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Western Press Review: A Redefined Geopolitical Structure

Prague, 3 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary and analysis today looks at the new geopolitical structure emerging in the declared war on terrorism. Some commentators remark on the unlikeliness of several of the new alliances, and consider their lasting implications for the international political system.


An editorial in Britain's "The Times" says that in joining the so-called "coalition against terror," Russia is seeking a profound change in its relations with the West. What the paper calls the "pivotal importance of Russia in the war on terrorism" has refocused attention on the West's Cold-War foe, and created an opportunity for it to ally itself with NATO and EU nations in fighting a common enemy. The editorial says that since the end of the Cold War, "Russia's greatest challenge has been the acceptance of its diminished world role. This has crystallized in continuing suspicion of NATO and atavistic opposition to its enlargement." As a result, Russia's attempts to woo Western investment and redefine itself have been undermined by what "The Times" calls "a policy that sought to thwart NATO at every turn, bolster crumbling influence in the former empire and assert a Russian world role in contradistinction to the West." Now, the editorial says, Russian President Vladimir Putin "can offer the West a reason to take Russia seriously."

Where this really matters, the paper adds, is regarding NATO: "Until the NATO-Russia treaty -- the deal that finally moderated Moscow's opposition to Eastward expansion -- includes real consultation, Russia will always feel excluded from the decisions that determine Europe's future. When it believes it has a stake, it will pull its weight: on money-laundering, organized crime, nuclear responsibility and curbing arms exports to rogue states. [Putin] is looking for a new global start."


An editorial in "The New York Times" calls upon the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush to make public a portion of the evidence linking prime suspect Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network to the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington. The editorial notes that the administration has shared such evidence with NATO and other world leaders. But it says that verifying these connections, and the Taliban's involvement, "would help shaky allies like Pakistan's leader, General Pervez Musharraf, contain whatever domestic political backlash might result from opening Pakistani military bases to American troops and warplanes. It would also make it easier for Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan to participate actively in the anti-terror coalition."

In addition, the paper writes, making the proof public could help "allay concerns -- widely held in the Islamic world -- that the United States will indiscriminately select targets for military attack. Washington's goal should be to persuade fair-minded people that whatever retaliation President Bush eventually orders is aimed at appropriate targets."


An editorial in France's "Le Monde" calls attention to the plight of Afghanistan's citizens. Afghanistan, it says, is "a stricken country, and has been for a long time." After suffering from 22 years of war, endemic malnutrition, severe drought and insufficient health care, Afghans have also suffered under the Taliban regime, which has now become "widely confused with the military structure of Osama bin Laden's [Al-Qaeda] organization." The paper says that even if the bin Laden-Taliban system survives a U.S.-led assault, ordinary Afghans will not -- and can be saved only through massive humanitarian efforts. This is made even more urgent by the prospect of new populations of refugees attempting to flee Afghanistan and possible U.S. bombardment, gathering along borders that are no longer open. The Afghans, "Le Monde" says, are responsible for neither the Taliban, nor bin Laden, nor the strikes that the actions of these groups threaten to bring on their country. It concludes: "It is necessary that they benefit from a humanitarian rescue operation proportional to their misfortune. Urgently."


In the "International Herald Tribune," Gareth Evans of the International Crisis Group considers the effects of the war on terrorism on Central Asia. Before the 11 September attacks, these nations were "diplomatically neglected," says Evans. Now they have been "embraced as strategic partners in the battle against terrorism."

Evans goes on to consider the leadership of the Central Asian nations and notes that they have a tendency, in his words, "to repress even moderate religious groups for fear that they would become significant opposition. [But] by forcing most political opposition underground, often in the name of anti-terrorism, states like Uzbekistan have been making Islamist extremism more attractive to broader sections of their populations."

The extremist Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, says Evans, "became radicalized after being driven out of legitimate public life." Evans writes: "The international community will be making a serious strategic blunder if it allows Central Asian leaders to continue or intensify their autocratic ways as the price for cooperation in the fight against global terrorism.

"Any military action [in] or from the region needs to be accompanied by long-term efforts to stabilize Central Asia politically and economically," he says. "If a coalition against terrorism is allowed to become tolerant of authoritarianism, the fight against terrorism could end, tragically, by stimulating even more Afghanistans."


A "Washington Post" editorial also addresses the repressive practices of Central Asian regimes and the West's tendency to collaborate with them. It says that even before Afghanistan became a central security concern, the administration of former U.S. President Bill Clinton "chose to tolerate the Central Asian autocrats, offering them military cooperation and economic aid in the hope of winning access to their rich supplies of energy and other resources. Now the [President George W.] Bush administration will be tempted to be even more understanding of [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov's excesses. But it should not be," says the paper.

Now that Central Asia is a focus of security interests, the West should work "to curb the abuses of human rights by allied regimes in the region and promote steps toward democracy." The lesson of the Cold War, it says, was that "only democratic regimes that respected human rights" proved to be reliable allies.


Stratfor founder and chairman George Friedman says in an analysis on the group's website [] that if the United States and its allies want to fight an effective military campaign in Afghanistan, "an alliance with Russia is essential." But securing its cooperation will come at a price, he says.

"Moscow will increase its influence in Central Asia and may resurrect its domination of the Caucasus. No matter how the anti-terror campaign ends, the biggest winner will not be the United States, but Russia."

Although Central Asia is comprised of independent states, Friedman says there is no question that they exist within Russia's sphere of influence. And in all of them, particularly in Tajikistan, "pro-Taliban and anti-American forces are both substantial and indigenous."

In a prolonged war in Afghanistan, he says, "The ultimate nightmare for the United States would be creating a complex of support bases for troops operating in Afghanistan, only to have them attacked, blocked or even overrun by pro-Taliban elements." Therefore, Friedman writes, the United States "is going to have to rely on Russia to maintain the stability of these countries and the security of the forces. Russia is not going to force itself on Central Asia against American will. It will be done at the request of and to the relief of the United States.

"The net result," says Friedman, "will be a reassertion of the Russian sphere of influence, with active U.S. support, in a region that earlier broke away from the former Soviet Union."


A "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" editorial says that NATO's new missive, in which all are bound to be engaged by invoking Article Five, is on the table for the first time in its history. It says that it has been clearly shown that an attack from abroad was perpetrated on New York and Washington. This is unlike the mission in Yugoslavia, says the editorial, when France and Germany called for limitations on their engagements and discussions were held on each country's potential contribution. Since 11 September, at one stroke, such discussions have become irrelevant.

The current situation calls more urgently for a "more just" distribution of the burden, says the editorial. It writes: "Now each NATO member has to stipulate precisely how it is able to support the U.S. Even though it is hardly plausible nor meaningful that NATO troops from the U.S. and Britain, which have been assembled in South Asia, will be strengthened in any way."

The Bush administration is focused in the right direction in involving as many countries as possible in the fight against terrorism, says the editorial. However, this applies first and foremost to the non-military spheres. The editorial concludes: "In choosing the means for a military attack against [Osama] bin Laden and the Taliban in Afghanistan (and against other possible forms of terrorism), Washington is well advised to preserve its freedom to negotiate."


Barry Bearak of The New York Times News Service looks at the tenuous situation in Pakistan, following Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's pledge to join the U.S.-led coalition against terror. The country is polarized, says Bearak, between a vocal, radical Islamist minority and a silent, increasingly marginalized majority.

Bearak says that now, in the U.S.'s determination to combat terrorism, "Washington runs the danger of setting off a cataclysm in a place where civil violence is a likely bet and nuclear weapons are among the stakes." Pakistan, he continues, "has long been the speculated locale for one of the world's worst scenarios: Where Islamic terrorists in league with rogue elements of the military seize control of the government and wield the vengeful sword of jihad with a nuclear tip."

Many Pakistani clerics endorse the Taliban's prescription for a pure Islamic state, says Bearak. And Islam is a growing force in a nation whose schools are in disrepair and are being replaced by religious schools, or madrassahs. He writes: "Until recently, the Taliban have been useful to Pakistan, providing an ally on its western flank when rival India lurks to the east, and a breeding ground for Islamic militancy that could be redirected toward Kashmir.

"So to many," says Bearak, "Pakistan's cooperation with America seems like a sellout."


In the "International Herald Tribune," John Vinocur says that following the 11 September attacks, a chorus of European voices suggested "the coming of a new world equation in which a chastened, even humiliated America would be forced to abandon what were called its me-first, unilateralist instincts."

But Vinocur says that now, more than three weeks later, the United States has put together "a broad, loosely defined coalition" to fight terrorism and backed it up only with "very specific support from the United Nations Security Council, the European Union and NATO."

What Vinocur calls the "new American multilateralism -- with U.S. soldiers and diplomats handing out limited tasks like securing overflight rights or furnishing logistical support to coalition associates -- has nothing of a discussion forum of equal voices," he says. Instead, it is a system in which the United States "gives precise assignments, careful not to ask too much of most allies, and even wounding some by asking for nothing."

Vinocur concludes that the United States' brand of "multilateralism" doesn't look much different from its former, much-criticized "unilateralist" methods.

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)