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Western Press Review: A 'New, New World Order' Emerges After U.S. Attacks

By Khatya Chhor and Dora Slaba

Prague, 14 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press continues to focus on the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington. Much analysis looks at how those events have changed the world order by shifting or strengthening alliances and restructuring national and international priorities.


A "Washington Times" editorial looks at the pledges of support for the United States by NATO member countries in the wake of the 11 September disaster. The editorial says that by invoking, for the first time ever, Article 5 of the alliance treaty -- which provides for the mutual defense of any NATO members that come under attack -- the alliance has displayed "a significant shift in NATO policy."

It notes that the treaty presumes that any potential attack would have come from a state, because states were considered the only possible political actors. The editorial quotes German Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger as saying, "For the first time, there is a readiness, a declaration of intent by NATO and the UN Security Council that we have no choice but to consider this kind of activity -- as it occurred here in the United States -- on the same basis as we would an armed attack by a state."

In spite of the support pledged by NATO members, the editorial goes on to note that there are some stipulations attached to NATO's commitment. The paper says: "A military response would not formally be called upon until it is determined that the attackers came from outside the United States. The text of the NATO article also does not require all allies to automatically take military action. Each state is allowed to decide for itself which response would be appropriate, whether it be allowing the United States to use its air space, medical teams or weapons."


Writing in the "Frankfurter Rundschau," Karl Feldmeyer also looks at the relationship between the United States and NATO. He writes: "This balancing act is so difficult for the United States because the challenge is so unusual. The terrorists not only killed thousands of people, but also struck a blow at the state, its democratic image and its symbols. All this happened without the United States being able to see the enemy. So far it has remained a phantom."

He continues: "As the only superpower, the U.S. can welcome NATO support but of course it realizes some members' limited military-technological capabilities. It is NATO's moral support that is of value." NATO's new importance, he concludes, is that it "guarantees a reliable political environment in which the same fundamental values apply. This is a shimmer of light in the darkness of death and destruction."


The "Financial Times" of Britain carries a contribution by "Foreign Policy" magazine editor Moises Naim. Naim says many long-held ideas were buried along with the victims in the attacks. One such idea is the notion that technology could make the U.S. invulnerable. Naim writes: "The terrorists made everyone fully and painfully aware of the concrete meaning of asymmetric war: enemies that respond to high-technology weapons with low-tech tools." He adds that the idea that military superiority ensures national security has also been disproved: while a military is necessary it is no guarantee.

Giving priority to fighting terrorism, he writes, is long overdue. But, he warns, this strategy may bring more misconceptions. One is that the fight against terrorism is a war that can be won. To the contrary, Naim writes, such a war "will be permanent, with elusive and changing enemies -- and even important victories will not ensure that the enemy has been defeated." Nor should the U.S. relegate other foreign-policy issues to the back-burner. Naim writes: "[In] the foreseeable future there will be no foreign policy priority more important for the U.S. than defeating terrorists. Yet before Tuesday, the U.S. was facing, in addition to terrorist threats, myriad other challenges for which it had no obvious response. It still is."


An editorial in the "Los Angeles Times" says that the U.S. must be prepared to undertake "a sustained crusade against terrorism" and not a one-time retaliatory response. The goal, the paper says, "is to dismantle the ways and the means that support, train, equip and finance terrorism."

The paper goes on to suggest: "the current fixation on Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden may cloud our understanding of other terrorist networks and their possible role in sophisticated attacks against the United States. The links between them are poorly understood and infiltrating them is difficult. Many are composed of clans or members of extended families, unwilling to admit strangers. That is why Washington needs help from its allies, whose intelligence agencies may be more able to provide information."

The paper also warns against an overly hasty U.S. response. It says: "Those tracking down the conspirators should not be required to produce proof of the sort needed to convict in a U.S. criminal trial. But they will need to show a solid body of evidence, enough to persuade both allies and Americans that the right people have been targeted. That may not be easy. And it may not happen as quickly as would be emotionally satisfying."


A "Washington Post" editorial looks at concerns that the U.S. Muslim community may become the target of revenge attacks long before it is ever determined who is responsible for Tuesday's attacks. The paper notes that the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was, at first, wrongly blamed on Islamic extremists. In the days that followed, American Muslims received threats of retaliation. The Post writes: "It was wrong then and, no matter who is responsible for Tuesday's evil assault, it's wrong now."

The paper cites the repeated warnings by U.S. leaders not to assign blame to the innocent, and says: "The rage and sorrow that have filled the country are no excuse for giving in to ugly stereotypes that label whole communities for the acts of extremists. This week many Muslims have struggled to remind their neighbors that they are Americans too, shocked and outraged by the slaughter of innocents. If anger and vengeance are allowed to drown out that message, it will only add shame to the nation's grief."


Writing in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Georg Paul Hefty describes German reaction to the U.S. terrorist attacks as a "rude awakening." He writes: "German domestic policy-makers are gradually rousing themselves from the shocked paralysis that took hold in the wake of the brutal terrorist attacks." It is obvious, he adds, that Germany "has been turning a blind eye to the danger in recent years."

Government officials are now saying they must rethink everything they have done in recent years, referring specifically to immigration policy. But, Hefty writes, the coalition government must rethink other areas of its policy as well. Solidarity with the United States was convenient as long as neither partner was put to the test. Now, he writes, a real partnership is called for.


Richard Meng, writing in the "Frankfurter Rundschau," calls on the German government to tackle basic problems with regard to terrorism. He criticizes the government for being helpless, and says it must take responsibility for the safety of its citizens now that security threats have changed so radically. "Now," he says, "there is a need for a contribution to world policies."

An additional issue, he adds, is the question of what kind of policy the world should expect from the United States -- one that focuses on itself, or one that is concerned with the world overall? This, he writes, should address not only terrorism, but also the issues of world poverty and globalization. The need now, he says, is for "engagement in ideas and concrete assistance."

Meng stresses, "it is immaterial where hate and destruction appear, [because] potentially everyone in the world is threatened." Germany, he says, must fundamentally revise its thinking and give politics a chance before it's too late.


Jan Krauze writes in "Le Monde" that the world continues to reel from shock over the terrorist acts and to debate whether they truly represent the beginnings of war.

"Nevertheless, there are also quieter, more isolated voices that appeal for maintaining reason. In Europe, these voices are still timid, as it is imperative and natural to first assert solidarity in this test with the United States..."

Krauze goes on to say that this is a time for reflection. It is has been easy for the U.S. to respond, in a highly selective way, to the defense of some people's rights and to close its eyes when it seems that there is no grave circumstance. And it is especially dangerous to believe that one can, year after year, strike where one wants and whom one wants, with or without the sanction of the UN, and expect there not to ever be a day, in turn, on which oneself is struck."


An editorial in "The Economist" considers U.S. defense strategy and emphasizes the need for international cooperation to stem the rising threat of terrorism. It writes: "The missile-shield program, whatever its merits, must not militate against efforts to improve security against other kinds of threat. Counter-terrorism, depending as it does on the pooling of information, also requires international co-operation, something which [President] Bush has, at a minimum, failed to emphasize in his approach to foreign policy."

The magazine goes on to say, "The United States has had good reason in the past to be skeptical about the value of some of its alliances and commitments. And it is right for Mr. Bush to put American interests first -- all governments should put their own national interests first. But mutually compatible national interests are often best served through co-operation. Without doubt, when it comes to international terrorism, a new spirit of common resolve is indispensable."


Regarding the U.S. options for retaliation, most commentary urges a measured response, undertaken in coordination with Western allies. However, some commentators call for a more drastic approach.

In the "Washington Times," former Defense Intelligence Agency officer Thomas Woodrow says the United States should use all the defense capabilities at its disposal to respond to this attack. Woodrow writes that, "To do less would be rightly seen by the poisoned minds that orchestrated these attacks as cowardice on the part of the United States and the current [presidential] administration."

Woodrow believes that those responsible are connected with Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, living in exile in Afghanistan. He suggests, "A series of low-level, tactical nuclear strikes in the Afghanistan desert would pose no risk to large population centers and would carry little risk of fallout spreading to populated areas." Woodrow says that in responding with such measures, "The United States will, in effect, have raised the bar against future such acts from occurring."


The "Washington Post" carries a contribution from strategic studies analysts Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon. They say that if the 11 September attack marks the beginnings of war, as many suggest, then America is at war with "a network of skilled operatives in more than 50 countries."

The authors note the U.S. President Bush is likely to come under pressure to strike out at Afghanistan-based Islamic extremist organizations. But the success of such an attack, they write, "depends on every effort being made to stiffen the resolve of the government of Pakistan to crack down on its own jihadists, many of whom support bin Laden."

Such an attack may also prove counterproductive: "Most Pakistan-watchers agree that even [a limited U.S.] strike against Afghan targets [would] be a triggering event, sending masses into the street to protest against American 'aggression' against Muslims, possibly destabilizing a Pakistani regime that would be seen as complicitous. Should the radicals take power, the results would be dire: Pakistan's nuclear weapons could wind up in the hands of bin Laden sympathizers. [Keeping] Pakistan from plunging over the precipice will be a difficult task," they write. The authors conclude, "Getting the right mix of military, diplomatic and economic measures in the fight against terrorism and radical Islam will be an unprecedented challenge, and it could take a generation until the problem is in hand."


In an analysis in "Eurasia View," "EurasiaNet" contributing editor Alec Appelbaum says that the U.S. attacks "reinforced a growing division in Central Asian societies. Since these states became independent, they have grappled with rising Islamic radicalism. All of the states, particularly Uzbekistan, have sought to control religious expression. Given the tragic turn of events in the United States, some experts suggest, countries with restive Muslim populations will find it more tempting than ever to formally outlaw or persecute certain forms of religion. But finding a stable battlefront will be just as difficult within these states as it is for the rest of the world," he says.

Appelbaum notes that "Central Asian leaders have expressed a desire to participate in a coordinated campaign against terrorism." Russian military officials are similarly pushing for an increased effort to crush so-called "Chechen terrorists." He notes that some suggest Russia may "take advantage of the shift in American views, brought on by the attack, to make geopolitical moves in the Caucasus and Central Asia that would have been unacceptable to the United States before the tragedy."

The U.S. attack may mark a major shift in the political landscape of Central Asia and increase instability in the region. Appelbaum quotes Barnett Rubin, a senior fellow and Afghanistan expert at New York University's Center on International Cooperation, as saying, "This event will affect us for decades or more."