Prague, 27 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today discusses Russian membership in NATO; criticism of the so-called "secret" deployment of German troops in Afghanistan; the upcoming European Union constitutional convention; and ensuring stability in Afghanistan. Other topics include assessing U.S. President George W. Bush's recent trip to Asia and emerging American foreign policy.
An editorial comment in Britain's "Financial Times" says the Cold War is "about to reach an unexpected but logical conclusion: a permanent place for Russia at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization."
The paper calls this development a "welcome move" that will help redefine the NATO alliance and offer a new forum for jointly dealing with the increasingly complex security issues facing Europe, the U.S., and Russia alike.
The paper observes that the NATO alliance has struggled to outline a clear new role for itself since the Soviet Union's collapse, in which it lost its defining enemy. But the paper says the alliance continues to provide an important forum for like-minded states to coordinate their responses to mutual or global threats such as terrorism. "Cooperation with Russia is in the interests of the U.S. and Western Europe because it reduces the risk of future conflicts; it eases the way for nuclear arms reduction pacts [and] it helps extend the space in which NATO states can operate militarily," the paper writes.
A permanent place for Russia within the alliance would also help strengthen the "sometimes fragile" relationship between Moscow and the West. It would also help assuage Russian concerns about NATO's planned eastward enlargement, says the paper. The new relationship with Moscow can be "a valuable element in strengthening the alliance to face its new challenges," the paper concludes.
A piece in this week's "The Economist" magazine looks at the European Union's constitutional convention, set to begin on 28 February. The weekly says the biggest issue the convention will face is the EU's "imminent enlargement" as it gets ready to admit up to 10 new members. "Can EU decision-making procedures, originally designed for just six countries, function in a union of 25 or more?" the magazine asks.
A second topic to be addressed are the political implications of the euro, says the magazine. And finally, "there is a growing clamor for a more coordinated and effective EU foreign policy, an idea that may come to seem more urgent if America's 'war on terrorism' takes off in ways the Europeans dislike."
"The Economist" says a broad division between the convention's "federalists" and "anti-federalists" can already be seen. The magazine writes: "The federalists will want a big erosion in the power of individual states to veto EU decisions; [a] far stronger foreign and defense policy; [and] more powers for the European Parliament and the European Commission. Some will argue too for [a] directly imposed EU tax, and a more ambitious pan-European social policy."
In contrast, the anti-federalists will seek to block these proposals and press "for some EU powers to be repatriated to national governments, for example over regional aid, farming and social legislation." But the magazine says "the federalist camp [will] plainly have a strong majority within the convention."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
A commentary by Peter Sturm in Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" discusses what some are calling the "secret deployment" of German troops. German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping has confirmed news reports that around 100 German special forces soldiers are operating in Afghanistan along with U.S. troops.
According to the Federal Constitutional Court, the parliament must give its consent for the deployment of German troops abroad. Sturm writes: "The elected representatives of the German people in November approved the deployment of 3,900 German soldiers in the fight against terrorism. This contingent included special forces. What they do, and when and where they do it, is kept secret -- for good reason. Keeping the fact of their deployment secret, however, is going too far," he says.
"No one is asking the government to endanger soldiers' lives by discussing their mission in public," Sturm adds. But he concludes that "democracy has its risks. Information is potentially dangerous. But without information, democracy is not democratic."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
An editorial in "The New York Times" says it agrees with the U.S. administration's assessment that the best hope for Afghanistan's long-term security lies in the establishment "of a trained, well-armed multi-ethnic military under a central government in Kabul." The problem, however, is that this project may take up to two years, the paper says. "In the meantime, chaos beckons."
Outside of Kabul, the editorial writes, "there are signs that the country is starting to succumb to ethnic rivalry and insecurity. Regional warlords are reasserting themselves, posing challenges to the authority of the interim government. [Washington] should lead the way in persuading the international community to expand the peacekeeping force beyond the capital."
But the paper says the U.S. administration's central hope remains that as Western forces help build and train an Afghan Army, "the relatively secure situation in Kabul maintained by the international force will spread across the country." But this seems unrealistic, says the editorial. "There is a real risk that the inverse will happen as insecurity in the provinces spreads to the capital," it writes.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
Today's "The Wall Street Journal Europe" features an analysis by Frederick Starr of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute of Johns Hopkins University and Marin Strmecki of the Smith Richardson Foundation. The authors argue that it is time for Western forces in Afghanistan to disengage from the Northern Alliance. They write: "Having prospered through its strategic friendship with the U.S., the Northern Alliance has quickly returned to its old modus operandi of power grabs and ethnic rivalry. The time for uncritical support of them is over. If the U.S. means to establish a stable peace, it must now commit itself wholly to the moderate, pro-Western Afghans associated with Hamid Karzai and the so-called Rome group" supporting former Afghan King Zahir Shah.
Starr and Strmecki note that Afghan interim Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim is now working to create the country's national army based on a very narrow ethnic makeup and dominated by the Northern Alliance. Karzai rejects these plans for the foundation of a national army -- a fact the authors say leaves the U.S. administration a critical choice. They write: "On the one hand, they can agree with Mr. Karzai [and] confront the leaders of the Northern Alliance. [Or] they can follow the path of least resistance, seek to build a new military under Mr. Fahim, and acquiesce to the Northern Alliance's quest to dominate Afghan politics through the intimidating shadow of their arms."
In France's daily "Liberation," columnist Gerard Dupuy discusses the situation of suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda members imprisoned at a U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Dupuy says the conditions of their detention are worse than what would be required by international treaties, as well as by the "implicit moral standing of liberal democracies." He notes that there are basic protections afforded all detainees, according to a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly. But Dupuy says the "prolonged detention of individuals in [outside] cages, exposed to bad weather and scorching heat, certainly does not conform to this minimal standard."
Dupuy observes that the UN text has "no binding value." He goes on to say that the prisoners' situation once more shows the gap that separates European sensibilities from American ones, especially regarding maintaining order and meting out punishment. Differences on the issue of capital punishment or the severity of the U.S. penal system have also been persistent. Dupuy says that the annoyance America shows when its European allies voice concerns reveals a paradox in which "the only true world power" states the need for global collaboration and then claims to be excluded from it whenever it wishes. Dupuy concludes that ultimately, the humiliation visited upon the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay does not advance the goal of destroying Al-Qaeda, but rather compromises this aim.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
An analysis by Philip Bowring in the "International Herald Tribune" calls U.S. President George W. Bush's February trip to Asia a "small success." Bowring says Bush's personal rapport with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi "gave value to personal diplomacy" and made it clear that this administration accords Japan more status than had the previous U.S. administration. In Korea, Bowring says Bush "managed to undo some of the damage caused by his 'axis of evil' speech," by making it clear there was still room for dialogue between the two nations. As for China, Bush "acknowledged the importance of the relationship to both sides," says Bowring, adding: "At the same time, [Bush] underlined the U.S. commitment to Taiwan."
Bowring continues: "The Bush agenda on Japan, Taiwan and missile defense may well represent a coherent view of longer-term U.S. interests in East Asia. But China in return is likely to take a tough attitude on strategic weapons sales, particularly given strengthened U.S. defense cooperation with India, and the presence of U.S. forces in Central Asia." He says more "realistic and businesslike bargaining would make a change from the emotional swings of U.S.-Chinese relations in recent years. To that extent, everyone concerned may have learned a little from the tour."
A commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses Saudi Arabia's latest diplomatic move to achieve a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The paper says the slightest progress toward unraveling the tightly knit knot would be useful. Hence, the Saudi Arabian peace plan initiative is certainly welcome. Crown Prince Abdullah has come forward with a novel trade-off: a recognition of the Israeli state in exchange for a withdrawal from all occupied territory gained by Israel in the 1967 war.
This proposal, the paper continues, cannot be seen as a solution. There are too many strings attached, it says. The Saudis regard Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as being too aggressive. The paper thus concludes that even though the Saudis' diplomatic initiative has been met with general approval from the UN, in Washington and even in Israel, in the final analysis, Riyadh's proposal can have little impact, as long as the Israelis and Palestinians continue to tug harder at tightening the knot.
In the British daily "The Guardian," Jonathan Steele looks at the Afghan diaspora. He says most Afghan professionals now working overseas, particularly those now in their 30s and 40s, "were members of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, the Soviet-backed communists, or they lived in Kabul and other cities in the PDPA time. Many complain they are being penalized by the Karzai government, which is dominated by royalists from the pre-communist period and rightwing mujahedeen factions who took up arms to resist communist rule. The Kabul government's prejudice is shared by many Western columnists and officials, either consciously or through ignorance."
Steele says the "bitterness of the civil war has to be set aside. [The] country needs a modern, secular leftwing party which can compete with the monarchists and the former mujahedeen," he suggests. The Bonn conference that resulted in the formation of Afghanistan's interim government "failed to represent this broad current of thinking adequately. The government has only one minister who is ex-PDPA. The commission which will prepare the Loya Jirga is similarly narrow. Karzai, Western donors and UN mandarins must correct the bias," says Steele.
"They need to promote a climate of national reconciliation [and] prove there is no blacklist. Otherwise Afghanistan will repeat the sad pattern of Bosnia, Kosovo and other international protectorates. [The] doctors, engineers, and teachers who know the country because it is their own will stay away."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)