Prague, 10 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics discussed in the Western press today are the deadly bombing in the Russian republic of Daghestan during celebrations marking the end of World War II, the future of NATO expansion, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's visit to Afghanistan, the chances for peace in the Middle East, and growing trans-Atlantic mistrust.
"Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses yesterday's explosion in the Caspian Sea port of Kaspiisk in the southern Russian republic of Daghestan during a Victory Day parade. Russia's most important state holiday was marred by a blast that left at least 41 dead and another 140 people wounded.
The paper says the timing of the bombing "could not have been chosen more cynically," as it took place almost simultaneously with Russian President Vladimir Putin's speech on terrorism in Moscow's Red Square. As victory over Nazi fascism was being celebrated, World War II veterans and their families were again victimized.
Perhaps, the paper says, the deaths on the day of victory will have some symbolic significance -- no longer is this parade solely the prerogative of Red Army veterans. There are many soldiers who have returned from more recent wars in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and also in Daghestan itself. The paper says that, ahead of an official investigation, the first impulse is to blame Chechen rebels, since Daghestan is its closest neighboring republic and, in 1999, was the scene of skirmishes that led to the second Chechen war.
The editorial notes that yesterday's killings in Kaspiisk are not the first of their kind. In 1996, 68 Russian border guards were also killed in an explosion at an apartment building in the city. At that time, the paper notes, officials also suspected the Chechens, as well as poachers who had been caught plundering fish in the Caspian.
THE INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
In a contribution to "The International Herald Tribune," Ohio Wesleyan University professor and NATO-affairs analyst Sean Kay says that NATO is in danger of becoming a "toothless" political institution.
Many of NATO's problems originate with its European members, says Kay, as several allies spend below 2 percent of their gross national product on defense. Thus, he remarks, "It is understandable that the United States avoided being burdened by inefficient and poorly equipped allies in Afghanistan."
But NATO's problems also lie in Washington, where the U.S. administration increasingly sees it as a "multilateral institution constraining American power." Kay says increasingly, "Europe and Washington disagree on both the nature of the threat they face and the means to confront it."
At its Prague summit in November, NATO will have three main items on its agenda: increasing its military capabilities, eastward enlargement, and forging a new relationship with Russia. But Kay remarks that, "it is difficult to reconcile NATO's primary goal of increasing capabilities with its enlargement plans."
Kay suggests that, rather than having every NATO member increase its overall military capability, the alliance should distribute areas of military or intelligence specialization to specific member states. In addition, he says, accession to the alliance should be made contingent on a candidate country's potential military contribution.
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
In "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Jasper von Altenbockum says that German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's trip to Afghanistan is more about Germany's interests than Afghanistan's. Von Altenbockum calls the struggling country "a land where war is still being waged against terrorism, tribal leaders are a threat to a fragile peace, and central government threatens to slide back into archaic anarchy."
With this situation as a backdrop, von Altenbockum notes that Schroeder blithely "plays soccer in the garden of the German Embassy -- wearing a bulletproof vest."
Von Altenbockum calls the German chancellor's trip an "impressively directed performance on the world stage that focused more on German interests than on the needs of Afghanistan." He says Schroeder was also primarily thinking of German economic interests when he justified the efforts of his trade delegation in Afghanistan.
"A country that has donated as much for reconstruction as Germany should also be allowed to do business first," von Altenbockum suggests wryly.
He says extending the international security force to areas outside Kabul, not German business interests, should be the foundation for a secure future for Afghanistan. But Schroeder currently opposes an extension of the force. Von Altenbockum suggests that Germany projects an image of "lofty morality" at home but is unwilling to back it up in any meaningful fashion on the Hindu Kush.
In the British-based "Financial Times," Philip Stephens says the trans-Atlantic relationship is being viewed by Europeans with increasing irritation. America is "brutally careless of European sensitivities," he says. Europe is now convinced the U.S. wants allies "who speak only when spoken to -- and then only to agree. Consultation consists of European endorsement of American policy."
In November, six or seven new members are expected to join the NATO alliance, the cornerstone of the trans-Atlantic relationship. But Stephens says Europe is correctly sensing that NATO is being weakened rather than strengthened. He says: "Enlargement will dilute NATO's military identity. The U.S. does not mind. It will fight its own wars in future, picking and choosing among allies on a case-by-case basis."
Stephens says this is: "not quite unilateralism; more multilateralism a la carte. The U.S. is happy to belong when it can lead or control and determined to opt out of commitments that challenge its freedom of action."
But Europe cannot do much to change this state of affairs, and Stephens says Europeans realize this only too well. "If the U.S. runs the show," he says, "Europe knows why. It cannot defend itself. EU governments have declared themselves ready to deploy a 60,000-strong rapid-reaction force." However, he says, "They seem to have forgotten that saying is not the same as doing."
In this week's issue of "The Economist," the magazine says the world is looking to the United States "to slice through the complexities and impose a solution" in the Middle East. And U.S. President George W. Bush has responded, to a degree, by endorsing a Palestinian state and refusing to dismiss Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as a "terrorist" who cannot be negotiated with, as Israeli Prime Minister Arial Sharon has insisted.
But "The Economist" says that while Bush has attempted to find some sort of solution, his "improvised bits of firefighting and exhortation [do not] add up to a coherent plan. No such plan is liable to emerge until Mr. Bush makes a difficult decision: whether [to] aim only to reduce the violence [or] risk driving forward to a final settlement."
"The Economist" says Bush's hope that CIA Director George Tenet can form a Palestinian force willing to take on the suicide bombers "will surely fail, in which case the security vacuum will once more be filled by Israel's army and the Palestinian militias...."
At some point, the magazine says, "restoring order might require foreign peacekeepers." But right now, this requires "giving moderate Palestinians some incentive to cooperate, by restoring their belief in the possibility of an end to the occupation. And, much as they despise him, Palestinians know that the only man who can make such a hope credible is George Bush."
In France's daily "Liberation," Jean-Pierre Perrin says Gaza is preparing itself for an Israeli military offensive in retaliation for a 7 May suicide bombing that killed 15 and injured many others in a pool hall near Tel Aviv. Although Perrin says Gaza is "the likely, and perhaps imminent," target of the next offensive, he says life there seems to be continuing as usual.
Nevertheless, Perrin says, the town is aware -- having been alerted by radio and television reports -- that the Israeli government has approved a retaliatory attack for Tuesday's bombing.
Gaza's residents are preparing by storing provisions, and most are hoping that the Israeli offensive will concentrate on the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority, Perrin writes. He notes that the Israeli army has begun calling up reservists, and says several political activists have warned of the dangers of fighting Hamas in the city in which it is most entrenched.
Perrin cites Hamas spokesman Ismael Abou Chanab as saying that if the Israelis enter Gaza, it will be a disaster for both sides. The Kalashnikovs of the Palestinian fighters will be of no use against Israeli tanks, Chanab acknowledged.
But once on the streets of Gaza, he added, Israeli soldiers will not have many options. They will not be able to emerge from their tanks without becoming immediate targets -- thus, he says, the soldiers will become prisoners of their own military superiority.
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)