Prague, 12 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Substantial press commentary in Europe and the United States focuses today on NATO -- its expansion, and its possible role in Kosovo -- as NATO members prepare for a ceremony inducting the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland into the alliance.
WASHINGTON POST: Today is a good day for the West
The Washington Post hails the event in an editorial proclaiming: "Today is a good day for the West." The Post says: "NATO -- the military alliance that kept its members stable, prosperous and free through the Cold War -- takes in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, long involuntary members of NATO's now-extinct Communist counterpart." The editorial concludes: "The central requirement remains to give those restored European democracies -- someday conceivably Russia, too -- a good chance for a Western-style life. This is what NATO enlargement, and European Union enlargement as well, is about."
DIE WELT: This is the first step in the direction of a new NATO
In Germany's Die Welt, commentator Gerhard Gnauck notes that the West's comfort may be Russia's discomfort. He writes: "One fine day, this spring day could prove to have been the first step in the direction of a new NATO, the European pillar of which is to be reinforced and which a number of strategically thinking politicians hope might develop into a regional alliance with a global agenda. At the same time it will be a day when Moscow becomes acutely aware that Russia does not belong."
INDEPENDENT: Recently there have been rumblings of discontent
The Independent, London, finds an off note -- the timing of the ceremony separately from NATO's 50th anniverary celebration a month later. Correspondent Mary Dejevsky writes in a news analysis from the ceremony site, Independence, Missouri: "Recently there have been rumblings of discontent from some of the new member states' Western backers. They feel that a landmark of 20th Century history, and one of President Bill Clinton's few foreign policy triumphs, is being hidden from public view. They say it is being separated deliberately from next month's festivities in Washington, which will both mark the 50th anniversary of NATO and set its future course."
GUARDIAN: The shape of NATOs new strategic decision is far from settled
Martin Walker, correspondent in Brussels for London's Guardian, analyzes the same issue and accepts the official explanation. He writes: "The decision to accelerate the membership process so [the new members] can attend next month's 50th anniversary NATO summit in Washington was a political one. The three new members have only a limited capacity to sustain the ambitious new role which NATO plans to adopt. The shape of its new strategic decision -- to be adopted at the Washington summit -- is far from settled."
BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: Former Warsaw Pact countries want their security guaranteed once and for all
Demark's Berlingske Tidende editorializes that concern over Russia's opposition shouldn't slow NATO's growth. The editorial contends: "It is not at all sure that whoever comes to power in Russia after Boris Yeltsin will be as amiable to the West. But this is not an argument for halting the process [of enlarging NATO] that has never been directed against Russia." It continues: "Russia's opposition [to enlargement] is based on the antiquated concept that Europe should be divided into spheres of influence. But Moscow has no alternative to offer to those former Warsaw Pact countries that today don't become NATO members but that still want their security guaranteed once and for all."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: NATO's prestige and ability to adapt to particular countries' situations seem to have reassured opinion
In an analysis in the International Herald Tribune, Joseph Fitchett writes: "Widely aired fears that NATO's selective enlargements would foment tensions, by drawing a new dividing line across Europe or creating a gray zone of vulnerable countries in Eastern Europe, have not materialized. Instead, NATO's prestige and ability to adapt to particular countries' situations seem to have reassured opinion both in nations in the alliance, such as Germany, and in non-member nations from the Baltic states, and Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria, right down to Slovenia on the Adriatic."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: The incoming members are focused not on preparing for war but rather for the benefits of peace
David Holley writes from Lodz, Poland, in a Los Angeles Times news analysis, that NATO's enlargement coincides with a new emphasis on peace rather than war or defense. He says: "In many ways, the incoming members are focused not on preparing for war but rather for the benefits of peace. They see NATO membership as bringing tighter integration into Europe and providing guarantees for their own democracy at home. They also hope to help NATO countries develop better relations with Russia and other countries to the east that fear NATO enlargement marks a new dividing line in Europe."
AFTENPOSTEN: NATO means collective responsibility
Aftenposten, in NATO-member Norway, comments optimistically about the expansion. Aftenposten editorializes: "NATO is the most important element in international politics. Especially for countries like Norway, that are not members of the European Union, membership in NATO is the lifeline to European cooperation." The editorial says: "NATO means collective responsibility. This is our guiding principle within NATO, and this should also be followed by our new members. Today's enlargement of NATO is a good sign that NATO is capable of reforming itself, in a world that never stands still."
NEW YORK TIMES: Popular enthusiasm for the alliance has dropped
The New York Times' Steven Erlanger writes in a commentary that the news members' contributions will develop slowly. He says: "At first, these three countries will add little to NATO's military capacities. In fact, they have just managed to meet the alliance's minimum military requirements for integrated air defense, security procedures and language training. But few doubt that they will bring real military benefits to the alliance over the next five to 10 years, as they make the slow shift from heavily armored forces top-heavy with officers, to more mobile, flexible and smaller armies."
Erlanger also says that some popular second thoughts have arisen, especially since an assertive role in Kosovo impends. He says: "As the reality of membership looms - together with the prospect of NATO bombing Yugoslavia -- popular enthusiasm for the alliance has dropped in all three countries. [But] all three governments remain enthusiastic."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Milosevic is stonewalling it
Commenting on Kosovo in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Peter Muench says Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is betting on a lack of NATO resolve. Muench writes: "Milosevic is stonewalling it. Promises, begging, hard-nosed negotiations -- none of that has managed to steer him off his collision course against NATO in the conflict in Yugoslavia's rebellious Kosovo province. [But] what at first glance seems to be overconfident defiance on the part of a two-bit despot is really the result of cool calculations. [He's] banking on NATO's determination running short when things get really serious. He's putting his money on European dithering, Russian obstruction and the doubts of the American electorate about embarking on a new Balkan adventure."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: We think it highly desirable that the president's policy be supported
The International Herald Tribune republishes today a Washington Post editorial from yesterday, calling for U.S. troops to join any Kosovo NATO peacekeeping force. The editorial says: "It is a bad time for Congress to debate whether the United States should send troops to help police any peace reached in Kosovo. But there is no better time left, and Congress has good reason to proceed." It says: "We happen to think that the foreign-policy considerations -- meaning the additional killing and violence, the possible further expansion of the war, and the issues of American and NATO credibility -- require and justify careful American participation in a second NATO peacekeeping force. We think the stakes are sufficient to make it highly desirable that the president's policy be supported by a strong bipartisan vote in Congress."
WASHINGTON POST: Mr. Kissinger fails to differentiate between perpetrators and victims
The Washington Post carries today a letter to the editor by Kurt Bassuener, associate director of the Washington-based Balkan Action Council. Bassuener disputes a view expressed by former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that the United States should avoid entanglement in Kosovo. Bassuener writes: "Kissinger's opposition to U.S. ground forces in Kosovo is based on faulty history; his prescriptions for U.S. Balkan policy are morally bankrupt and would mortally wound the NATO alliance. Mr. Kissinger subscribes to the simplistic view that Balkan people are naturally predisposed to slaughter one another, making outside intervention futile. He ignores long periods of interethnic coexistence in the region and fails to differentiate between perpetrators and victims."