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Western Press Review: Russia's New 'Market Economy,' NATO Reform, And Trans-Atlantic Relations

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 31 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics addressed in Western press analysis today are Russia's new status as a "market economy," the debate over reforming NATO in response to new security threats, continuing tensions on the Indian subcontinent and trans-Atlantic relations in the wake of U.S. President George W. Bush's trip to Europe. Several columns also discuss the World Cup soccer tournament kicking off today with an opening game between defending World Cup champion France and Senegal.


In Britain's daily "The Independent," columnist Adrian Hamilton deliberates recent attempts to respond to new security threats in the wake of the 11 September attacks in America. He says while Europe does need to redefine its security objectives, dramatically increasing its defense expenditure is not necessarily the best way to respond.

"Terrorism is largely a police, not a defense matter," he writes, adding that it was fortunate the September attacks originated in training camps in a country easily defeated by high-tech bombing. The plot "could just as easily be hatched [in] the cafes of Italy and the mosques of Germany and Britain. Where would you have bombed then?" he asks.

Hamilton goes on to look at the attempts to restructure NATO, including last week's creation of a joint NATO-Russia Council. He says the alliance "has always worked best as a command-and-control system for deploying weapons and men." To reinvent it as a "primarily political grouping" that includes Russia "is simply throwing away what it is good at in favor of what it is least capable of." If including Russia is the goal, he says, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is already "a perfectly satisfactory arrangement." If providing a "nuclear umbrella against rogue states" with the use of U.S. defense capabilities is the object, "then keep to the old organization," he advises.


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Peter Hess says that soccer fans and officials will both experience a sense of relief when World Cup referee Ali Bujsaim blows the whistle for the kickoff of the 2002 opening game between defending World Cup champion France and Senegal. Hess says all the concerns over travel plans, ticket distribution, and security will fall by the wayside, as will the debate over whether or not soccer's international governing body, FIFA, is headed for bankruptcy.

Hess goes on to take a closer look at what the 2002 World Cup might hold. Argentina ranks alongside France as a big favorite, he says. But these two national team leaders of the past few years "are certain not to meet in the final. Due to the groups in which they have been drawn, they are bound to face each other earlier, either in the round of the final 16 or the semifinals," he says.

The draw has also placed third-ranked Brazil "in this half of the pool," Hess notes. "If the record World Cup-winning nation (Brazil) is to make it to the final, it will first have to beat Argentina and/or France."

Germany will have it much easier, he says. Matches with Italy, Spain, and Portugal may prevent them from reaching the final. But Hess says while the German team may not be as good as in past years, the country has "retained its luck of the draw."


A editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" today looks at the 29 May announcement that the EU will award Russia the status of a market economy. Previously, Europe had withheld market-economy status on the grounds that Russia had not done enough to liberalize its energy sector. But recent progress has been made in this area, although the management and conduct of Russia's largest company, Gazprom, "are the exact opposite of the norm of transparent pricing, private ownership, and accountable management that characterize players in a market economy."

Russia's economic performance over the past few years -- characterized by a budget surplus, a rising stock market, declining debt, and sufficient central-bank reserves -- is "a remarkable story of redemption," the paper says. These factors have revived some confidence and investment has returned to the country. But the recent success of past years was largely driven by an increase in oil prices and the "residual effects" of the 1998 ruble devaluation, which made cheaper Russian-made products more popular than imports. This economic jump start has since worn off, the paper says, and the question remains of whether Russia can build "a solid foundation for continued economic growth."

The "Journal" says despite the EU's new designation of Russia's economic status, "a market economy is only real if it is regarded as such by international investors. For the most part, they are waiting and watching for further evidence that Russia is a market they can trust."


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" says India and Pakistan must work to "marginalize the militants" and come to a political solution over the disputed region of Kashmir. The paper acknowledges that governments do not like to negotiate "in an atmosphere of terror." But it says the danger of being inflexible on this point "is that critical decisions about war and peace are in effect handed over to the extremists." The "FT" says the Indian government "must now wrest the initiative away from the militants by starting a meaningful political process with the disaffected Kashmiri people themselves."

The paper says there are indications India "may in principle be prepared to adopt a more flexible policy towards Kashmir. New Delhi should consider granting maximum political autonomy to Kashmir while seeking to turn the line of control between India and Pakistan into an internationally recognized border."

Pakistan, for its part, "must realize that it is senseless to keep the pot boiling in Kashmir with the aim of weakening its bigger neighbor. It is also incendiary for Islamabad to support militant groups operating in the region," says the paper. Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has indicated he would accept the will of the Kashmiri people. The editorial says Musharraf should "stick by that promise, without attempting unduly to influence Kashmiri public opinion himself. Pakistan must support any political settlement that the Kashmiri people can successfully negotiate with New Delhi," the paper concludes.


The current edition of the British-based weekly "The Economist" discusses trans-Atlantic relations in the wake of U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to the European continent. The magazine says Bush surprised pessimists by delivering his "clearest statement yet" linking the U.S. war on terror and Europe, in saying that common security, as Bush said, "is still bound up together in the trans-Atlantic alliance" of NATO countries.

But major policy differences persist, such as in the case of Iraq. The U.S. administration has taken a much more hawkish approach to the issue that the Europeans. If its diplomatic approach fails, the magazine says, America "may well take unilateral military action. Mr. Bush has emphasized [that] America will use any means at its disposal to deal with proliferators and to conduct the war on terror. It will, he said, consult with its allies and friends." But America will also "do whatever it takes and use whatever it must," the magazine observes.

"The Economist" concludes that at the end of Bush's second European tour, "skepticism should be the order of the day." The Bush administration "has created an opening for better trans-Atlantic ties and a chance to rescue NATO from the doubts that have surrounded it since the end of the Cold War. But it is equally fair to say that both sides show a certain ambivalence about closer ties in the war against terror."


A commentary in France's daily "Liberation" by Francois Gere of the Institute of Diplomacy and Defense discusses the drawbacks of last week's signing of a nuclear arms reduction treaty between the U.S. and Russia. He says the Moscow treaty creates "new rules" that may open up an era of "nuclear liberalism."

First, he writes, the era of "joint and binding methods of verification that have been mutually accepted by the Americans and the Russians" has ended. Each side does what it wants regarding disarmament under only very general guidelines, freed from any oversight or control.

Gere also expresses concern that an erosion of multilateral agreements on nuclear weapons is taking place. He notes that the U.S. never ratified the nuclear-test-ban treaty and has withdrawn from its 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia. But it is no longer a question of treaties banning the development of nuclear weapons, he says -- the importance of nuclear non-proliferation may be diminished as states develop non-nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

Gere says while the Russian-U.S. standoff of the Cold War may be over, today's threats come from elsewhere -- namely, the Middle East and the Arab peninsula, as well as Asia. Socioeconomic injustices of all kinds and political regimes of questionable legitimacy are at the root of this problem, he says. And chronic global instability has led several states to develop weapons of mass destruction merely to assert their power and guarantee their sovereignty.