's affability, politicians in the West should be guided by unprejudiced realism in any future negotiations."


An editorial in "The Independent" says that by accepting Russia's aid in the fight against terrorism -- in return for less stringent criticism of its war in Chechnya -- the West has signed a "Faustian pact, whose consequences will become apparent in years to come."

At the Russia-European Union summit in Brussels yesterday (3 October), the paper writes, Russian President Putin "promised the West more than it dreamed of asking" in terms of aiding the antiterrorism coalition. And Putin's "final flourish," it says, "was to announce that Russia is dropping its years-long resistance to NATO's eastward expansion."

But "The Independent" says while some rejoicing is in order, this aid will come at a heavy price. It writes: "The small print in the deal is that the West appears to have abandoned its opposition to Russia's atrocious war against Chechen separatists [in which] thousands of civilians have been killed."

"The Independent" notes that the U.S. may need the aid of the Central Asian states in its campaign, "none of which will act without a green light from Moscow." It writes: "If Uzbekistan turns out to be the key to unlocking Afghanistan, the sacrifice of Chechnya will be seen as a small price to pay. But we should have no illusions. The West has handed Mr. Putin a powerful card: He is now to all practical purposes invulnerable to Western criticism."


NATO is taking on a new image, says Herbert Kremp in "Die Welt." When the organization was established, the underlying idea was to ensure protection against an outside enemy. But NATO's structure must develop further, he says. "NATO as a whole must forge a new community and prove itself as an alliance responding with unremitting flexibility to demands."

Originally a product of the Cold War, NATO was endowed with the task of defending a geographically defined space, says Kremp. In 1991, following the withdrawal of the last Soviet military forces from a reunified Germany, this mission was terminated. Since then, NATO has served as an expanding alliance for the preservation of peace.

Kremp continues: "Hardly had we become used to this role than NATO must now alter its position for a third time. The war against terrorism requires a new strategy, a force capable of conducting a global offensive in which it is difficult to find points of reference. The planned European defense initiative, which was to rely on its own military strength as an alternative to a U.S.-dominated NATO, should be rethought."

Kremp goes on to define NATO's new role: "[Each] state [should be] ready to stand by every other state. It may happen very soon that the U.S. will call on 'reserves.' A terrorist war cannot suffer any lame or irresolute partner. Since terror can erupt anywhere, it requires the full readiness and competence of every NATO member."


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," commentator Nikolas Busse says that despite all the current trans-Atlantic solidarity in the coalition against terrorism, U.S. security interests are likely to shift away from Europe in the near future. He says that this realignment of U.S. foreign policy "will change the entire character of world politics." No longer will the U.S. be able "to keep up the West's Balkan protectorates," he remarks. "Europe will have to maintain order in its backyard itself."

Busse writes: "These factors affect a Europe that is still only warming to the idea of pursuing a common foreign and security policy. The European Union's rapid intervention force is still under construction, while no fewer than four people are currently responsible for the EU's external relations. [In] Brussels and other EU capitals, thought must be given to whether these structures can handle the demands that will be made on them in the years ahead."

This will require new thinking on the part of European leaders, he says. As Busse puts it: "European foreign policy has hitherto been a strange mixture of crisis management, export promotion and promises of development assistance. Strategic thinking in global categories of the kind that is nurtured in the United States is still seen [as] evil power politics. [Europe] has always had interests beyond its borders. It must now agree on how to look after them."


In a contribution to the "Financial Times," Anatol Lieven of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace also says that EU nations should take a renewed and more serious approach to security issues. Lieven suggests Russian cooperation may be helpful in this respect.

He writes: "Western Europe badly needs a new relationship with Russia -- and not simply because of a shared interest in the fight against terrorism. Equally important is the fact that new U.S. priorities may lead to a significant diminution of American interest in the Balkans and parts of the former Soviet Union."

In this event, he writes, "the European Union will at last be compelled to take real and not just rhetorical responsibility for coping with dangerous developments on the European continent. Given Russia's great residual strength in some areas, and the EU's chronic weakness when it comes to security issues, it is extremely desirable for Russia to act in any crisis as a partner and not a rival of Western Europe. For such a partnership to develop, the EU and its chief member states need to take the lead in developing new regional security structures that include the Russians."

Taking this approach, Lieven says, means "shelving" what he calls the "false promise" of Russia's ultimate integration into Western Europe, "which has too often been used as an excuse for avoiding real thought about a new relationship today." But he adds, "that does not mean the EU and Russia cannot co-operate successfully on many issues."


In "Eurasia View," U.S.-based journalist Kenan Aliyev says that Azerbaijan is experiencing a crackdown on independent media. "Government harassment of journalists has intensified substantially since the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States," he writes. "During the last three weeks, numerous journalists have been imprisoned or otherwise harassed. [In] addition to handing out prison terms to independent journalists, courts have levied large fines that have forced five newspapers out of business."

Aliyev notes that some of the fines levied violate Azerbaijan's own laws on mass media. Law-enforcement authorities, says Aliev, "appear intent on intimidation. [Three] journalists sustained substantial injuries [on] 19 September in a melee with police outside the Baku Supreme Court."

"The latest phase of free press crackdown began in July," says Aliev, "when the newspaper 'Etimad' published a joke about the chairman of the Spiritual Board of the Muslims of the Caucasus. Islamic clerics said the comments were offensive. [A] court in August banned the newspaper from publishing."

International organizations are beginning to take note of the situation in Azerbaijan, says Aliev. He quotes Freimut Duve, the representative for freedom of expression issues for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as saying that human rights standards should be maintained even as states battle terrorism.

"All global initiatives against acts of terror should not justify in any way the undermining of an individual's basic human rights," said Duve.


A "Financial Times" editorial calls upon the United States to furnish proof that Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the 11 September attacks on the U.S., was actually responsible for them. Convincing NATO allies is not enough, it says. Before taking military action, the U.S. must convince the world of the legitimacy of its actions.

The FT writes: "[Evidence] must also be provided to leaders in the broader coalition, particularly to crucial allies such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. They must be convinced if they are to remain reliable partners. [America's] right to defend itself is not subject to an international tribunal. But the U.S. and its allies should demonstrate convincingly that their verdict is the right one. The legitimacy of action against Mr. bin Laden will determine the success of the long campaign against terrorism that lies ahead."


An editorial in "Le Monde" considers comments made on 2 October by U.S. President George W. Bush in which he declared his support for the creation of a Palestinian state. "Better late than never," says "Le Monde." But it is less the content of his comments than their timing, the paper says. They end Washington's long silence on the Middle East and "appear to have put to an end to the attitude of deliberate carelessness adopted by the Bush administration towards the region."

"These days, Mr. Bush is able to judge the negative consequences of his policy," writes "Le Monde." As he tries to build an antiterrorist coalition from among moderate Arab states, the leaders have explained their reservations. These stem from the perception in the Arab world that Bush has given a "green light" to the actions of the Israeli army in the West Bank and Gaza and from the U.S.'s regular bombardments of Iraq.

These policies have fed an increasing anti-Americanism in the region, the Arab leaders explained, and under these conditions it would prove difficult for them to support U.S. actions against Saudi-born extremist Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. "Before launching an operation against Afghanistan," writes "Le Monde," "Bush needs to re-gild his image in moderate Arab countries."

The lesson of all of this, says the French daily, is that "opportunism is not always the enemy of good."

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