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Western Press Review: From The Genoa Summit To Russia Joining NATO

Prague, 23 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary is dominated by the events at the G-7 plus Russia summit in Genoa over the weekend. Some commentators question the value of such meetings, noting their violent outcomes at recent high-level talks in Seattle, Prague, Goteborg, and now Genoa. Discussion also focuses more broadly on globalization and the enlargement of the European Union. There are comments as well on Russia and its future international role. Analysts consider the situation in Chechnya, the prospect of Russia joining NATO, and how U.S.-Russia relations are shaping up under the Bush administration as well as in the post-Cold War world in general.


A "Financial Times" editorial suggests that in light of events at Genoa and elsewhere, world leaders should perhaps opt for smaller and less frequent summits. The paper writes: "The question of whether [G-7 plus Russia] summits should exist [has] now become urgent. [The] economic discussions of the G-7 [produced] the usual platitudes -- the world economy is slowing more than expected but sound policies provide a solid foundation for stronger growth. [And leaders] agreed to disagree on climate change."

But the paper remarks that "many items on the agenda, particularly globalization, are far too complicated for any leaders to agree on a pithy communique at the end of a weekend's discussion without sounding trite."

The editorial adds that the announcement that next year's summit will be held in a tiny Canadian Rocky Mountain resort shows what it calls a "realism regarding the size and venue of the summit [which] is welcome, but should have been matched with a commitment to hold the next G-8 only when there is a burning topic to discuss. This is not a question of giving in to violent demonstrators but of recognizing the limits of global summits and making them work."


An editorial in Britain's "The Times" says that summit leaders "made their best symbolic attempt to reach out to Africa at Genoa, putting AIDS and malaria high on the agenda. [But] they all need to do more to show the political relevance of these meetings and less to underline the banqueting and bonhomie, the ceremonial and the opulence. The spectacle of annual lavish gatherings by thousands of officials and swarms of journalists is unnecessary, unseemly, and of relatively recent origin."

At next year's Canada summit, the paper writes, "much of the present razzmatazz [might] usefully disappear." But "The Times" adds: "Summits do have a purpose. They set a framework, commit leaders to joint initiatives, impose deadlines and give statesmen a chance to measure their ambitions against the limits of the practical and the views of others. Personal chemistry matters, and collective chemistry can produce a powerful reaction. Summits are particularly useful when big issues -- missile defense or climate change -- divide nations. But they serve no purpose if millions of pounds [sterling] and man-hours are spent on the kind of confrontation that disgraced Genoa."


Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger writes in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung": "Some voices can already be clearly heard saying events in the streets -- which, violent or not, seem now a part of the agenda at any such meeting -- mean that the heads of state and government of the leading industrial nations should enter into a dialogue with the demonstrators. This demand is absurd and grotesque," he argues in a commentary, because the violent protesters discredited their own movements and "did nothing to increase their legitimacy or bring them even within striking distance of the elected representatives of the older democracies."

Frankenberger goes on to say: "Anyone interested in the potential political and economic results of the meeting of the seven leading industrialized countries, along with Russia and the European Union, is forced to wonder whether it is worth all the bother. And considering the shifting power relationships in the world," he asks, "is the highly privileged circle of participants really representative in the global sense? It is one thing to complain about the gigantism of such events, and demands that the agendas be tightened up and slimmed down are not unreasonable. But the very people who today sneer loudest at the media hubbub would be the first to complain of [anti]-democratic behavior and a lack of transparency if this important configuration of world economic leaders were to meet behind closed doors."


In the "International Herald Tribune," executive editor David Ignatius writes in a commentary that "a silent revolution is sweeping Europe. [The] problem is that this European revolution is undemocratic," he says. "It is being imposed, from the top down, by a European elite that thinks it knows what's best for ordinary people -- over their clearly expressed opposition."

Ignatius notes that the latest EU Eurobarometer poll, released last week, reported that only 45 percent of EU residents trust the European Commission in Brussels. He writes, "No matter what you think of the European Union's expansion plans, this kind of corporatist revolution cannot be good for Europe, or for the world."

Ignatius also notes that EU leaders announced that "the enlargement process is irreversible," after their summit meeting in Goteborg in June. He writes: "Among the great and the good of Europe (or, to be more precise, the rich and powerful), support for this wider European Union is almost a matter of political correctness. [But] the gap between elite and mass opinion is startling. The awkward fact is that ordinary Europeans just don't like or trust the new Europe."

"Europe's elites don't seem to realize that they are building their grand new house on the shakiest possible foundation," Ignatius says. He suggests that what he calls the "Eurocrats need to take their case to the people in a series of votes, polls, and referenda. [In] the long run it is the only way to build a solid foundation for a Europe that isn't just bigger but also more democratic."


In the French daily "Liberation," Vittorio de Filippis writes -- ironically -- that the Genoa summit has achieved its objectives: to express an official consensus, and pose for a group photo. He says that the summit's results have proved meager, and notes that disagreement over the Kyoto Protocol on climate change was not resolved -- although the leaders did take care not to declare it officially dead. Nor, he adds, has the summit answered the calls of activists demanding the cancellation of Third World debt.

According to de Filippis, the summit's pledges of aid to combat AIDS are also insufficient. While certainly a start, de Filippis says, the capital expenditures pledged at Genoa for AIDS are actually very little in relation to the severity of the pandemic. Finally, he writes, in their final statement, the chiefs of state of the world's richest countries and Russia declared themselves in favor of a "wide partnership with society [and] open public debate on the important challenges." But de Filippis says that "beyond this pleasant statement, the [G-7 plus Russia] were careful not to formulate their propositions in a more concrete manner."


Martin Urban, in a commentary for the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," is optimistic about the outcome of the Bonn climate-control conference. He says: "The current draft of a climate-protection agreement is worthy of praise simply because an agreement has been reached. The Europeans had hoped for much more, and at the end of the Bonn summit they were still apprehensive of failing to reach this minimal understanding."

The writer sees as a positive element of the agreement, from Germany's point of view, the fact that atomic energy has not been considered an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels. He says this was an important goal for Germany, which opposes the building of what it considers "unsafe" nuclear power facilities.


Norbert Lossau in "Die Welt" calls the present condition of the Kyoto Protocol process "chaos." Chaos, he says in a commentary, can take several forms. It can bring blood and tears, as in Genoa, or -- as in the Bonn talks on climate control-- it can lead to utter confusion, where cause and effect are no longer recognizable. To take climate change seriously, Lossau says, a majority of the nations concerned should agree to the Kyoto Protocol even without the United States.


An editorial in "The New York Times" looks at U.S.-Russian relations in light of the ongoing debate over missile defense. The paper writes:

"In Europe, the United States' allies are still not persuaded that there is an urgent missile threat from 'rogue states' and they are dubious that the technology to combat it is at hand. But they are prepared to acquiesce in the Bush plans for a missile defense if it does not upset the West's relationship with Moscow. So one goal of the administration's new policy of conspicuous engagement with the Russians," the paper says, "is to persuade a skeptical Europe, as well as the lawmakers in Washington who control the purse strings for the Pentagon's missile defense program, that American-Russian relations are on a firm footing, and that the development of an antimissile shield will not lead to a new Cold War."

The editorial goes on to say that the Russians "have their own reasons for wanting to engage the United States. Drawing the Americans into talks, the Russians have long calculated, may be a way to limit the scope of the Bush administration's anti-missile program and to pin Mr. Bush down on the bold cuts in strategic arms that he has promised in vague terms but has yet to specify. And the best way for Mr. Putin to influence public opinion in Europe is to present himself as a reasonable interlocutor and let the Americans take the heat should the talks fail."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" cites President Putin's announcement last week that he had "no intention" of changing his approach in Chechnya. The paper writes that Putin's approach, "as Russian and Western human rights groups have exhaustively documented, is a scorched-earth military campaign by some 80,000 troops that has included the systematic torture, robbery, and murder of civilians. [The] behavior of Russian forces has been so brutal that even leaders of the Moscow-appointed puppet Chechen administration have resigned or threatened to do so."

The editorial continues: "[The] politically savvy Mr. Putin is obviously concerned about his image in the West, yet he clearly felt no pressure to temper his Chechnya campaign [days] before a summit meeting with the presidents and prime ministers of the [G-7]. You can hardly blame him," the paper says. "After all, none of these governments has had anything significant to say as reports about the bloody cleansing operations have poured in. [U.S. President] Bush's apparent acceptance of the Chechen campaign can only be explained by his equally evident zeal to conclude a deal with Mr. Putin on missile defense."

The paper adds: "But one price of this hasty diplomatic campaign is already obvious. Mr. Bush has abdicated U.S. authority to speak out about human rights in Russia and has given Mr. Putin a free pass to pursue the most bloody and criminal campaign of military repression now in the world."


In a commentary in "The New York Times," analyst Timothy Garton Ash writes that U.S. President Bush "should come out and say, with full conviction, that a democratic Russia definitely belongs in Europe and in the West, and that it follows that the key institution of the current geopolitical West, NATO, should in principle also be open to Russia's inclusion."

Ash quotes Czech President Vaclav Havel as saying that "if NATO moves closer to Russia's borders, it brings closer stability, security, democracy and an advanced political culture, which is obviously in Russia's essential interest." Ash comments: "That is absolutely right. [Yet] even Mr. Havel has not pushed this thinking far enough to suggest Russia's eventual participation in NATO. So long as we do not allow for this possibility, young, pro-Western Russians may understandably feel that NATO enlargement is directed against Russia."

Ash goes on to say that a NATO that includes all current applicant nations -- and perhaps Russia -- would be "an alliance of collective security, a guarantor of peace between and within its member states as well as against diverse and unpredictable external threats, rather than against the single common enemy of the Cold War."

He remarks that Russia today "is nowhere near to meeting the standards of stable democracy, the rule of law and civilian control over the military that might qualify it for NATO membership. Its current president and its army have an appalling record in Chechnya," he adds. "[The] prospect of Russian entry into NATO is many years distant, but this does not alter the force of the long-term message."


A "Los Angeles Times" editorial says: "Russian President Vladimir Putin wants NATO either to disband or to invite his country to become a member. Since neither is likely to happen, Moscow's suspicions about NATO can be expected to remain strong and are certain to deepen as NATO pursues its plans to continue expanding eastward.

"[NATO's] unacknowledged reason for enlargement is clear," the paper writes. "It wants to extend security to the European states once occupied or controlled by Moscow because those countries fear what could happen to them if Russia ever again became expansionist. NATO sees enlargement as a benign and defensive step. The view from Moscow is quite different. [Putin] says he doesn't regard NATO as a 'hostile organization.' At the same time, Putin asks why NATO is still needed."

One reason NATO remains necessary, the editorial says, is that "the Europeans, for all their remarkable progress toward economic and political integration, still haven't reached a point where they wholly trust each other. The [NATO] alliance is an effective way to keep their jealousies and suspicions under control. The alliance is also what keeps the U.S. engaged in Europe, something Washington wants and that the Europeans [have] come to count on."

But beyond this, the paper says that NATO's "future is murky. [Its] political purposes are a lot more apparent than its security aims, [which is] an ironic position for a military alliance to find itself in."

(NCA's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)