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Press Review: NATO's Difficult Roles

By Dan Hill

Prague, March 27 (RFE/RL) - Press commentary scrutinizes the role of NATO as a stabilizing force in post-communist Europe as well as peacekeeper in Bosnia.

An analysis in The New York Times today contends: "President Boris Yeltsin of Russia ended a two-day visit to Norway (yesterday) after meeting with King Haakon and the prime minister.... In many ways the visit seemed like a red-carpeted campaign stop in Yeltsin's re-election drive.... In a bow toward nationalist sentiment at home, Yeltsin threatened a confrontation with NATO over the alliance's proposed eastward expansion. For now, Norway is the only NATO member that borders Russia, and President Yeltsin wants to keep it that way."

The Suddeutsche Zeitung says today in an editorial signed by Josef Joffe: "Russian President Boris Yeltsin has already said a great deal about the eastern expansion of NATO.... Yet his en passant statement on his trip to Oslo still makes observers prick up their ears -- 'I suggest they follow the French example.' ...The French example goes back to the bad old days of President Charles de Gaulle, (who) kicked the U.S. troops out of the country and the NATO headquarters in Paris along with them. Then the general withdrew France from the core of the alliance, its integrated military structure."

The editorial continues, "Yeltsin believes new members should be even less integrated. He wants to allow Poland, (Hungary, the Czech Republic etc.) to have a kind of second class membership. They are to be allowed to join in discussions..., but not become part of the NATO military machine.... The applicants of course want much more -- real security, credible guarantees and solid links.... NATO must therefore do two things: it must sound out Yeltsin, but also talk him out of the idea of more than one France in NATO."

"When, as planned, NATO goes home next December, will the fragile, three-part, Muslim-led Bosnian state disintegrate under Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat separatist pressure?" The Washington Post asked yesterday in an editorial. The Post's answer -- "One part of the proposed American response to this very real possibility is to ensure underdog Bosnia its own adequate defense capacity.... It's an essential piece of backup insurance if the country is not simply to be permanently partitioned along ethnic lines by further war..... Remember that this is Bosnia, a place of death and ethnic cleansing, especially for Muslims. Others cannot in good faith abandon them to new perils and deny them a fair chance to defend themselves."

Yahya Sadowski is a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program at the Brookings Institution. In a commentary distributed yesterday by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service, Sadowski wrote: "In February, NATO troops raided a secret base in the town of Fojnica where Iranian agents appeared to be training Bosnians....Various reports since then have highlighted Tehran's aid to Bosnia.... Yet Iranian-inspired terrorism is very unlikely in Bosnia. The only real resemblance between Sarajevo and Beirut is the bullet holes.... Americans need to understand that the thankfulness Bosnians feel for Iran is not reinforced by any real cultural affinity."

Columnist Thomas L. Friedman comments in today's New York Times: "Without a sudden upsurge of good will from the Bosnian factions, and without a real contribution of money from the Western allies, there will be no reversing Bosnia's division.... America consistently got in trouble in Bosnia in the past by not being willing to pay for the peace it wanted, a unified Bosnia; and not wanting the peace that it could have, a partitioned Bosnia. How about doing something different this time? Let's take the peace that we are willing to pay for, partition, and try to make the best of it."

In The London Times, diplomatic editor Michael Binyon writes today: "Western diplomats (are) warning that, unless the ceasefire in Bosnia-Herzogovina is stabilized, the elections planned for this autumn may be postpones or scrapped.... So complex are the details, and so opposed are the Bosnian and Serb leaders to fulfilling conditions that would allow a free vote, that even officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe charged with running the elections are beginning to doubt whether they can be held.... If (elections are delayed), the NATO-led Implementation Force will be under strong pressure to stay, because there will be no other mechanism to enforce the Dayton accords."

The U.S. Knight-Ridder Newspapers group distributed today an analysis by Peter Slevin. He writes: "While NATO-led military operations have gone relatively smoothly in Bosnia, the crucial civilian reconstruction effort has gotten off to a slow star.... The task, to which the U.S. government has pledged hundreds of millions of dollars, is huge. A significant measure of the success of the military and civilian operation will be the ability of people displaced by the war to return home from safe havens around the world.... With the fighting over, the time is drawing near to start sending the refugees home, the German government has decided. Over the objections of the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Germany will send the first Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims back in July. The timetable highlights the pressure on the international community, and the Bosnian government itself, to make the country functional again."

Holly Yeager writes today in an analysis distributed by the U.S. Hearst Newspapers group: "Pentagon officials denied (yesterday) that assigning civilian tasks to NATO military forces in Bosnia amounted to mission creep.... NATO spokesman Maj. Simon Haselock on Monday said military commanders on the ground in Bosnia 'have now accepted that they will change their emphasis' and 'will assist in civil projects in a much more dynamic way than we have done hitherto.' ...NATO forces concentrated initially on separating the warring factions in Bosnia and monitoring the cease fire.... The more active NATO participation in civilian projects is expected to begin after April 18, when all Serb, Croat and Muslim military forces in the region are scheduled to return to their barracks and their heavy weapons are to be placed in storage areas."