Prague, 23 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentaries and analyses in the Western media today discuss whether America has a double standard on democracy, how to pursue an exit strategy in Kosovo, putting Chechnya back on the international agenda, Russia's economic interests, and the growing strategic role of NATO aspirants Romania and Bulgaria.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
"The New York Times" columnist Thomas Friedman says when the U.S. administration insists Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "must be ousted to bring democracy to Iraq and the Arab world, but says nothing about democratizing Saudi Arabia or Egypt, people there notice." After receiving much criticism for applying a double standard to the region, the U.S. "finally decided to withhold an aid increase to Egypt" in response to the sentencing of a leading pro-democracy activist, Saad Eddin Ibrahim.
But Friedman says many Arabs wonder why America is "pushing democracy" only in Iraq, and is slow to support it elsewhere. Friedman suggests that "Maybe it's because America really doesn't care about democracy in the Arab world, but is just pursuing some naked interests in Iraq and using democracy as its cover."
Friedman says the Bush administration "is advocating democracy only in authoritarian regimes that oppose America, not in authoritarian regimes that are ostensibly pro-American." The Bush policy today, he says, is "to punish its enemies with the threat of democracy and reward its friends with silence on democratization" or by withholding criticisms of undemocratic methods. Friedman says this type of policy "is a formula for giving democracy a bad name."
An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" remarks that after years of fighting, the Chechen conflict "now only makes headlines, even in Russia, with a disaster." The death of 116 people in a military helicopter crash earlier this week has once again brought attention to Russia's ongoing campaign in the breakaway republic. Since 11 September, the West has willingly "turned a blind eye" to the conflict in order to secure Russian support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism. But the "Financial Times" says it is now "time to reconsider" this stance. The U.S. and European Union "must seize the chance to put Chechnya back on the international agenda." Western officials should remind Russian President Vladimir Putin "that his pro-West foreign policy implies sharing Western values, including protection of human rights. Russia has the right to defend its territorial integrity, but not by the inhuman means employed in Chechnya."
The "Financial Times" goes on to suggest that Western countries launch a "serious international involvement in Chechnya," including a peacekeeping force, aid, and reconstruction efforts. The paper says: "The cost of involvement would be high. But the cost of non-involvement could eventually be higher, particularly if the fighting spreads to the southern Caucasus."
Daniel Broessler discusses Russia's foreign policy in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung." He says Moscow's affinity with the so-called "axis of evil" is purely economically motivated. He says the new alliance between Russia and America is being tested as Russia pursues relations with the very states described by U.S. President George W. Bush as an "axis of evil": Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.
Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin is meeting with his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-Il in Vladivostok to negotiate broadening trade links, including the extension of the Trans-Siberian Railroad to Korea, as well as trade in the timber, electricity, mining, and fishing industries.
Russia has an even larger interest in Iran, where Moscow is building an atomic-power station worth $800 million and is set to build five more. Russia is also seeking a trade partner in major U.S. foe, Iraq, in concluding trade agreements worth billions.
Broessler concludes that Russia has joined "bad company" threefold, and questions whether Russia's "flirtation with the West" has come to an end. Russia's membership in the antiterrorism alliance has improved Moscow's reputation but has offered few dividends, he says. Although Russia still tacitly agrees to a potential U.S. attack on Iraq, there is a price to pay. When money is at issue, a friendship does not necessarily end, but the relationship becomes far more complicated.
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
Columnist Klaus Dieter Frankenberger in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" questions the wisdom of Germany's stance on U.S. policy toward Iraq. He criticizes Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for not realizing that "the Middle East provides material that has shaped trans-Atlantic relations more significantly than anything else."
Frankenberger says: "Given the manner in which Schroeder has escalated the situation and the reaction afforded his antiadventure rhetoric, the damage will not be so easily repaired. That would even be true if the U.S. were to favor nonmilitary instruments over military action."
He suggests that when the going gets serious, Germany will feel U.S. pressure and will have to show whether, in the historical context of its NATO duties, it can really maintain that the United States must proceed on Iraq without Germany.
Frankenberger suggests that perhaps "in consideration of German interests," a different approach might be called for instead of Schroeder's antiwar campaign posturing.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Soviet republics and CIS affairs analyst Vladimir Socor of the Jamestown Foundation says the prospect of launching U.S.-led military operations in Iraq "increases the impetus for NATO's enlargement to the Black Sea. From U.S. air bases in Germany to Iraq, the direct flight path traverses Romania or Bulgaria, [which] also provide a strategic connection between an enlarging NATO and the energy-rich Caspian region."
He says that in many ways, Romania and Bulgaria are already de facto acting members of the alliance. Both have set aside ports and airfields for use by allied forces, taken part in peacekeeping missions in the Balkans and elsewhere, and signed military agreements with Western countries.
Socor says once NATO admits the Black Sea countries, it will be "better positioned to reach out to Georgia and Azerbaijan" to better ensure "regional security, energy development, and transit routes." An alliance "stretching from the Balkans to the eastern Caspian shore also links NATO Europe with the U.S.-led forces stationed in Central Asia."
Socor says the admission of Romania and Bulgaria in the coming round of enlargement would at last "close the gaps that separate Turkey, Greece, and Hungary from the rest of NATO, extending a Pax Atlantica from the Baltic to the Black Sea."
In France's daily "Le Monde," Andre Fontaine says that, Israel aside, U.S. President George W. Bush seems to be paying less and less attention to the opinions of America's allies. Fontaine cites as examples of U.S. unilateralism the refusal to ratify either the Kyoto Protocol or the International Criminal Court, and America's adoption of "one-sided," protectionist measures to defend its industries against European competition.
The United States also has a diminished opinion of international, multilateral institutions that have been pivotal throughout the last century. Neither the United Nations nor NATO seems to factor largely in U.S. considerations anymore.
But Fontaine advises not judging the U.S. for acting with what looks like "condescension, or indifference," toward Europe. He says there is only one way to influence America: for Europe "to speak with one voice, and to rest its methods on a strong economic, military [and] intellectual foundation." Fontaine says "Either the [European Commission], while protecting the diversity, pluralism and heterogeneousness that are its raison d'etre, will succeed in building a real axis of political, economic and military power in the Old World [that is] capable of rebalancing globalization," or Europe will have to continue to be satisfied with an inferior global role.
THE WASHINGTON POST:
In a "Washington Post" contribution, Gordon Bardos of Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs says the West must start considering an exit strategy for its forces from Kosovo. The most important issue is now "providing the Kosovo Albanian leadership with a clear road map of what it must do to ensure that an independent Kosovo can become a responsible state and not a perpetual source of instability in Southeastern Europe."
Bardos says there are three issues that must be tackled before establishing a final status for Kosovo: Crime and corruption must be brought under control, the human rights and civil liberties of non-Albanian minorities must be ensured, and the leadership must crack down on extremists that are "intent on provoking conflict in Macedonia or southern Serbia."
Without "significant and permanent progress" in these three areas, final-status discussions are "meaningless," he says. "None of Kosovo's neighbors, with the possible exception of Albania, would accept Kosovo's independence given its current state. But if Kosovo's leaders are able to show that they can seriously tackle these problems, resistance to its independence from other states in the region will be greatly reduced."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this review).