Prague, Feb. 23 (RFE/RL) - Press commentary ranges over international institutions and the challenges they face - NATO with Russia and the former Yugoslavia, the International Monetary Fund with Russia, the United Nations, and the European Union.
The German daily newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau says today in an editorial signed by Jochan Siemens: "Everyone is talking about the alliance. Should NATO be extended eastwards? How can the WEU (Western European Union) become the European pillar of the Atlantic alliance? Is France to integrate itself fully into the alliance? These are some, but by no means all the big challenges facing NATO. In the shadow of these large alliance problems, the question of the future of national armies, as highlighted by French President Jacques Chirac's decision to reduce France's armed forces drastically and remodel them into a volunteer army, will become increasingly urgent. The end of the Cold War, having reached NATO, is now affecting the individual armies of its member states. Forces are shrinking along with military budgets, the question of conscription comes up almost inevitably, and the trend to professional armies is hard to ignore."
In a news analysis in today's New York Times, Craig R. Whitney writes: "Announcing the most sweeping defense changes since the creation of an independent nuclear deterrent almost 40 years ago, President Jacques Chirac said (last) night that the French military would shrink by about a third and become an all-volunteer force, like its British and American counterparts, in six years.... Chirac, who announced last year that the French military would partially reintegrate into NATO 30 years after Charles de Gaulle pulled it out to protest American domination, told a national television audience that cutting the 500,000-man armed forces was long overdue five years after the end of the Cold War."
Herbert Kremp comments today in the German newspaper Die Weld: "(On) his visit to Moscow and St Petersburg, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl went in for realpolitik... a demonstrative gesture of German affection for Russia... intended to appeal to the emotions of all Russians, regardless how they feel about their president.... Yeltsin, in contrast, behaved altogether differently, gruffly and snorting with rage about NATO enlargement.... It would clearly not be a glorious victory for Kohl's realpolitik if the impression were to be gained in Moscow and Central and Eastern Europe that Bonn was blurring the process of opening-up on which NATO had embarked. In Russia, that might give rise to illusions. Among Germany's neighbors, it would set the alarm bells ringing."
"A new qualifying clause has appeared in Russian statements on NATO expansion," Max Jakobson writes in a commentary in today's International Herald Tribune. He says: "The leader of the Russian Communist Party, Gennadi Zyuganov, for instance, has written that he takes an extremely negative view of plans to expand NATO into Eastern Europe 'up to Russia's border.' Was this phrase... drafted to convey a hint of a possible deal... to let NATO take in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, provided expansion stopped there (excluding the Balkan states)?"
The London Times says in an editorial today: "In Turin a month from now, heads of state will launch the European Union's latest inter-governmental conference.... The most tenacious of Euromyths (is) first create an institutional framework, and automatically there follows the requisite political will.... The first problem with this reasoning is that it stands history on its head. Alliances form where vital interests coincide.... EU covernments can and should cooperate more closely. But the best way to do so is for governments that are ready to exert leadership on a particular issue to look more actively for allies."
Another major British newspaper, Financial Times, editorializes today: "If one thing is clear to most observers of Bosnia's peace process, it is the fact that a vast, possibly unbearable, burden falls on the shoulders of Mr. Carl Bildt... the European Union's envoy to the conflict zone.... Mr. Bildt has justifiably criticized both Moslem and Serb leaders for not cooperating with his efforts to create a climate of trust in Sarajevo.... Some U.S. officials have started a whispering campaign against him, suggesting he was slow to get started and has focused too heavily on Sarajevo. This backbiting bodes ill for trans-Atlantic cooperation.... NATO should do more to help Mr. Bildt.... The underlying problem is the reluctance of Europe's jealous nations to invest one individual with sufficient authority to speak in their name."
The International Monetary Fund agreed yesterday to a more than $ 10 billion dollar loan package to Russia. The action drew widespready commentary.
In today's Washington Post, Lee Hockstader provides this analysis: "The deal... will begin in April to pump more than 300- million dollars a month in credits into the Russian economy during the critical run-up to the first round of presidential elections scheduled for June 16. It also will allow Yeltsin to meet his promise to pay about $ 2.8 billion dollars in back wages owed to workers in state enterprises in March.... As in the previous IMF loan package, this one will be delivered in monthly dollops and fund officials will review Russian compliance with the agreement before each new credit is extended...(allowing) the fund an extraordinary degree of leverage over government policymakers, whether they report to Yeltsin or to some future president."
Phil Reeves writes today in Great Britain's The Independent: "Boris Yeltsin received a large helping hand from the West yesterday.... IMF Managing Director Michael Camdessus... said the IMF's decision had been based on a commitment to making Russia's reforms 'truly irreversible.' " Reeves says, "(Camdessus) made clear that if a new government took over the Kremlin - the Comunists are front-runners - it would have IMF support if it carried on meeting (the loan's) terms."
In an editorial today, the British newspaper The Guardian says: "There are big risks in extending credit to a government which may not be there in five months time - but not as big as the risks of doing nothing. After all 10 billion dollars is peanuts compared with the reduction in defense spending which the peace dividend has bought."