Prague, 19 February 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The so-far apparently triumphal world tour of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has focused Western press commentators' attention on the issue of the proposed expansion eastward of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Addressing NATO ministers in Brussels yesterday, Albright proposed sharp reductions in conventional weapons in Central and Eastern Europe and the formation of joint NATO-Russia peacekeeping brigade. She continues her tour today in London.
NEW YORK TIMES: Russian officials remain opposed to enlargement
In an analysis today, Steven Erlanger writes: "The proposals are part of a larger NATO offer intended to persuade the Russians to acquiesce in NATO's expansion and negotiate a NATO-Russian charter to govern their relations. Albright is to discuss those issues with President Boris Yeltsin and Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov when she visits Moscow tomorrow and Friday. Russian officials remain bitterly opposed to NATO enlargement, and no one expects them suddenly to embrace it. But Albright, after having laid the groundwork this week, will be able to describe in detail a unified alliance position in preparation for President Clinton's summit meeting with Yeltsin in Helsinki in March."
Erlanger continues: "While no one expects the Russians to accept NATO's offer as presented, it sets a structure for negotiations that American officials hope will produce a charter by the time NATO meets in Madrid in July. They said they believe that it offers Yeltsin enough to be able to tell Russians that a NATO expansion, through tough Russian diplomacy, may lessen the threat to Moscow, while tying Russia more deeply into the workings of its former enemy alliance."
LONDON GUARDIAN: How can NATO play a leading role in Europe if the largest country is ruled out?
Encapsulating the mixture of Western opinion, an editorial today headlined "Including Russia Out" denounces NATO's proposed expansion, and also publishes a commentary urgently endorsing the proposal.
In the editorial, the papers says: "Everyone will applaud (Albright's) warning that the post-Cold War 'space of tranquillity' should not be squandered, and that parts of Europe are not so tranquil anyhow." It adds: "No one can object to her ultimate goal of 'a peaceful and undivided Europe.' "
But the Guardian continues: "Yet it is a huge and unsubstantiated leap from this to the assertion that NATO is playing now the 'leading role' in bringing Europe together. How can that possibly be true when half of Europe remains outside and the largest country (Russia) is ruled out in advance?"
GUARDIAN: NATO has put forth elaborate plans to cooperate with Russia
In a signed commentary, Jonathan Eyal, director of studies at Britain's Royal United Services Institute, writes: "NATO has put forward elaborate plans for cooperation with Moscow at every level, to which the Russians have not responded. They want Central Europe to remain a sphere of joint influence, carved between themselves and the West. If their opposition is allowed to prevent NATO's enlargement, this not only will create a European crisis of major proportions, but probably will overturn most of the arrangements which ensured stability on the continent since the last great war. Enlargement should proceed. It is the least bad option available."
FINANCIAL TIMES: Albright's trip is intended to push the plan to enlarge NATO
In today's edition of the British daily, commentator Ian Davidson argues against NATO enlargement with these words: "The main purpose of Mrs. Albright's hectic travel schedule is to push the plan to enlarge NATO into Eastern Europe by hustling alliance members into line and persuading the Russians not to make too much fuss about a project which marks a big shift in the strategic balance against them." Davidson concludes that if NATO expansion "goes ahead, it could jeopardize East-West nuclear and conventional arms control...The Russian Duma," he notes, "is already threatening to throw out the START nuclear arms treaty."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Democracy and stability in Russia do not depend on NATO expansion
Christiane Hoffmann comments today: "Russia has both convincing and less convincing arguments against the eastward expansion of NATO, or at least for consideration of its interest in participating in European security policy. Lately Russia seems to be fighting NATO's expansion with the less convincing arguments."
Hoffmann continues: "Prime minister Chernomyrdin as well as Russian President Boris Yeltsin's chief of staff, Anatoly Chubais, are using the fear of nationalism and communism as their main weapon against the expansion. They say expansion would endanger democracy in Russia because it would give (communist party leader Gennady) Zyuganov and (ultra-nationalist Vladimir) Zhirinovsky the arguments of a 'threat from the West.' " Hoffmann says: "This bogeyman is well-known because Russia for years has used Zhirinovsky as a lever to pry money and political favors from the West." She concludes: "If democracy and stability have a chance in Russia, they do not depend on NATO expansion, but on the domestic social and economic situation in Russia. It is not the Alliance that is threatening democracy as much as unpaid salaries and pensions and the desolate condition of the armed forces."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Moscow's power has shrunk to Russia proper
In an analysis in today's edition, Tyler Marshall writes: "In keeping with what once was the great divide between the Soviet Empire and the West, the 1990 (Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty) split the nations of Europe into two groups -- the Western allies and the Eastern Bloc -- and placed equal limits on the weapons that each could possess." Marshal continues: "But with the demise of the Warsaw Pact and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the reach of Moscow's power has shrunk to just Russia proper; in the process, Russia now has been limited to forces that are little more than one-third the level of those accorded to NATO. And if Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic join the Atlantic alliance, as widely expected, NATO's superiority will be greater still."
LONDON TIMES: NATO enlargement would be a fateful error, says Kennan
Commentator Simon Jenkins writes today of "the new escalation" and calls NATO expansion "America's pet plan" and an "unnecessary risk." He quotes two statements which, he says, "cannot both be true." One is: "The new NATO can vanquish old hatreds, promote integration, create a secure environment for prosperity, and deter violence." He writes: "The speaker is Madeleine Albright, American secretary of state. She is supported by the British government."
Jenkins goes on: "The second statement reads (in part): 'NATO enlargement would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post Cold War era." Jenkins explains: "This speaker is George Kennan, veteran diplomat and Kremlinologist. He is supported by many letters in The (London) Times."
Jenkins concludes: "These people should sort out their differences, and soon. One of them is wrong, and if it is Madeleine Albright, we are in trouble."
LONDON INDEPENDENT: Germany is closer to Russia than any other Western power
Phil Reeves writes from Moscow today in an analysis: "As an indignant Moscow awaited the new U.S. secretary of state, the second act on the bill climbed into the ring yesterday -- Germany's Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel. He came to spar with his counterpart, Yevgeny Primakov, over NATO expansion in the hope of softening up the Kremlin before the small but determined figure of Ms. Albright and her bandwagon (come) into view tomorrow." Reeves says: "Germany is closer to Russia than any other Western power, and has produced a more conciliatory line over the Atlantic alliance than (has) the United States."