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Western Press Review: New Global Defense Structure, NATO, Anti-Trust Debate

Prague, 22 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press looks at a variety of issues today, including the role of NATO expansion in maintaining global equilibrium, and attempts to forge "a stability-preserving understanding" between Russia and the United States in the emerging global defense structure. Several commentators also look at the possible merger of two U.S. firms, General Electric and Honeywell. The European Commission's anti-trust concerns may block the deal, raising questions about corporate regulation and fair competition, and again placing trans-Atlantic cooperation issues in the spotlight.


An editorial in The Economist says that interaction between Russia and the United States is often characterized by the belief that rancorous competition, rather than mutual reliance, continues to dominate their relationship. The journal says: "Still smarting from Russia's loss of empire and influence in the post-Cold War world, [Russian President Vladimir Putin's] officials act as if any apparent gain for America and its friends must mean a loss somehow for Russia." The magazine adds that "normal countries can disagree," noting the numerous points of contention that exist between the U.S. and its European allies. The paper adds that "Russia's relations with America should be based on more than an obsession with rockets, [and] the search for a new strategic understanding is a place to start. [Russia] does have a legitimate interest in [U.S. President George W.] Bush's missile-defense plans," it adds, "since they would break the two countries' Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty." After months of hesitation, the journal continues, President Putin "has now signaled an interest in exploring America's offer of some sort of new strategic bargain." Unwieldy weapons arsenals could be minimized, the paper says, while developing what it calls "a new set of stability-preserving understandings that leave room for America to explore limited defenses against smaller, but less predictable threats." For both [nations]," the magazine writes, "such a deal is worth a serious try."


Analyst Vladimir Socor writes in the Wall Street Journal Europe that Europe's perennial security problem "[is] the one located in the space between NATO and Russia." Socor says of the region that although "historically fragmented in many ways, it has the potential to destabilize itself and destabilize the international system. A past object of great-power rivalries, that space also is vitally important to the Euro-Atlantic world." Instability in the area occurs, he continues, when it falls under the influence of an imperially minded great power, or when the West declines to assert its stabilizing role there. "At present and into the foreseeable future," Socor writes, "NATO provides the only means to [stabilize the region. It is] the only alliance system capable of ensuring the future of its existing members and of the aspiring ones." Socor remarks that the U.S. president reaffirmed his commitment to Western engagement and the expansion of the alliance, notably regarding the Baltics, on his trip to Europe. He adds that the U.S. president spoke of erasing the "false lines" that comprise a "buffer zone of insecure states" between Europe and Russia. Socor asserts that "keeping East-Central Europe out of NATO just because [Russia] objects, would [be] neither moral nor realistic."


An editorial in the Wall Street Journal Europe looks at the recent resurfacing of accusations that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon qualifies as a war criminal for the 1982 massacres of Palestinian civilians committed by Christian Phalangists while he was defense minister. Survivors of the massacres have lodged complaints against Sharon in Brussels, demanding he be indicted. The paper notes that in 1983, an Israeli commission of inquiry determined that Sharon: "should have known better than to allow the Phalangists to get near the Palestinian camps. [For] what amounted to a charge of negligence," the paper adds, "Mr. Sharon was forced to resign and face widespread public opprobrium that nearly ended his political career."

In 1985, the editorial continues, a New York jury determined that Time magazine had defamed Sharon when it alleged that he had known in advance that the Phalangists would carry out the massacres. The paper writes: "Unless one is prepared to claim that negligence, shortsightedness and perhaps incompetence belong in the category of 'war crimes,' Mr. Sharon's actions in regard to [the massacres] in no way justify an indictment." It adds: "Europeans have shown that they can responsibly serve, and elevate, the cause of human rights. But they had better be careful in distinguishing genuine war criminals from those whom they dislike politically, lest they discredit themselves and abase the cause of human rights."


Christophe Boltanski writes in a news analysis for the French daily Liberation that the Israeli government is outraged by a BBC broadcast this week that renewed public debate on the 1982 massacres of Palestinian civilians and which insinuated that Sharon could be indicted for war crimes. At the time of the killings, following huge demonstrations in Tel Aviv, then Defense Minister Sharon was brought before a board of inquiry that found him "indirectly," but "personally" responsible, Boltanski writes. He notes that the BBC broadcast did not uncover any new information, but only reviewed Sharon's responsibility in the matter in light of new international jurisprudence. The survivors had brought the case to Belgium, which since 1999 has been able to extradite for crimes against humanity and acts of torture, even if committed outside national territory.


An editorial in the Washington Post examines the European Commission's reservations regarding the projected merger of General Electric and Honeywell, two large U.S. companies with extensive business in Europe. The editorial says that Europe and the United States "do not generally compete on competition policy," noting they nearly always agree on the dozens of proposed mergers reviewed annually. The issue at stake now, the paper says, "is whether the EU and the United States are heading into a period of repeated disagreements on merger policy. [For] the first time ever," it says, "the Europeans seem poised to block a merger that has been approved by U.S. regulators."

Hopefully, the editorial goes on, this difference of opinion represents an exception. "But just as possibly," it adds, "this dispute is a portent. The EU's objection to the deal is based on economic and legal reasoning that American anti-trust experts find questionable. [And] that may signal more disputes to come."


A New York Times editorial says that the chances of the GE-Honeywell merger going forward have virtually evaporated in the face of European Commission resistance to the deal. The EU's first concern, the paper notes, is that as a major electronics and aircraft supplier, "GE would acquire [through the merger] a popular supplier of components to other engine makers, opening the door to destructive gouging of competitors."

But the paper warns that a collapse of the merger "will cast a dark shadow over corporate activity in the future. American companies will take it as a high-profile signal to change their behavior," it says. "Corporate boards will be more likely to think twice before undertaking mergers that affect Europe's markets. American companies will also shy away from big investments in Europe if, down the road, [EU] regulators might torpedo mergers that would create value in the United States and elsewhere." These effects, the paper concludes, "would give the commission's actions a perverse result: discouraging American players, and actually harming competition in European markets."