Prague, 16 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. Senate's discussion of NATO's planned enlargement to Central Europe now seems likely to begin later this week, with the critical vote on ratification of the Alliance's decision due at the end of the debate. U.S. newspapers continue to publish opinion articles on both sides of the issue. At the same time, much West European as well as U.S. comment again focuses on the crisis in Serbia's southern province of Kosovo, where peace talks between Belgrade and the leaders of the province's ethnic Albanian majority have yet to begin.
NEW YORK TIMES: Moscow would be deterred from extending a sphere of influence westward
In the New York Times yesterday conservative columnist William Safire, a long-time defender of the Alliance's enlargement, asked: "Are those of us who support the eastward expansion of NATO alarmists...? After all, at the root of the inclusion of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into the Western Alliance is our worry that the Russian bear may one day regain its strength and begin growling again." He answered: "If the formerly captive nations of Eastern Europe become part of NATO's defense, Moscow would be deterred from extending a sphere of influence westward. But if we reject the application of democratic nations, we will perpetuate a "gray zone" for Russia to again dominate."
Safire went on: "That's not alarmist. If no threat develops from a resurgent Russia, fine --no harm done by widening the club. But if some adventurist like (Foreign Minister) Yevgeny Primakov should take charge in the future, he would find no power vacuum inviting his forces into a new hot or cold European war." And Safire concluded by urging President Bill Clinton to make what the columnist called "a serious speech" to the U.S. on the issue, saying: " A Clinton address...would uplift public discourse, inspirit East Europeans who cherish their new-found freedom and be good for the Oval Office."
CHICAGO SUNDAY TIMES: Hasty decisions make bad policy
Another well-known U.S. conservative columnist, George Will, is less convinced than Safire of the wisdom of quick Senate ratification of NATO expansion. In the Chicago Sun-Times Saturday (Mar. 14), Will said that "hasty decisions make bad policy." He wrote: "Regarding NATO expansion, there has been neither presidential explanation nor Senate debate sufficient to produce a meaningful public majority of any sort." He argued: "Meaningless polls purport to demonstrate substantial public support for extending a U.S. security commitment eastward to the Polish-Ukrainian border, and beyond. But not one American in 100 can say which nations (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic) are to be brought into NATO. Not one in 100,000 knows that five more --Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Romania-- have been invited to apply for membership next year." He summed up: "Surely Congress could deliberate long enough to acquaint the public with such complexities, before taking steps that could cause the...stars and stripes to be unfurled over encampments in places of which the public has never heard."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: NATO is America's most critical security alliance
The Los Angles Times late last week (Mar. 13) published two commentaries on NATO enlargement, one for and one against. Writing on behalf of expansion was John Shalikashvili, former U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (that is, the nation's top military officer), who has just returned from a trip to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. In an opinion piece urging "Seal the Victory of the Cold War," Shalikashvili wrote: "I feel more convinced than ever that the U.S. Senate should demonstrate overwhelming bipartisan support for including the (three Central European) countries in NATO." He argued: "NATO is America's most critical security alliance, and those who have been expressing anxiety of late about its enlargement are overstating the risks."
Shalikashvili went on to say: "The primary misgiving about expansion would seem to be that we cannot afford to provoke Russia with such action....However, if the Cold War validated anything, it was the worth of framing U.S. foreign policy from first principles rather than hypothetical situations." He concluded: "We engaged in the Cold War and won it because we were unswerving in our belief in democracy and individual freedoms. We have no reason today to be any less passionate in our defense of these principles. Nor do we have any grounds for walking away from our long-held conviction that stability and prosperity in Europe -- which NATO expansion will widen and deepen -- will strengthen our security and well-being."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: There is simply no need to expand NATO
In their Los Angeles Times commentary, two former U.S. senators, representing Colorado and New Hampshire, respectively, Gary Hart and Gordon Humphrey predicted that "Russia will reject (the) cold peace." They wrote: "The Senate vote on NATO expansion will set the tone of U.S.-Russian relations for the next generation. If the Senate approves NATO membership for Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, NATO will move right up to Russia's border, seriously endangering the once-in-a-century opportunity for the United States to build a constructive relationship with that vast and important country." They argued: "There is simply no need to expand NATO. Even the proponents admit that Russia poses no threat to its neighbors, nor could it for many years to come, even under the worst of circumstances. (And) East and Central Europe do not need a military alliance, they need access to Western markets."
Hart and Humphrey continued: "Our highest priority ought to be the reduction of Russia's arsenal of nuclear weapons, which still constitutes a real and present threat to the United States. Resentment of NATO expansion prompted the Russian legislature to delay ratification of the START-Two treaty that would shrink Russian and U.S. arsenals by 3,500 strategic nuclear missiles each. The refusal to ratify that important treaty, despite pleas from Presidents Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, is a concrete example of the way NATO expansion strengthens the hands of the irresponsible elements at the expense of Russian reformers."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: It is clear that no dialogue will come about
Turning to the Kosovo crisis, three West European analysts discuss different aspects of the ethnic Albanian community's reaction to Belgrade's offer to convene peace talks in the province's capital Pristina. In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung late last week (Mar. 12), Peter Muench said that "Belgrade's offer of talks to Kosovo's ethnic Albanians cannot be taken seriously." He explained: "The Serbian government representatives knew that no-one would turn up to talk with them. So their aim in traveling to the provincial capital was not to go ahead with the dialogue for which there have been international demands but to hold a well-prepared monologue along the lines of 'We Serbians have tried to hold talks but the Albanians simply don't want to talk.'" Muench then asked: "But why should they?" His answer: "In the small print, Belgrade insisted on the Serbian constitution as the basis for any talks and, although the constitution still refers to Kosovo as an 'autonomous province,' any rights that might be derived from this status have long been axed." He summed up: "There is no line of dialogue from the Serbian emphasis on what Belgrade calls a 'domestic matter' to the Albanians' call for independence, and it is clear that no dialogue will come about unless there is an impartial arbiter as the third party to one."
LIBERATION: Kosovo has for years lived in a state of apartheid
In today's French daily Liberation, a news analysis from Pristina by Helene Despic-Popovic says that "Kosovo has for years lived in a state of apartheid." She writes about the province's Albanian students: "Cut off from others in their (so-called) parallel teaching (in the Albanian language), the young (ethnic) Albanians no longer learn any Serb. For their part, the Serbs (in Kosovo) have never learned Albanian. (One ethnic Albanian student) almost apologizes for having a Serb friend, a youngster who lives on the same street he does and with whom he played soccer when they were at primary school together." Despic-Popovic quotes the Albanian boy as saying about his Serb friend: "I go to his house, he comes to mine. But I'd never take him into one of our (Albanian) cafes, and he'd never take me into one of his (Serbian cafes). If I did, my (Albanian) friends would think ill of me...'"
PAIS: The international community has avoided military intervention
In the Spanish daily El Pais today, Andres Ortega asks: Why was there an international mission in 1991 to protect Iraqi Kurds from the repression of Saddam Hussein and not one in Kosovo to prevent the repression of the Kosovo Albanians by Milosevic? The question is in the air. The answer...is complex." He says: "In the case of the Kurds, the stated objective was to protect them; but the implicit one was to avoid the creation of a Kurdish state in a zone in which each country wanted only to protect its own interests. In Kosovo, the situation is exactly the opposite: The international community has avoided military intervention except as a means of supporting diplomatic initiatives that would avoid the secession of Kosovo Albanians (from Serbia)."
WASHINGTON POST: The clash of Serbian and Albanian nationalisms is now the hottest question in the Balkans
U.S. commentators have also been assessing the difficulties of reaching a peaceful solution in Kosovo. In the Washington Post Friday (Mar. 13), columnist Stephen Rosenfeld analyzed the behavior of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, saying: "Just when everyone thought Bosnia was finally on its halting way to better days, the discredited but still wily (Milosevic) launched a test of American resolve on the ticking-bomb issue of Kosovo. His repressive rule in that Serbian province has created an armed resistance among its 90-percent ethnic Albanian majority. The ambush of four Serbian policemen occasioned a disproportionate Serbian response that took scores of civilian lives. The clash of Serbian and Albanian nationalisms is now the hottest question in the Balkans."
Rosenfeld continued: "U.S. officials warn (that Milosevic's cooperation with the West in Bosnia) did not earn (him) a free hand in Kosovo. Nor...should Kosovars mistake American criticism of Milosevic's violence for U.S. support of an independent Kosovo. What the U.S. does support is international peacekeeping, human rights (no terrorism) and a Serbian-Albanian political dialogue."
BOSTON GLOBE: Reality is seen through the distorting lens of ethnicity
In yesterday's Boston Globe, author Robert Kaplan said in a commentary that "the violence in Kosovo has exposed the deep distrust that exists (among) all the nations of the southern Balkans." He wrote: "These nations could be engulfed in a regional war should the West fail to curb Serbia's historic and strategic mission of substantially reducing the number of Albanians in Kosovo through violence, intimidation, and refugee migrations."
Writing from Sofia, Kaplan continued: "A recent proposal by the Bulgarian foreign minister, Nadezhda Mihailova, for 'constructive dialogue' among Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo has met with grudging agreement in Athens and in the Macedonian capital of Skopje. Even though the Bulgarian proposal contains no specifics except (a) plea for negotiations, Macedonians, Albanians and Greeks at first denounced it as a mask for Bulgarian expansion westward into Macedonia, with lurid references to 19th-century Balkan politics." He argued: "That Bulgaria, preoccupied with reducing its army, economic woes, the challenge of privatization after decades of communism, and a fight against Russian-supported organized crime, is terrified of military involvement beyond its borders is an objective fact that simply does not register in a region where reality is seen through the distorting lens of ethnicity."