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Western Press Review: Mostly Favorable Comments On U.S. NMD Plan

Prague, 3 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today is largely favorable in its consideration of the U.S. plan to push ahead with a program for National Missile Defense, or NMD. Most commentators acknowledge that the threat of attack from rogue nations is real, and that President George W. Bush's promise of multilateral consultations with Europe, Russia, and China is the best possible approach. Only one comment criticizes the plan for missing what it regards as the true threat in the world's new strategic environment: terrorism. Other comments today question the wisdom of sending millionaires into space and examine subtle shifts in anti-Israeli sentiment in the Arab press.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says opponents of NMD have their arguments all wrong. The paper says: "Critics fretted that missile defense would be costly and imperfect. Their budgetary concern is touching, [but] the U.S. enjoys a record budget surplus -- isn't peace worth a few billion?" It adds: "Then there is [the concern] that somehow missile defense is 'destabilizing.' It's hard to see how: A shield is simply not a weapon. Missile defense may weaken the power of some states to threaten their neighbors, but reducing the influence of bellicose dictators is hardly bad news."

The paper concludes: "At bottom, opposition to missile defense lies in the belief that [the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile, or ABM, Treaty], a yellowing piece of paper with an arms-control agreement written on it, is a better guarantor of the world's safety than a multibillion-dollar system of satellites, submarines, land bases, and control centers. But elected leaders will probably want a better alternative than to trust [Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein to honor the one treaty he has not had the opportunity to break."


Columnist William Safire writes in "The New York Times": "What's stopping us from spending 2 percent of our defense budget on a defense against the greatest danger facing us?" Up until now, he says, the underlying reason for U.S. reluctance to proceed with a missile shield has been "fear of what people would say."

He continues: "Russia, fishing for a concession that would cut our offensive missiles down to a level Moscow can afford to match, pretends our defenses will be a threat. Europe, long under the umbrella of our strategic deterrent, worries that a newly secure America would leave it exposed. China sees its cross-straits missile threat to Taiwan being weakened. Beijing accuses Bush of 'sparking an arms race,' but the opposite is true: When Saddam Hussein sees a defense [being built], he will be less inclined to waste effort on a defeatable missile."

Safire concludes: "Bush ran for president promising to build a missile defense. [As] world leaders learn they are dealing with a serious man, they will adjust their policies to provide for the common defense."


Commentator Donald Macintyre writes in Britain's "The Independent" daily: "There are several reasons why the reaction in Europe yesterday (2 May) -- most significantly in Moscow -- was a good deal more muted than it might have been. The first is the promise of 'genuine consultations' with the allies. The second is Mr. Bush's promise of a drastic reduction in his nuclear arsenal. The third is that the Russians, whose own nuclear arsenal is rapidly degrading, have a genuine interest in buying into a missile defense system and therefore might in the end be prepared to negotiate an end to ABM."

However, he adds, Europe would be wrong to "slavishly go along with whatever the Americans eventually decide they want. [Part] of the job of the European allies is to strengthen the sensible tendency in Washington, particularly in the State Department, to ensure that [those who favor U.S. nuclear hegemony, and would like to show who is boss by ripping up the ABM treaty without consulting the Russians,] don't take charge of the project."


An editorial in Britain's "The Times" says: "In a world where states for whom terror and blackmail are a way of life will have even a few missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction, missile defense will be as indispensable a part of the armory of modern military strategists as the nuclear umbrella was to their elders. [Would] missile defense prompt a new arms race? No. The aim is to make nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons less valuable as a threat."

The paper continues: "[The world] should see Mr. Bush's challenge to think forward, not back, in a context wider than missile defense. Technologies such as space-based sensors, quantum computer processing, and 'intelligent' unmanned aircraft are about to transform the battlefield. The U.S. is embarking on a surge of scientific innovation that will advance this transformation by years. No nation that is serious about defending itself, or projecting power, or even being in the forefront of science, can afford not to be part of it."


An editorial in the "Los Angeles Times" is the only comment in our selection today to cast Bush's Tuesday (1 May) speech on NMD speech in a negative light. The paper writes: "The major threat in [Bush's 'new strategic environment'] doesn't come from intercontinental ballistic missiles directed against the United States. It comes from terrorism that is most likely to be revealed when a chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapon is smuggled into an American port or across a border and set off." The paper adds: "An anti-missile system is no answer to that threat."

The editorial continues: "Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld [has conceded that an embryonic missile shield] would be far from foolproof. If nothing else, he suggested, it would serve to deter aggression. But a far surer deterrent already exists in the virtual certainty that any country that launched a missile against the United States would suffer immediate and massive destruction. The rulers of North Korea, Iran, and Iraq, who know that a missile launch can't be hidden, understand that as well as the rulers of the Soviet Union and China did in years past."


"The Washington Post" columnist Jim Hoagland writes that, according to U.S. military and intelligence reports, "far from backing off after U.S. warplanes bombed air defenses near Baghdad on 16 February, Saddam [Hussein]'s rocketeers have significantly escalated their firing at American and British aircraft flying routine patrols over northern Iraq." At the same time, he says, "[Saddam's] oil merchants have stepped up incentives for smuggling and evading sanctions. Iraq's illegal oil pipeline exports to Syria -- and the revenues they bring directly to Saddam -- have grown from 150,000 barrels a day to 250,000 since February."

Hoagland continues: "Saddam hurries while Bush's people still organize themselves in a serious, but dangerously protracted, review [of Iraq and Persian Gulf policy.] The Bush team needs to recognize, and respond to, Saddam's rush. The most urgent task is to redraw the rules of engagement and mission requirements for the pilots enforcing the two no-fly zones over Iraq. [Pilots] should be cleared to strike militarily significant targets that are identifiably part of a new U.S. strategy of constant confrontation."

He concludes: "By going to war against Iraq in 1991, the United States incurred a moral obligation to that country's long-suffering people. Washington has set that obligation aside for a decade. It should not do so any longer."


In a second comment in "The Washington Post," Stephen Rosenfeld, the paper's former editorial page editor, writes: "In the turn from negotiation to violence in the Middle East, nothing has been more heart-hardening than Arab press attacks on anti-Jewish and anti-Israel lines." But, Rosenfeld adds, the tide seem to be subtly shifting, with the occasional appearance of more moderate articles "suggesting the sky is not entirely black." He continues: "A growing movement among intellectuals challenges Arab denial of the Holocaust. The movement rises not out of favor for Jews but out of a concern for Arab credibility. Close readers of the Cairo press profess to detect hints of official embarrassment over its raw anti-Jewish tone. The preparation of Arab -- and Israeli -- opinion for peace remains an urgent project."


An editorial in "The New York Times" says: "Dennis Tito, the multimillionaire pension fund manager who is now circling the globe on the International Space Station, may have invented the most offensively elitist form of eco-tourism yet devised by earthlings." It continues: "By paying a reported $20 million to hitch a ride with the cash-starved Russian space program, he has bullied his way onto the station over the objections of the other partner nations and is now realizing the dream of a lifetime while the professional astronauts aboard slow their work schedule to serve as baby sitters."

The paper adds: "[NASA, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration] came to its senses and stopped sending amateurs into space after a teacher, Christa McAuliffe, died along with everyone else on board in the 1986 Challenger shuttle disaster, underscoring how risky space travel still is. [NASA] should leave any space-travel auctions to the Russians. There is something fundamentally offensive about letting people with a few million to spare piggyback on space vehicles built with thousands of millions of dollars of public money."


Finally, two British papers look at London's chaotic May Day anti-globalization protests. "The Guardian" columnist Naomi Klein writes that by the end of the day Tuesday, "London didn't look like an ingenious mix of popular education and street theater. It looked pretty much like every other mass protest these days: demonstrators penned in by riot gear, smashed windows, boarded-up shops, running fights with police." She adds: "It seems this is what protests look like today. Let's call it McProtest, because it's becoming the same all over."

Activists generally agree, Klein writes, that mass demonstrations "are always positive: they build morale, display strength, attract media attention. But what seems to be getting lost is that demonstrations aren't themselves a movement. They are only flashy displays. The most powerful resistance movements are always deeply rooted in community -- and are accountable to those communities. However, one of the greatest challenges of living in the high consumer culture that was protested against in London is the reality of rootlessness. Few of us know our neighbors, talk about much more than shopping at work, or have time for community politics. How can a movement be accountable when communities are fraying?"


Hamish McRae comments in "The Independent": "Even those of us who rejoice in the global triumph of the liberal market economy must seek to fix the problems it generates. [And] fix it we must. Not only is there going to be rising concern about the negatives of globalization, but the world economy is heading into a much tougher period. If people are unhappy about an economic system when it is delivering, for the majority of people, higher living standards, they will be seriously miserable when it is struggling to do so."

He adds: "The aspect of globalization that worries me most is cultural hegemony. In myriad ways, we are being nudged to adopt customs that are foreign to our heritage. You can see it in Britain, with the imposition of continental weights and measures. You see it in France, with the creeping growth of the English language. If this jars in rich, developed countries, how must it feel in poorer ones, where the background noise from the developed world is [even] louder?"