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Western Press Review: NATO, Missile Defense, EU, Slave Labor

Prague, 31 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today treats a wide spectrum of subjects. They include the future of NATO, missile defense, the projected expansion of the European Union, and the viability of the EU's common currency, the euro. There are also comments on the German parliament's decision yesterday to award over $4.4 billion in compensation to former slave laborers for the Nazi regime, effectively closing what Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called the "last great open chapter of our historical responsibility."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" raises the question of who, or what, is responsible for formulating Europe's common voice. The paper writes: "The 'European' voice seems to be increasingly only the voices of socialist France and Germany. [But] in both public statements and the content and direction of policy, these two core governments of the EU are steering a course away from the U.S."

The editorial notes that the EU is in the process of creating the institutions that will allow it to pursue what it calls "a significant foreign policy" in the future. It says: "What the EU does owe the United States -- at least so long as America continues to expend treasure and take risks on behalf of Europe -- is a responsible foreign policy. On present evidence, thanks to Franco-German influence, it is failing to conduct one." Among other issues, the paper cites the development of a European defense force, saying: "It is not responsible to fashion a separate European Defense 'Identity,' to insist that it will have no effect on NATO, but then fail to budget any additional military expenditures for it."

The editorial concludes that U.S. involvement in Europe will probably wane in the coming years. But it asks: "Does Europe still want the U.S. to be actively involved on its side of the Atlantic? [If] it does not, is it willing to bear the costs of a responsible foreign policy? Regrettably," the paper says, "these once-rhetorical questions now merit serious consideration."


An editorial in "The New York Times" today looks at attempts by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to convince NATO allies of the viability and necessity of a missile defense system. At the NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Budapest this week, Powell's fellow ministers remained "unpersuaded that their countries faced an imminent missile threat. Europe is more worried that precipitous American action could unravel arms-control treaties and inject dangerous new tensions into relations with Moscow." The paper says that "Europeans rightly worry that abrupt abandonment of the [Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty] by the United States might ignite a dangerous new arms race."

The editorial allows that the desire to develop a defense that would prevent becoming "vulnerable to nuclear blackmail" is reasonable. But it adds that U.S. President George W. Bush's administration has "wisely [stepped] back from early rhetoric that suggested its missile defense plans were set and the world would simply have to adapt to them." The editorial adds: "Washington needs to continue consulting with NATO and Russia and then refine its proposals accordingly. [To] risk the unity of America's most important security alliance by rushing ahead with an unproven system would be irresponsible."


A commentary by European-affairs analyst Jessica Fugate in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" urges U.S. President George W. Bush's administration to take a firm stand on NATO enlargement and urge expansion as soon as is feasible. She writes: "President Bush should reaffirm the U.S. commitment both to Europe generally and to NATO in particular, allaying persistent Continental concerns that the U.S. is pulling out of Europe. Most crucially, he might [throw] his full weight behind NATO enlargement, from the Baltic to the Black Sea." She adds that: "If the Bush team fails to deal adroitly with America's old allies, the Atlantic Alliance could be put at risk."

Fugate notes that America's allies in Europe have communicated "an uneasy, arms-length relationship with the new U.S. administration, a reluctance to be led by the nose and a wait-and-see attitude about future trans-Atlantic security coordination." In campaign promises and elsewhere, President Bush has already committed himself, she says, to "completing the new Europe." His first objective, she adds, should be "to give Europe a wake-up call, lest its shortsighted self-absorption and distrust of his conservative politics allow the American presence, and thus a large measure of its own security, to slip away."


Commentaries on the two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Budapest concentrate on two aspects: one, the U.S. desire for approval of its plans for a missile defense system, and two, the desire of East Europeans to join NATO. The former topic is the subject of an editorial in the "Frankfurter Rundschau," which concludes that the NATO partners' rejection of the missile defense proposals and demand for more time to consider the project is face-saving for both sides. The paper says: "Now the U.S. has time until the next foreign ministers' meeting in December to enlarge on its ideas. And the Europeans can develop in peace their own ideas in this respect."


NATO enlargement was also a subject of the foreign ministers' meeting. The Swiss "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" editorializes on what it calls a welcome opportunity for informal lobbying on the part of would-be members. It cites Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban as reasoning that both security issues are at stake as well as a moral duty to embrace countries which used to be on "the wrong side of the Iron Curtain."

The paper notes that there is hope for the candidates' admittance as early in 2002 at the NATO summit to be held in Prague. It adds that with hindsight it was easy for Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to join NATO. But unlike then, there now has yet to be consensus among NATO members on the degree of expansion. The 1999 candidates profited from the strong support of its diaspora in the United States. The new would-be members lack advocates among interest groups.


Closely connected with NATO are EU defense concerns. In an editorial, "Die Presse" quotes the general secretary of Austria's Foreign Ministry, Albert Rohan, as saying "NATO and the EU are growing ever more into a single unit of an international crises management system. The one organization will not be successful without the other."

The paper cites the Balkans as an example of joint conflict management, saying cooperation between NATO and the EU has led to peace between Yugoslav security forces and the Albanian rebels in Serbia. It notes that the fact that Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic was invited to Budapest also shows the interest in South Europe on the part of the EU and NATO. Similarly, "Die Presse" approves of the two international organizations' engagement in Macedonia.


Meanwhile comments on the EU continue to mull over its future image. In an opinion piece in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" titled "Europe in Competition," Peter Hort writes that never since the vision outlined by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has anything "comparable occurred in the history written in blood of the Old Continent. Only lately is Europe becoming more and more of a political concept, which is both the cause and the result of the ideological competition. But one has to regret that the ideological discussion of Europe's future architecture is confined to the political elite and hardly reaches the people. Possibly, though, this will contribute to a feeling of European identity, without which in the final analysis European unity cannot succeed." The commentary concludes: "Lady Europe is incapable of large leaps forward. She can only progress in small steps."


Speaking of achievements, the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" writes how the government in Sweden has risen in people's estimation thanks to its EU presidency. The paper writes in an editorial: "Sweden has still to master the final stretch. But before reaching the goal at the end of June, the government in Stockholm can speak of an important success. The sympathy for Europe has grown in its own country." Nevertheless, the commentary concludes that the EU opposition is preparing to demonstrate against the Gothenburg summit, which should serve as the height of resistance.


Other commentary today debates the Nice treaty and what it means for the future of EU expansion. In a two-part commentary in "The Irish Times," financial analyst Michael Buckley argues in support of the treaty while justice-issues lobbyist Andy Storey advises its rejection.

Buckley writes: "Endorsing the treaty's proposed changes to EU institutions will make the accession of Poland and other Central European countries possible. [EU] enlargement is first and foremost about securing democracy in Central Europe. Unless we offer the prospect of increasing prosperity within the EU to the people of the applicant countries, we will run the risk of serious instability on the eastern border of the European Union." He adds that future members can make much economic progress from within the EU, and that the inclusion of the 12 candidate nations and their combined population of over 100 million will "significantly enhance the attractions of the single market as the new accession countries develop," spurring foreign investment and benefiting Europe as a whole.

Andy Storey considers EU enlargement in light of the economic interests of different sectors within EU member nations. He looks specifically at the initiatives for common European defense and armaments policies and recent ventures regarding EU-wide arms procurement. In the wording of the Nice treaty: "The progressive framing of a common defense policy will be supported, as member states consider appropriate, by cooperation between them in the field of arguments."

Storey writes: "Rather than seeing this commercial cooperation as necessary for European military structures, it is at least plausible to see commercial interests as helping to drive public defense policy. The massive military 'upgrading' being carried out by new NATO members, and by countries preparing for [EU Rapid Reaction Force] participation, represents a bonanza for armaments companies. [EU] policy is not entirely driven by these considerations, but nor are they entirely absent from the political calculations now being made."

Storey concludes that: "a more progressive agenda based around the real security needs of ordinary people -- rather than those of arms dealers and oil companies -- would be advanced by rejection of the Nice treaty here."


An editorial in the "Financial Times" looks at the logistical challenges ahead for the introduction of the euro on 1 January 2002. The paper writes that the sheer scale of the operation means that "there are bound to be problems. [It] is easy to conjure up Millennium Bug-style disaster scenarios: shops shutting their doors as they run out of change, banks bombarded with panicking customers and the army on the streets."

The paper warns that "if problems are widespread, the cumulative impact on perceptions of the currency could be very damaging. An unpopular euro would discourage other countries from joining and chip away further at investor confidence." It continues: "On the other hand, if governments can keep the glitches to a minimum, the introduction of notes and coins could be a great public relations opportunity." It adds: "Public education is crucial. Meticulous planning is now required to ensure that the final step is not an embarrassment but a cause for celebration."


A news analysis by Peter Finn in "The Washington Post" looks at the decision this week by the German parliament to award compensation to victims of former Nazi slave-labor policies. The German companies implicated succeeded in amassing their share last March, he writes, and what he calls the "legal closure" sought by Germany "was satisfied last month following the dismissal of outstanding lawsuits in U.S. District Court in New York."

Finn quotes Otto Graf Lambsdorff, Berlin's envoy to the slave-labor issue, as saying: "We attempted to put a financial end to the darkest chapter in our history. A moral end can and must never take place." German Chancellor Gephard Schroeder added: "Compensation in the true sense of the word is hardly possible." But this fund, he said, "sends a signal that Germany is fully conscious of the terrible crimes of its past, and will remain so."