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Western Press Review: Clinton's Travels Generate Arms Control Commentary

Prague, 31 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton, now touring Europe, is to arrive in Russia this weekend for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The scheduled meeting attracts Western newspapers today to the topic of arms control. Several newspapers turn to prominent outside experts for their commentaries.


Former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski writes in The New York Times under the headline, "Indulging Russia Is Risky Business," that Clinton's policy of seeking to influence Russia through engagement has fallen short. As Brzezinski puts it: "The policy of engagement hit a low with Mr. Putin. Though his election in March was precipitated by an arrangement whereby Mr. Yeltsin resigned the presidency and Mr. Putin became acting president, and no real alternative candidate was available to the Russian people, the White House praised the election, hailing it as the country's first democratic transfer of power in Russia's nearly 1,000-year existence. It even hailed Mr. Putin himself as a reformer."

The commentary continues: "The Clinton administration excused and even justified two Russian wars against the Chechen people. President Clinton compared the Russian campaign to Lincoln's efforts to preserve American unity and proclaimed, to widespread criticism, that the war's objective was to liberate Grozny."

"The summit this weekend, if not handled properly, poses new risks," Brzezinski writes. "First, President Clinton, in his eagerness to embrace a 'democratic' Russia, could reach a hastily contrived agreement regarding missile defense that may undermine stable strategic deterrence while prompting allied disunity. And second, Mr. Putin could seek to enlist the United States in his effort to assume the role of protector of the Central Asian regimes against fundamentalist pressures emanating from Afghanistan. He would like support for a Russian-sponsored anti-Islamic coalition that would regain a dominant role for Russia in that region."

Brzezinski concludes: "Mr. Clinton must not once again be so hasty in extolling the new Russian president as a democratic reformer."


The International Herald Tribune publishes a commentary by William C. Potter and Nikolai Sokov, of the U.S.-based Monterey Institute Center for Nonproliferation Studies. They urge that tactical nuclear weapons -- small, short-range systems designed for use by battlefield commanders -- be included when the U.S. and Russia discuss long-range, strategic nuclear arms.

The arms specialists write: "Neither side, however, appears eager to address the sensitive problem of tactical nuclear weapons, the most destabilizing category of nuclear arms and the one least regulated by arms control agreements. Tactical nuclear arms have been unaffected by negotiated arms control agreements and are only subject to the non-binding unilateral, parallel declarations made by George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev in the autumn of 1991."

In the words of Potter and Sokov: "It is increasingly urgent to reinvigorate the process of eliminating tactical nuclear weapons. Failure to do so would undo earlier accomplishments and open the door to a new and destabilizing arms race."


The Sueddeutsche Zeitung's commentator Peter Muench writes from Munich that such Asian powers as China, India, and North Korea stand beside Russia in disapproval of U.S. plans for a missile defense system. As Muench puts it: "The U.S. plans currently foresee around 100 anti-missile rockets stationed in Alaska, which would enable the United States to intercept and destroy China's entire arsenal of nuclear-tipped intercontinental missiles. It comes as no great surprise, therefore, that China sees the planned system as a threat. The United States swears that the situation is, in fact, quite the opposite. However, no one has been trying too hard as yet to dispel China's fears."

Muench writes: "North Korea harbors ambitions of constructing its own intercontinental missiles, and that could pose a threat which, in U.S opinion, would have to be neutralized -- one of the reasons the Americans give for planning their anti-missile protection system. But the safety precautions being taken against the unpredictables in Pyongyang may well provoke a highly predictable reaction in other parts of Asia."

The writer says: "Southern Asia's new atomic powers figure into the equation too. India's nuclear tests in the summer of 1998 saw it reposition itself in the world as a nuclear power but were also taken as warning shots over the bows of two countries: its arch-enemy Pakistan, and China. And if India chooses to build up its nuclear stocks, then Pakistan would feel under pressure not to fall too far behind in the ongoing conflict in Kashmir. All of which could make the U.S. defense plans sound suspiciously like the firing pistol for the start of an Asian arms race."


Another German commentator, Andreas Middel, writing from Brussels in Die Welt, says Clinton will meet with a negotiating opponent today that may be friendlier that Russia but will be equally determined. That, Middel says, is the "new" EU. In Middel's phrasing: "The European Union will be presenting itself with extreme self-assurance at the EU-U.S. summit in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon today."

"EU exports," the writer says, "have been booming on the back of a soft euro, and the high unemployment rate in the EU-15 is declining gradually. EU leaders boasted at their latest summit in Lisbon that the union will be the world's most competitive economic area in about ten years. On the other side of the Atlantic, the new European self-confidence is being watched with a certain discomfort and lack of understanding."


In a related vein, the British economic newspaper Financial Times says in an editorial that U.S. economic espionage may become a major sore spot in U.S.-EU relations. The editorial says: "Long after most people thought spies had gone into post-cold war retirement, espionage has emerged as one of the most serious irritants to transatlantic relations since beef and bananas. As Bill Clinton, the U.S. president, tours European capitals this week, the European parliament is preparing a year-long investigation into allegations that the United States -- with the help of Britain and other English- speaking allies -- not only spies on foreign companies but feeds its intelligence to U.S. corporations."

The newspaper's commentary concludes: "To many, the transatlantic friction is symptomatic of deeper issues. In part, it reflects widespread anxieties about the loss of privacy in the information age. More importantly, the European protests should be seen in the light of rising tensions about several issues: national missile defense; European plans to create an EU military force outside of NATO; the conduct of the Kosovo war; and trade."