Prague, 3 December 1996 (RFE/RL) -- NATO expansion, Russia' s role in Europe -- as threat or new colleague, France's voice in the Atlantic alliance's command structure, the ruminations of a European security conference -- all attract Western press commentary.
FINANCIAL TIMES: NATO is prepared to offer Russia assurances
Bruce Clark and Peter Wise comment today in the British newspaper: "NATO is prepared to offer Russia assurances over both conventional and nuclear weapons in the hope of softening its objections to the eastward enlargement of the alliance, it emerged at a European security summit yesterday." They write: "Diplomats said the Western moves were part of a 'charm offensive' intended to allay Russia's concerns, which were restated firmly yesterday by Mr. Viktor Chernomyrdin, the Russian prime minister."
WASHINGTON POST: Chernomyrdin insists that NATO enlargement would create a new and dangerous fault line
The paper carries a news analysis today by correspondent William Drozdiak, who writes from Lisbon: "A European security conference approved plans (yesterday) to seek further cuts in conventional arsenals across the continent, a process the United States and Western allies hope will establish a new military balance and ease Russia's hostility toward NATO expansion. But in a tough speech that dismayed Western leaders, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin rejected that view and insisted NATO enlargement would create a new and dangerous fault line between East and West at a time when the continent should be striving to heal the old breach."
Drozdiak says: "In recent months, Russia's leadership has emitted a bewildering array of signals about NATO enlargement. Alexander Lebed, a former general who served as President Boris Yeltsin's security adviser until he was fired in an internal political dispute, suggested during a visit to NATO headquarters in October that Moscow was grudgingly resigned to the expansion process and would not stand in its way. But this month, Russian Defense Minister Oleg Rodionov threatened that NATO's embrace of nations once considered part of a buffer zone on Russia's western periphery would compel Moscow to embark on a new rearmament campaign and even to target nuclear missiles on Eastern states."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Even in disarray, Russia is the largest of the European powers
Today's edition carries a commentary by former British Ambassador Rodric Braithewaite. Braithewaite served as ambassador to the Soviet Union, and then to Russia. He writes: "Since Humpty-Dumpty fell off the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the easy certainties of the Cold War were shattered, the West's attempts to put together a stable, non-confrontational Europe have been undermined by muddled thinking, misplaced realpolitik and half-baked sentimentality."
He says: "if anything is clear, it is this: Any European arrangement which is opposed by Russia, which Russia feels is against its vital national interests, which leaves Russia as a revanchist power on Europe's eastern flank, will in the long run be as shaky as the 1919 so-called settlement at Versailles. The West must devise a way of bringing Russia as a satisfied status quo power into the new Europe."
Braithewaite contends: "Even in disarray, Russia is the largest of the European powers. If we do not now give it some voice in the ordering of European affairs, it will one day be tempted to take it." He concludes: "The new Humpty-Dumpty will be patched and cracked in places, but he will be a lot more attractive than the renewed confrontation with Russia that is the likely alternative."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: NATO should have declared victory and scheduled its own dissolution
Today's edition provides a commentary by international business consultant Alex Alexiev, who writes: "It is often said that generals, in planning for the next conflict, re-fight the last war. Democracies are supposed to avoid such pitfalls by entrusting decisions on war and peace to civilian leaders." Alexiev says: "Unfortunately, political leaders are no less prone to re-fight the last war, especially if they won it. A case in point is NATO's seemingly irreversible commitment to expand the alliance by admitting several East European countries as new members. Not only do the allies universally support expansion of NATO, it is also the only foreign policy issue that enjoys strong bipartisan support in Washington."
He contends: "Perhaps the most serious objection that could be raised against NATO expansion (among others) is that almost certainly it will have a destabilizing effect on European security and U.S.-Russian relations. Despite numerous statements by Western officials that NATO expansion would not be directed at Russia, it is widely perceived by Moscow, even in pro-Western, democratic circles, to be precisely that."
Alexiev writes: "There has never been a military alliance in history that has survived the absence of a manifest and clearly understood threat and a well-defined mission to counter it. NATO should have declared victory, congratulated itself and set up a schedule for its own dissolution."
LONDON GUARDIAN: Why the Russians should be partners in global economy but antagonists in continental defense remains unclear
The paper says today in an editorial: "Hopes that the end of the cold war would mean also the end of mystifying defense theology have not been sustained. The attempt to square the circle in Europe by expanding NATO while the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe -- now meeting in Lisbon -- is strengthened has led to a tortuous formula about a new overlapping model." The editorial says: "Just why the Russians should be partners in the global economy but antagonists in continental defense remains unclear." The Guardian editorializes: "What is left unsaid behind the new theology is the old conviction that Russia is an inherent threat to the rest of Europe, just because it is there."
LONDON TIMES: Russia remains the only potential aggressor in Europe, should moves toward democracy collapse
Dr. Robert McGeehan of the University of London Institute of United States Studies write in a letter to the editor of today's edition: "The threat by Igor Rodionov, the Russian defense minister, that Russian nuclear weapons could be targeted on Central and Eastern European states if they join NATO is grimly reminiscent of the crude attempts by the Soviet Union in the early 1980s similarly to intimidate the members of the Atlantic alliance that had agreed to receive new American intermediate-range nuclear missiles."
McGeehan writes: "Such coercive tactics did not succeed then and should not influence current deliberations on NATO enlargement. But they are a timely reminder that the former superpower to the east remains the only real potential aggressor in Europe, should its present efforts to move toward democracy collapse."
SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The major reappraisal of NATO expansion will take place in Washington
The paper said in a recent editorial signed by Josef Riedmiller: "Has the time come to approach the matter of expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization eastwards in earnest? To finish a project that introduced a new element of tension in relations between the Western democracies and the reform states of Eastern Europe after the end of the Cold War? According to the timetable, NATO will name the three membership candidates (Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary) in December, after which a contract will be negotiated working out Russia's relationship with the alliance. Finally, a NATO summit next spring is to give final approval to the eastward expansion."
The newspaper says: "The major reappraisal of NATO expansion will take place in Washington. This will involve rethinking the costs, which have been estimated at $125 billion, as well as the Russians' reaction, which will probably be to call a halt to all arms limitations measures -- including agreements already signed."