Prague, 7 July 1997 (RFE/RL) -- As Western leaders prepare to convene tomorrow in Madrid for a summit on expanding NATO, doubts and warnings hover overhead like a Mediterranean storm front. Press commentary reflects the tensions.
WASHINGTON POST: Repercussions of expansion transcend Clinton's presidency
In a news analysis yesterday, William Drozdiak framed the basic question this way: "Why should a military alliance created nearly half a century ago continue to exist in the absence of any visible threat?" Drozdiak wrote: "While advocates say enlargement of the new NATO will broaden the zone of tranquillity in Europe, critics say the U.S.-led initiative is a monumental strategic blunder that sows the seeds of NATO's own destruction. Either way, the fate of what is considered Clinton's boldest foreign policy undertaking will carry repercussions far beyond his presidency."
TIMES OF LONDON: Clinton administration behaving tactlessly
The newspaper in an editorial today calls the summit, "Menace in Madrid," and charges that the U.S. Clinton Administration is behaving both tactlessly and incorrectly in pressing its position. The Times says: "The leaders of the 20th century's most successful military alliance descend on Madrid tomorrow for a fateful summit. Agreement on two momentous decisions, a new military structure for NATO and the early enlargement of the alliance, is claimed by the Clinton Administration to be indispensable to the forging of a peaceful and undivided post-Cold War Europe." The newspaper says: "So far nothing is settled. There is disagreement about who should join, about Europe's weight in NATO's new command structures and about what sort of alliance NATO should become."
The editorial continues: "If American tactlessness were the only problem, there would be little novelty here, and still less cause for alarm." It concludes: "But this time, America will have misused its power in pursuit of an ill-judged strategy, whose most obvious principal effect has been not only to foment division in Central and Eastern Europe but to place a question mark over the future credibility of NATO."
NEW YORK TIMES: Expansion has received insufficient analysis
Across the ocean, The New York Times is equally dubious. In an editorial yesterday, the newspaper reiterated its conviction that NATO expansion has received insufficient analysis and debate in the United States. The editorial said: "Bill Clinton heads to Madrid this week to construct the foreign policy centerpiece of his presidency, the eastward expansion of NATO. The United States has initiated no more fateful enterprise since the end of the cold war, yet it has done so largely without public discussion. With NATO planning to issue invitations to three new members in Madrid, a national debate can no longer wait."
The paper concluded: "Given the absence of a clear threat to Europe and the possibility of so many unpredictable consequences, NATO expansion seems a gratuitous risk. If Clinton is determined to make it happen, he has an obligation to tell the American people why he is so sure it will not undermine stability in Europe and lead to a waste of American resources. He can begin in Madrid."
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: U.S. will determine final number admitted
Klaus-Dieter Frankenburger today comments on what he says is being called an "American dictatorship (over) the most important decision regarding security policy since the end of the Cold War." He says: "The United States is now the most important and the most influential country in NATO alliance; hence at the end of the day it makes the decision about the new members."
The commentary continues: "The Clinton administration hopes to achieve at the Madrid summit a pledge by the 16 NATO nations to keep the door open for further members. Secretary of State (Madeleine) Albright is said to have declared that NATO expansion is 'a dynamic process which is beginning this summer and will continue in the coming years.' Concern that this will not be the case --because of Russia, because of the costs, because of the inner burden of joining, because of dwindling solidarity-- has compelled some Europeans to support a large first round. But mighty America is not willing to accommodate. Dark clouds still hang over the security policy of Europe's new order."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: New NATO will remain dynamic cornerstone
A central figure in the NATO political maneuvers, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, presented a determinedly upbeat assessment in a commentary published today. He writes: "The NATO summit (will) endorse at the highest level the adaptation of the alliance to meet the challenges of today and of the future. Together, these decisions will ensure that we are well on course toward our goal: a new NATO for a new Europe."
Solana commentary concludes: "The new NATO, just like the old one, will remain the cornerstone of the trans-Atlantic community. The Madrid summit meeting will confirm the dynamism of this community as well as ensure its successful continuation well into the next century."
LONDON GUARDIAN: Czech and Hungarian armed forces are not ready
In a news analysis by David Fairhall, the newspaper raises complex questions about NATO expansion. Fairhall says a secret NATO study concludes that the armed forces of the Czech Republic and Hungary simply aren't ready. He writes: "If membership in NATO were based on military competence, the alliance would be inviting Romania and Slovenia to join it at tomorrow's Madrid summit, instead of Hungary and the Czech Republic. The alliance's military assessents uphold Poland's candidacy --with reservations-- but are critical of the other two countries making up the first group of East European members."
LONDON GUARDIAN: Expansion flawed, but necessary
In its editorial, the newspaper says that NATO expansion is flawed but, in the end, better than the alternative. The newspaper says: "To say that the expansion of NATO is an illogical business is fair comment. The expected invitation to Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic will bring in three states whose military establishments are in a state of disarray."
The editorial says: "The reasons NATO is expanding is that Eastern European countries pleaded, begged, argued, lectured, and hammered on the door. Could we really just have said no?" It answers: "NATO has never been a simple military alliance."