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Western Press Review: Volume Rises On NATO

Prague, 26 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary continues to examine NATO -- its eastward expansion, its role in Bosnia, its impact on U.S. domestic policy, its potential new members.

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: A bad idea whose time has come?

Commenting today, Neil King Jr. writes from Brussels that the amount of wordplay surrounding NATO is surprising, given the apparent inevitability of its near-term destiny.

King says: "Debate over NATO enlargement has hit a high pitch lately, especially in the United States, with voices on both sides describing in almost biblical terms what Europe faces if it takes the wrong path. But are things really that bad? The sudden uproar is a bit odd, if only because NATO has steamed ahead with enlargement plans for three years and has no intention of stopping now."

He says: "While heated in the United States these days, debate over NATO enlargement has been muted at best in most European capitals." King says: "One German foreign-policy scholar has dubbed it 'a bad idea whose time has come.' Optimists, though, bet that in 10 years Europe will be a safer and more predictable place, thanks in large part to an expanded NATO. 'And then," says one analyst, 'everyone will wonder what all the fuss was about.' "

WASHINGTON POST: Clinton is politically cautious to a policy fault

U.S. President Bill Clinton himself is concentrating attention on foreign policy, especially in Europe. But the paper said Sunday in an editorial that the President may have adopted an over-cautious stance. The editorial said: "President Clinton is into a phase of high-concept foreign policy. Starting this week, he will be promoting a 'structure' that is meant to do for a restored Europe and a diminished Russia in the next 50 years what NATO, the Marshall Plan and Europe's own economic bodies did to rebuild, unify and defend the continent in the last 50 years.

"(But) even as Clinton steps up boldly to the big abstract questions -- by comparison, the easy questions -- his administration edges up ambiguously to (the situation in Bosnia). The earlier NATO commitment to integrate broken Bosnia is plainly sagging. The whole enterprise risks collapse and a return to war if the United States simply goes through the motions and then leads the international peacekeepers out in a year."

The Post said: "The Pentagon dismisses the thought of new and bolder tasks and lobbies for bringing American military personnel home on schedule next year. Clinton sees no dramatic departures in peacekeeping and pronounces the force's mid-1998 departure set and firm. On both counts we think he is being politically cautious to a policy fault. Moreover, we suspect a stronger policy in support of Dayton's civil commitments would uncover more political latitude than the president so far has sought."

NEW YORK TIMES: It's encouraging to see that Albright has not given up on Bosnia

The paper said in an editorial Saturday that the renewed White House attention to Bosnia is itself encouraging. The newspaper said: "With this past week's announcement of a new initiative on Bosnia, the Clinton administration has signaled a welcome, if belated, recognition that its efforts to bring a lasting peace in that country are in danger of crashing."

It said: "Now Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, always one of the administration officials most concerned about Bosnia, has announced modest steps to improve conditions there." The editorial said: "Even if the new American initiative is successful, important problems will remain, including the continued political influence of indicted war criminals and Croatia's creeping annexation of ethnically Croatian areas of Bosnia. Still, it is encouraging to see that Albright has not given up."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Congress and NATO have not yet focused on the costs of enlarging NATO

Washington writer Doyle McManus writes today that President Clinton's planned trip to Europe this week is aimed mostly at an audience at home. McManus writes in a news analysis: "With one eye on the history books and the other on a restive public, President Clinton heads to Europe this week with a goal more domestic than diplomatic: convincing Americans that a U.S. commitment to defend Poland and other former Communist countries is worth the cost -- in money and troops -- because it will reduce the chances of another war on the continent."

The writer says: "With Clinton's encouragement, NATO is expected to invite Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to join the alliance this year -- a decision that would commit the United States to defending the three countries against any outside attack. But the president acknowledged that Congress and the public have not yet focused on the costs of enlarging NATO -- and that winning Senate approval will require a concerted effort."

Romania and Slovakia

Romania and Slovakia have been active concerning NATO membership, Romania in pressing its bid for an early invitation; and Slovakia in framing a rejection for an invitation that nobody expects to be tendered.

DIE WELT: Polls suggest 90 percent of Romanians favor NATO entry

In the German newspaper, Peter Dausend commented Friday that Romania covets NATO membership partly as a badge denoting membership in Europe. He wrote: "The issue of NATO membership has taken on great significance in the Romanian consciousness. When the first round of candidates for entry are announced in Madrid at the beginning of July, Romania wants to be -- indeed it feels it must be -- among them.

"Opinion polls suggest that 90 percent of the population is in favour of entry to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization -- a statistic that the most likely candidates for entry -- Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic - can only dream of. Alongside the security issue -- protection from Russia -- the main reason for the drive for entry to the alliance is cultural. Romanians are convinced that NATO membership will provide the proof that, after years of enforced friendship with the Russians, the country is back in that community of values known as Europe to which Romania feels it belongs if only because of its Roman roots."

WASHINGTON POST: Internal politics has thrown a NATO referendum into chaos

In Slovakia, ties to Europe and joint defense are secondary to internal politics, William Drozdiak wrote in a news analysis in yesterday's edition. Drozdiak wrote: "A fierce power struggle between Slovakia's two leading politicians has thrown into chaos a referendum on NATO membership and apparently dashed the nation's hopes of joining the Western military alliance in the near future." He said: "The ballot became a test of strength between President Michal Kovac and Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar that ended in turmoil."

Drozdiak wrote: "The confusion around the vote reflects clashing visions about Slovakia's future. Kovac favors rapid integration with Western institutions such as NATO and the European Union. But Meciar seems more comfortable with an authoritarian-style government that looks toward Russia and the East."