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Western Press Review: Redefining NATO, Afghan Aid, EU Defense Initiatives

Prague, 24 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today looks at redefining NATO's role for a new era; the promise of the Afghan donors conference on 21-21 January; European defense capabilities; and hopes for Kazakhstan's increasing political openness.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" looks at both the history and the future of NATO and writes, "Considering its unparalleled successes for a multinational organization of any kind, NATO leaders spend a surprising amount of time justifying [the alliance's] very existence." The paper says most NATO members agree that in the wake of the 11 September attacks, the alliance must make itself relevant to a new era. But there are few ideas on exactly how to transform the alliance.

"[The] alliance needs an overhaul," the paper writes. "It's still stuck with too much baggage from the Cold War." The paper notes this will be a critical year for NATO, as new members are invited to join at the autumn Prague summit, possibly extending the alliance to the Baltics. NATO is also in the process of redefining its relationship with Russia.

The NATO alliance is "the sole institutional link between the U.S. and Europe," the paper says. "It commits the U.S. [to] European stability [and] prosperity." The paper adds that while many Europeans see NATO "as a vehicle for U.S. interests on the Continent, the U.S. presence in Europe through NATO ensures the successful reunification of the continent."

The paper goes on to say, "[The] allies should be careful to preserve NATO's cohesion and its military punch. [The] last thing the world needs is another multi-national talk shop."


In "The Washington Post," staff writer Michael Kelly looks at the Afghan donors conference that took place on 21-22 January. He says that despite the pledges of $4.5 billion to rebuild Afghanistan, other developments within the country indicate there is still much cause for concern. Kelly says that even as donors pledged their aid, the UN reported that bandits continue to raid warehouses of food and hold up aid convoys in Afghanistan. Afghanistan remains in a state of what Kelly calls "heavily armed, factionalized semi-anarchy," and it is "a likely candidate for failure in any program of international aid."

Kelly says that throughout the conference, donors "worried that they were throwing money away, while representatives from Afghanistan's [interim] government worried that they might end up seeing more in the way of promises than cash. These were sound concerns," he writes. Kelly says what might undermine the Afghan campaign is that U.S. complacency may lead to a premature declaration of victory, followed by disinterest and disengagement. Avoiding this, he says, "means accepting that a lot of tedious and difficult problems -- stolen food trucks and drought in Afghanistan, terrorism-bankrolling in Saudi [Arabia] -- are now ours to address; that failure in these regards will mean failure in the large regard; and that failure in the large regard cannot be allowed to happen."


In Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Peter Sturm considers European military capabilities, and notes the U.S. government has expressed concern that these capabilities are inadequate to meet real strategic threats. He says the Europeans have responded by trying to downplay the importance of the technological gap between Europe and the United States. But Sturm says the statements from both sides "stem from a fundamental misunderstanding. Acquiring military capabilities does not imply that Europe must draw level with the United States in all areas. Quite apart from the fact that it could not afford to do so, such a development would not even be desirable," he writes. But Sturm adds that "if Europe continues down its present path, it will not be long before the United States calls on European troops for support services only -- if at all." Politically, he says, "Europe wants to be taken seriously, but that will not happen if it becomes patently unable to take independent initiatives."


In a contribution to "The New York Times," political analyst Floriana Fossato and Moscow University professor Anna Kachkaeva consider the shutdown of Russia's last national private television station, TV-6. They note that this closure has been described as marking the end of large-scale independent journalism in Russia. But the authors say that in reality, the situation is "both less and, potentially, more dramatic. Russian television has a vibrant, extensive web of local and regional TV stations; not all free speech has come from Moscow. However, the attack on the national stations may well have serious effects on regional journalism, including a return to the self-censorship that was such a noticeable feature of the Soviet decades."

The authors say that television outside of Moscow has largely been free of the kind of aggressive interference by shareholding media oligarchs that plagued both NTV and TV-6. Most of the 600 regional television stations are not controlled by the state and are "increasingly professional and broad enough to become an indispensable source of information, including alternatives to the official line."

Fossato and Kachkaeva conclude that Russian President Vladimir Putin "could do a lot to advance Russian democracy by making sure his battles with media oligarchs don't also destroy a vigorous and varied regional system. Without some careful attention now, it could require years to be rebuilt."


An editorial in the Asian edition of "The Wall Street Journal" says that the $4.5 billion of aid pledged for Afghanistan at the recent donors conference will not do much good if law and order cannot be restored. The paper says "a large force of peacekeepers" is needed, "led by commanders with the mandate and will to restore the authority of the central government in Kabul. Without this, the country is in danger of falling back into the state of constant civil war which prevailed before the Taliban came to power." The paper says armed robbery is common in Afghanistan, and people are afraid to go out after dark.

The situation outside Kabul is even worse, it says. "The regional warlords are not yet fighting amongst themselves," the paper writes. But this may be "only because they are re-establishing their power after the Taliban's defeat." The paper says the interim government in Kabul "presents a threat to the feudal fiefdoms of the warlords, so in order to keep it weak they are forming a united front against peacekeepers. They are using their toehold within the government to campaign against that very government."

The paper says disarming these warlords "is a daunting task, but one that cannot be put off. [If] the goal is a free, prosperous Afghanistan, more forceful steps are needed to stop the country slipping back into war."


In "Eurasia View," Kazakhstan-based journalist Alima Bisenova looks at a 19 January gathering of opposition parties in Almaty, and says the government's tolerance of this event may mark "a pivotal step in the country's civil society development." Bisenova adds that it has also raised hopes among opposition leaders that President Nursultan Nazarbaev "is becoming open to more political give and take."

Bisenova says the "unprecedented" live television coverage of the event further indicates the government's grudging acceptance of the rally. "For five hours," she writes, "viewers could watch and hear extensive criticism of government policy." Bisenova observes that since Kazakh independence, the government has "exerted considerable influence" on television content and programming. She says previously, opposition politicians had been banned from expressing opinions on television "that ran counter to the official view."

Bisenova says Kazakhstan's growing prosperity is a major factor in the increasing pressure on President Nazarbaev to open up the political system. She says the creation of the Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan party -- which Bisenova calls a collection "of young, reform-minded politicians and businessmen" -- is one indication that "those accumulating wealth also seek a share of political power." She says another indicator of a trend toward openness is the merger of three opposition parties into the United Democratic Party, which seeks to establish a parliamentary republic in Kazakhstan.


In the Belgian daily "Le Soir," staff writer Agnes Gorissen looks at the possibility that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will be forced to answer in Belgium for his role in the 1982 massacres at the Sabred and Chatila Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. At the time, Sharon was the Israeli defense minister. Gorissen says hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Palestinians were murdered at the camps by a Lebanese Christian militia while Israel occupied part of the country.

The complaint against Sharon was brought last June by 23 massacre survivors, and is being pursued under a 1999 Belgian law that gives Belgium universal jurisdiction in cases dealing with war crimes, genocide, or crimes against humanity. Gorissen notes that Sharon's lawyer, Me Adrien Masset, alleges that Belgium is not qualified to try Sharon because it has no connection to Lebanon, where the massacres took place. Masset says if Sharon is to be tried, he should be tried in Lebanon.

Gorissen says wryly that Masset hastens to adds that in such a case, Sharon would be covered under the law of amnesty declared by Beirut regarding crimes committed during this period. But she notes that the question remains: If Sharon is willing to accept that foreign jurisdiction, then why not that of Belgium or a future international penal court?