Prague, 21 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentary focuses on a number of related issues: U.S.-European relations, NATO expansion, missile defense, and Russia's dwindling significance on the world stage. Several comments also address the issue of post-Cold War espionage in light of the arrest of a U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations officer accused of selling secrets to the Russians for over 15 years.
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
Two comments in today's Wall Street Journal Europe look at the evolving relationship between the United States and Europe against the backdrop of proposed NATO and European Union expansion. In a piece entitled "Europe and the U.S. Need New Marriage Vows," Stanley Sloan writes that a rethinking of the trans-Atlantic relationship is long overdue. He says this month's Munich military conference -- with Europeans wanting to form an "autonomous" defense force and the U.S. promoting its national missile defense system -- demonstrated that in spite of the close U.S.-European relationship, "serious mutual [misunderstandings] remain, distressingly so among high-level U.S. and European officials."
Still, he adds, the foundation for a strong alliance is irrevocable. He writes: "The United States has more in common with its trans-Atlantic allies [than] with any other single nation or group of countries in the world. [And] no single country has as much in common with Europe or is more important to Europe than is the United States."
Sloan urges the preparation of a new Atlantic Community Treaty, and says such a step would "create the atmosphere most conducive to resolution of U.S.-European differences over the European Union's new role in defense [and] provide the best setting in which to discuss U.S. plans for a national missile defense." He adds such a "reaffirmation" of commitment would also "help close current organizational and membership gaps between NATO and the EU without undermining either."
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
In the second comment, Frederick Kempe continues the argument that fruitful dialogue between the U.S. and Europe is crucial particularly in light of proposed NATO expansion. He writes that U.S. President George W. Bush is unlikely to drop the issue of expanding the military alliance -- the only body "institutionalizing" American influence in Europe.
Kempe writes: "Read Mr. Bush's election platform and the CVs of his top officials, and it's hard to believe they won't in the end push at the 2002 NATO Summit in Prague to embrace at least a few of the so-called Vilnius Nine -- Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, and Macedonia."
The author writes that Bush will no doubt face obstacles on many fronts -- most notably from Russia, where President Vladimir Putin is gearing up for a loud campaign against expansion. He adds that Bush may not have sufficient political power of his own to push through both NATO enlargement and missile defense.
The biggest obstacle, however, may be Europe itself. Kempe writes: "The French particularly but also others would prefer that NATO freeze its membership and let them bring these countries security through the back door of EU enlargement." The author quotes one (unnamed) U.S. official as saying: "[Europe] would like to trap NATO in amber."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
In a comment published yesterday in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger criticizes Germany's reluctance to take a clear stance on missile defense, writing that the indecisive performance by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in Washington will leave the U.S. administration with "an opinion of a Germany so unsure of its own interests, perspectives and duties in security policy that it prefers to remain completely uncommitted."
He writes: "The old frontiers are crumbling, as shown by Russia's proposal [that] it and NATO jointly construct a missile defense. Moscow would love to drive a wedge between NATO allies on either side of the Atlantic. But even Russia sees as quite real the threat from weapons of mass destruction wielded by unpredictable [nations]. [Otherwise], Moscow would not ponder its own missile defense program. This means Russia does not consider the  ABM Treaty untouchable, and Berlin will have to take this into account. Indecisiveness must not take the place of facing one's responsibility."
In a comment in Britain's Financial Times, Robert Cottrell begins by listing Russian President Vladimir Putin's travel schedule: "Last week [he] was in Austria on Sunday, in Ukraine on Monday and back in Moscow on Tuesday receiving Joschka Fischer. [Yesterday] he met Lord Robertson, secretary-general of NATO. Next week he may fly to South Korea and Vietnam." But, Cottrell writes, "there is less to this activity than meets the eye."
He continues: "It is debatable whether Russia can be said to have a coherent foreign policy at all. [When] Moscow flirts with 'rogue states' on the one hand and offers partnership to Europe and the U.S. on the other, which of these actions is to be believed?"
Cottrell lists the reasons behind the country's weak foreign policy: "Russia still has no clear or stable concept of a national interest, or even a national identity. It is a democracy but not a liberal one. It is a poor and relatively weak country that demands for much of the time to be treated as a rich and powerful one. Until it knows what sort of country it wants to be, it cannot know where its long-term interests lie."
The author predicts that not much will change under Putin, whom he describes as a "cautious" man with "plenty of other problems." He concludes: "The new American administration may well be wise in its apparent view of Russia less as a subject for policy in its own right and more as a mere factor in other policy domains such as weapons proliferation and NATO expansion. This sends the right message to Russia. In its present state [Russia] does matter to the rest of the world -- but not nearly as much as it thinks."
Much Western press commentary concentrates on the arrest of veteran FBI agent Robert Philip Hanssen, who stands accused of spying for the Russians for more than 15 years in return for money.
NEW YORK TIMES:
An editorial in The New York Times writes that the FBI's security safeguards seem to have been "gravely deficient," and calls on former FBI and Central Intelligence Agency head William Webster to be rigorous in his outside review of the arrest.
The editorial reads: "Even someone schooled in deception ought not to escape FBI detection for better than a decade of dealing with Russian handlers."
It adds: "Whether the motive is ideology or money, a well-placed spy can do enormous damage to American security and interests. [Though] no longer a superpower, Russia remains intensely interested in American technology, weaponry and diplomatic strategy and will pay handsomely for these secrets."
Writing in Britain's The Guardian daily, Julian Borger writes: "The Hanssen spy scandal comes at a particularly low point in relations between Washington and Moscow. President Bush has come to power with an entourage of veteran cold warriors who believe Russia should be treated as a strategic rival rather than a partner." The paper identifies in particular Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who it says is pushing for a U.S. missile defense system irrespective of Russian concerns.
Borger continues: "Russia's intense interest in learning the secrets of the wealthy and technically sophisticated west were underlined by [Hanssen's] arrest." He adds: "Russia, once proud of how it sped from the serf age to the space age in less than a century, now appears to feel vulnerable because it is behind the technological wave."
An analysis by the U.S. Stratfor Commentary, an on-line analytical publication, examines the motivations behind modern-day spying, which it says are "on the rise" despite the demise of the Cold War a decade ago. It describes the current U.S.-Russian relationship in this way: "Washington continues to conduct operations against Russia to determine if Moscow can ever again pose a strategic threat. The Russian government continues to conduct operations against the United States, in turn, out of fear that the United States and its allies could move to weaken and destabilize Russia."
It goes on to say that tales of U.S. intelligence work are alive and well in current Russian politics, citing a belief widespread in Russian intelligence circles that the U.S. is working to "redirect the threat of militant Islam away from the West -- and toward Russia." It claims that western intelligence agents used the lull between the 1994-96 and 1999 Chechen wars to train Chechen rebels.
The analysis also cites purely practical reasons for Russia's spy agenda, saying "the dire economic situation in Russia has only increased fears that the nation is lagging further and further behind in electronics, information technology and avionics for aircraft. [Avionics] is a particularly weak spot for Russian combat aircraft; Russian firms have routinely lost business to American defense contractors because of it."
It concludes: "Surrounded by a crumbling security situation, a chronically ill economy and vituperative politics in Moscow, Russia's elite is convinced: Cultivating and running spies against the United States is more important than ever before."