Prague, 24 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The possibility of impending war between Pakistan and India over Kashmir draws substantial press comment today. Commentaries also address U.S. President George W. Bush's speech in Berlin yesterday and his and summit with Russia's Vladimir Putin, which begins today.
Britain's "The Economist" says today in an editorial that the India-Pakistan border confrontation is even more dangerous than it appears. "Extrapolating from the amounts of bomb-grade uranium and plutonium each is thought to possess, India may have up to 95 nuclear weapons and Pakistan up to about 50."
"India tends to size its nuclear ambitions against its big neighbor, China. Pakistan, which has a much smaller conventional army than India's and sees its nuclear weapons as the only way in a last resort to even up any fight, is determined -- with past Chinese help -- to match India every step of the way. Both claim to be able to build not only fission bombs like those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but also more fearsome hydrogen bombs. And both now have missiles able to carry such weapons over hundreds of kilometers in a matter of minutes. In a crisis, the temptation would always be to hold these missiles on a hair trigger, to be launched on warning of an incoming attack rather than lost to an enemy strike."
The magazine says that the two countries lack formal agreements to deter nuclear strikes and are not using hot lines for communication they had set up. It concludes, "With so little effort to avoid the dangers, small wonder that India and Pakistan are seen as the most dangerous of nuclear rivals."
In the Britain's "The Guardian," commentator Martin Woollacott makes a similar point. "Four years ago this month, nuclear explosions in the Rajasthan Desert and in the Baluchistan Mountains ended the long period in which India and Pakistan had unwisely acquired nuclear military capacity but had nevertheless been wise enough to refrain from translating it into actual weapons. The blasts at Pokharan and Chagai changed the terms of war and peace in the subcontinent, and in the world."
Woollacott continues: "Never before had two powers so apt to go to war faced each other with such weapons. Proxy encounters aside, Russians and Americans had never fought, and when the Americans and Chinese clashed in Korea only one side had the bomb. But here were two countries that had fought repeatedly since independence, and which were still head to head in Kashmir, adding nuclear bombs and missiles to their armories."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:
In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," South Asia military specialist Eric S. Margolis says that both countries, in fact, are gambling dangerously with war. "India and Pakistan are now locked in a military and diplomatic contest of will over divided Kashmir that is one of the most dangerous confrontations the world has seen in recent times. Pakistan, in spite of its denials, bases, arms, and trains many of the 20-odd Muslim militant groups fighting to oust India from the two-thirds of Kashmir controlled by New Delhi."
Margolis continues: "Last fall, India quickly seized on U.S. President George W. Bush's war on terrorism to accuse Pakistan of being a terrorist state for supporting Kashmiri militants. Believing it had strong United States backing, India sought to use its military superiority to intimidate Pakistan into shutting down the guerrilla movement and giving up claims to Indian-ruled Kashmir."
"Pakistan has made little secret that if is about to be sliced up and overrun by overwhelming Indian offensives, it may fire tactical nuclear weapons at advancing Indian formations. An inevitable Indian nuclear response would almost certainly trigger a full-scale nuclear exchange against cities and nuclear reactors. One estimate is that such an exchange would kill 2 million people immediately, 100 million subsequently, and send clouds of radioactive dust around the globe."
"India and Pakistan are stumbling headlong toward a major war that neither wants, but do not know how to avert. The U.S., EU, China, and Japan need urgently to exert maximum pressure on the two old foes to draw back from the brink before they create an unimaginable catastrophe."
Commentary in the European press takes a favorable stance on U.S. President Bush's speech in Berlin yesterday to the German Bundestag. Here's a sampling:
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
"The Wall Street Journal Europe" writes: "For all the talk of trans-Atlantic drift and rift in recent days, U.S. President George W. Bush yesterday gave a spirited rebuttal in the German Bundestag. The cliche that Europe and America share a common culture, history, and political and economic systems -- though not a new thought -- bears frequent repeating. More importantly, the Old and New World today share even more -- a common threat 'to liberty, to the safety of our people, and to civilization itself.'"
The newspaper concludes, "The U.S. president basically called on Europe to put up or shut up."
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH:
An analysis in Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" says, "George W. Bush took the war on global terror to the heart of Europe yesterday with a speech to the Bundestag that was at once forceful and accommodating." The analysis continues: "In short, the president skillfully wooed the Europeans, with the aim of stiffening their resolve against global terrorism. His emphasis on the North Atlantic alliance -- 'NATO's defining purpose -- our collective defense -- is as urgent as ever' was particularly welcome."
THE IRISH TIMES:
An editorial in "The Irish Times" says: "President Bush invited Europeans yesterday to participate fully in the international struggle against terrorism in their own interest and that of the civilization they share with the United States. He told the German Bundestag, 'If we ignore that threat, we invite certain blackmail and place millions of our citizens in grave danger.' This was the kernel of his message, in a speech widely billed as a defining statement of U.S. policy, aimed at addressing deteriorating trans-Atlantic relations on a range of issues."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
A commentary under the headline "Trans-Atlantic Togetherness" by Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" says: "Was that the visit of a man so strong he can barely walk? A man whose absolute power has clouded his vision, who prefers to go it alone and does so to promote the United States' global hegemony?"
"The odd thing is that Mr. Bush, who these days wears the charge of unilateralism more or less like a second set of clothes, made no concessions whatsoever to his audience." Frankenberger continues: "Without so much as a trace of the hubris and conceit one might expect of incorrigible unilateralism, the way the baggage left over from the Cold War is being openly disposed of -- at long last -- is all the more refreshing, especially since it will eventually turn Russia, which is still in the process of democratization, into a respectable and predictable partner. The Germans -- having wanted to see Russia back in the fold formerly known as the West for so long -- should be especially grateful for this realignment."
An editorial in the British "Financial Times" says: "President George W. Bush chose the city of Berlin yesterday to deliver his most forceful appeal to his European allies to stand firm in the joint campaign with the U.S. against the forces of global terrorism. It was a strong restatement of his belief in the trans-Atlantic alliance as a vital element in preserving peace and stability around the world. Yet it was also intended as a sharp reminder to Europeans who have criticized the U.S. strategy that Washington intends to widen the war to 'regimes that sponsor terror.' He showed no sympathy for those who would fight terrorism with 'wishful thinking.'"
The editorial adds: "There is a continuing suspicion in Europe that Mr. Bush will go his own way whatever his allies may say. That may be the message he intended to deliver yesterday. If so, Europe will have to live with it -- but Mr. Bush will also have to get used to European grumbling."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
Commentary also looks ahead to Bush's visits this week to Moscow and St. Petersburg. The "International Herald Tribune" publishes a commentary today by Graham Allison and Andrei Kikoshkin, respectively of Harvard University and the Russian Academy of Sciences. They write: "The centerpiece of this week's Moscow summit will be the signing of a treaty cutting the number of deployed strategic warheads by two-thirds to between 1,700 and 2,200 over the next decade. But as both presidents acknowledged in previewing the agreement, it looks more to the Cold War past then to real future dangers."
The writers call for the two presidents to create "a new Alliance Against Nuclear Terrorism." They say, "If the United States or Russia finds itself the victim of a nuclear attack next week or next year, the perpetrator will almost certainly be a terrorist group."
The commentary continues, "To put this on the fastest possible timetable, each government should name a specific individual, reporting directly to [his or her] president, to co-chair a group to develop an American-Russian strategy and report back within one month." The writers add: "The next phase of this effort would make the Alliance Against Nuclear Terrorism global, ensuring that weapons and materials in all nuclear weapons states meet this new global security standard. Right now, the critical nation is Pakistan, from which Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda have actively sought nuclear weapons know-how and material."