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Western Press Review: More Commentary On National Missile Defense

Prague, 4 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today continues to look at the U.S. plan to proceed with a National Missile Defense, or NMD. Several commentators applaud the move to finally step away from the 30-year policy, outlined in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, based on mutually assured destruction. Bush's proposed NMD, they say, is a far more appropriate way to approach the new strategic environment. Now, they warn, it's time to move on to the more difficult stage: working out the details -- and the cost.


Columnist Charles Krauthammer writes in "The Washington Post" that U.S. President George W. Bush this week proposed a "revolution" in American nuclear strategy. He writes: "No more will [the U.S.] spend endless years deliberating with Russia to determine the number, size, configuration, speed, and weight of every warhead, submarine, and bomber in the American and Russian nuclear arsenals. [The] new Bush Doctrine holds that, when it comes to designing our nuclear forces, we [will] build to suit [our needs.]"

He adds: "The Bush Doctrine announces an international posture for America that might be called 'soft unilateralism.' It is not in-your-face. It is not defiant. It is deliberate and determined. [And] multilateralism follows unilateralism. Within hours of Bush's speech, the Russian foreign minister (Igor Ivanov) issued a conciliatory response, pointing out that Russia had itself 'outlined a complex program' for anti-missile defense." The commentator concludes: "If we (the U.S.) build it, they will come along."


An editorial in "The Economist" begins in a similar vein, saying: "Do not underestimate the scale of the arms-control revolution that America's president plotted out in public this week." It continues: "To many a committed arms-controller, it is as if Mr. Bush had dropped a nuclear bomb on their world, reducing the familiar landscape of treaties and agreements to rubble. Yet, more than a decade after the Cold War ended, America is right to take a radical look at how security and stability can best be ensured in a very different world."

The weekly adds: "Even if new defenses can be made to work, America still has good reason to proceed with caution. Not least, since technology seldom works flawlessly and there are plenty of other ways of delivering a nuclear, chemical or [biological] bomb, any future defenses have to work in ways that strengthen deterrence and diplomacy -- the traditional means of dealing with threats to peace -- not undermine them."


Jeffrey Isaacson, director of the National Defense Research Institute, writes in the "Los Angeles Times" that now the question has been settled of whether a missile defense should be built, it is time to focus on how it should be done. He writes: "Although most Americans favor missile defense, forging consensus on NMD will not be easy. Ideology continues to divide Congress on this issue. Yet there is one thing on which factions are likely to agree: A single-layer, midcourse defense designed to intercept and destroy incoming missiles after they are well on their way to their targets is not the answer."

A more effective strategy, he says, would be to build a system "to intercept [intercontinental ballistic missiles] early on during powered ascent. [Such boost-phase] interceptors can home in on the readily discernible plume of the boosting missile. This reduces the technical complexity of the interceptor's seeker, the brain that guides the interceptor to its target." He adds: "If we began a purposeful development effort today, we could reasonably expect to bring boost-phase defense on line faster than a midcourse defense."

He adds: "The [U.S.] administration should strive to develop a plan that bridges factional difference on NMD. Republicans and Democrats should agree that the additional expense for capable boost-phase interceptors -- probably less than $10 billion -- would be a worthwhile investment."


Writing in the "International Herald Tribune," columnist Flora Lewis says "it is welcome news that President Bush at least plans important unilateral cuts in America's nuclear arsenal, since there seems little desire left in Washington for continuing to negotiate mutual reductions with Russia." She writes further: "There is now a widely held conviction among experts on both sides that existing stocks are vastly excessive, some 6,000 missile warheads each. It is an expensive burden to maintain them and they are a danger, since there is always a risk of accidental or unauthorized release."

"But," the commentator continues, "there seems to be a new distaste in the Bush administration for negotiated deals with Russia as an equal partner, despite the president's promise to consult both allies and Russia as he moves to denounce the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty so that the United States can build the system it forbids. [Bush] considers the treaty a Cold War relic which 'does not recognize the present or point us to the future' but 'enshrines the past.' Still," she writes, the treaty "remains as the most important symbol of relations between two powers, and it continues to have great significance for Moscow. It would be a serious mistake to show disdain because Russia no longer seems frightening. Besides," Lewis adds, "all those weapons are still there."

She concludes: "Mr. Bush calls on the rest of the world 'to rethink the unthinkable' and move away from the kind of confrontational thought which characterized the Cold War. But rather than advancing another mind-set seeking benefits from cooperative security, he seems to be inventing a new kind of unthinkable which makes American security depend on a control of space that is beyond America's means if it is to be complete and short of effectiveness if it is incomplete. The United States should get on with lessening danger by getting rid of excess nuclear weapons and persuading Russia to do the same."


Following a week of violent clashes between Macedonia's Slavs and ethnic Albanians, an outside commentary appearing in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says "the West must do all it can to prevent Macedonia from becoming another failed state in the Balkans." David Phillips, a professor at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, writes from Skopje: "Albanians are bitter about Kosovo's lack of progress towards independence. Accelerating Kosovo's democratic development is essential to deterring the escalation of interethnic violence in Macedonia. To this end, the international community should finalize plans for parliamentary elections and announce a timetable for a popular consultation determining Kosovo's political status."

Phillips adds: "Skopje has been well-intentioned, but too slow and incremental in addressing the grievances of [its Albanian population.] Confidence-building measures are needed. These include conducting a new census and increasing employment opportunities in the civil service. [Macedonia] also needs to develop a coherent macro-economic policy, reduce the trade deficit, and increase foreign currency reserves. It must expand privatization and establish transparency and anti-corruption measures, as well as measures to reduce unemployment, which stands at 32 percent."


An editorial in the British news weekly "The Economist" says German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was right to take the lead in the debate over the EU's constitutional future. He was also right, the paper says, to "declare that the EU must sharpen up its ways of collective decision-making as it expands from its present membership of 15 to as many as 27."

However, it continues, "where Mr. Schroeder goes wrong is in his advocacy of a stronger parliament in Strasbourg and a stronger Commission in Brussels. [The] present Council of Ministers has more legitimacy than the European Parliament because it is made up of representatives of national governments -- with which most Europeans still most strongly identify. Downgrading it would take the EU further from ordinary Europeans, not closer to them."

It adds: "Where Mr. Schroeder is right is that Europe does need a proper constitution to simplify its tangle of treaties, to make the workings of the club understandable to ordinary citizens, and to define the Union's limits. The debate should start at once. [It] already reflects poorly on European democracy that the euro was launched after such scant consultation among the people affected. With a much bigger Union in prospect, a new constitutional deal must be hammered out democratically and put to national referendums if the EU is to shed its image of a remote, bureaucratic monster."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" says: "For the second time in as many weeks, the Bush administration has tripped over itself in its public diplomacy on China. Last week President [George W.] Bush announced that the United States would do 'whatever it took' to defend Taiwan. [Administration] spokesmen, scrambling, said that Mr. Bush hadn't misspoken but that U.S. policy hadn't changed, both of which statements could not be true."

The paper continues: "Two days ago it was the Pentagon's turn. The Defense Department first announced, and then retracted the announcement, that it was suspending all military contacts with China. [By] yesterday (3 May) the administration was clear that what [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld meant to say was that he would review military-to-military contacts case by case."

It concludes: "The administration has deftly handled some major challenges, including the standoff with China over a downed reconnaissance airplane. Other episodes have been less impressive. U.S. allies understand that every new administration takes time to reach cruising altitude. The risk is that the administration will draw attention back to Mr. Bush's foreign policy inexperience and away from the supposed advantage of an experienced team."