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Western Press Review: U.S. Policy Shift, NATO Capabilities, Russia's Oil Prospects

Prague, 1 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today continues to focus on what many perceive as the fundamental policy shift announced by U.S. President George W. Bush in his State of the Union speech this week (29 January). Bush's declaration of his administration's willingness to act preemptively -- and, if necessary, unilaterally -- against states harboring weapons of mass destruction has sparked much debate.

Other topics addressed today include Russia's oil prospects, NATO capabilities, events in Afghanistan, and the prospects for global change at the World Economic Forum taking place in New York.


An editorial in "The New York Times" discusses U.S. President George W. Bush's State of the Union speech and says: "The application of power and intimidation has returned to the forefront of American foreign policy. [Not] since America's humiliating withdrawal from Vietnam more than a quarter century ago has U.S. foreign policy relied so heavily on non-nuclear military force, or the threat of it, to defend American interests around the world."

The editorial calls this policy shift "an assertive new military doctrine" and "a radical departure" from the past. It notes that "traditionally, the United States has employed its military forces in retaliation for an attack, rather than striking first itself." It adds, "[Firing] first is not a step to be taken lightly."

The editorial goes on to say that the apparent success of the Afghan campaign "should not encourage Mr. Bush to overreach." It says that the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington "[do] not give Mr. Bush an unlimited hunting license. As a number of his predecessors learned to their and the nation's dismay, turning too quickly or too frequently to the use of force can cost a president support at home and damage American interests and alliances abroad."


The lead editorial in "The Economist" also discusses the U.S. administration's foreign policy shift and says that America "is set on a brave but hazardous course." It says Bush's reference to "an axis of evil" comprising North Korea, Iran, and Iraq was meant to "galvanize support by turning a long and tricky foreign-policy challenge into a simple moral issue. That very simplicity may lead many people [to] dismiss it as empty or to condemn it as foolish," says the magazine.

"The Economist" goes on to say that Bush's new approach has some merits. It calls the pursuit of Al-Qaeda and the control of weapons of mass destruction "essential and urgent," and says "it is welcome that America's president has committed himself to these tasks" with "a clear declaration of intent." This alone may discourage rogue states from acting out, says the magazine.

But there is also a downside to the new U.S. policy, the weekly continues. By switching attention to countries rather than just terrorists, Bush has raised the stakes. His talk of "non-negotiable demands" about values, says the magazine, could lead him to take "too rigid an approach," which could undermine his overall foreign policy goals.

"The Economist" concludes by saying Bush must remember that to fight a so-called "axis of evil, even a superpower needs an axis of its own."


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger says that, like it or not, "for the Bush administration, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a political fan club whose military contribution, when all is said and done, is minimal."

He says redefining NATO's post-Cold War role and the purpose of "this key trans-Atlantic organization" is now "more pressing than ever." "Europeans may fondly believe that expansion of the alliance and closer ties with Russia will settle the main issues regarding their security. The United States believes that its own global interests have long since gone well beyond what it sees as a Eurocentric view."

He says this "damaging state of affairs" will persist, regardless of how many new members NATO invites to join. "There is a huge gap between the U.S. military capability and the European contribution," writes Frankenberger. "The gap is growing to such an extent that the two sides inhabit different military and technological worlds. [Those] who blithely speak about a European security identity must take care not to completely disengage from an America that is no longer satisfied with the old perceptions."


In the "International Herald Tribune," political analyst Amin Saikal of the Australian National University says U.S. President George W. Bush's characterization of Iran and Iraq as part of an "axis of evil" is "simplistic and in many ways misplaced. It could undermine the position of reformists in Iran and give Saddam Hussein a further excuse to tighten his hold on Iraq," he says. The new U.S. approach "ignores the political complexities of Iran and Iraq," Saikal adds.

"President Bush's branding of Iran as a terrorist state, despite Iran's opposition to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and its acquiescence to America's campaign against terror in Afghanistan, could easily play into the hands of the hard-liners," writes Saikal.

As for Iraq, he says there is no viable alternative to the regime of President Saddam Hussein. He notes that the United States "has not succeeded in generating a credible opposition from either within Iraq or the exiles outside. [Repeated] American threats against the regime have so far only helped Saddam to strengthen his dictatorship."

Saikal concludes that the U.S. must take the numerous complexities in the region into account in formulating its policies towards Iran and Iraq. "The United States should work out a viable alternative before it acts to remove Saddam's regime."


In "The Washington Post," the supreme allied commander for NATO's Kosovo campaign, now-retired General Wesley Clark, says that there has been "scant attention" given to NATO in the past five months of the U.S.-led war on terrorism, and questions why NATO has not been integral to the effort. He notes that some claim NATO cannot fight a modern war, while others suggest that European militaries have nothing fundamental to offer the U.S.

Clark counters: "Of course NATO has military problems. [Why] not fix them? Help NATO create a military-political decision-making architecture that can cope more easily with the stresses of target development and operational planning in modern warfare, that can handle sensitive information and that can field and command [high-tech] elite forces. [Full] and active participation in [campaigns] under the aegis of NATO will spur European military transformation more effectively than any number of studies, committees, or harangues."

Clark goes on to urge NATO to move ahead with enlargement. If properly reformed and modernized, he says, the alliance "can achieve a huge ancillary benefit: locking Europe into stability and peace. NATO's relevance in current operations is precisely what is required to forge the new relationships with Russia that are sought [and] enlarge the alliance to bring in those states in Eastern and Central Europe that desperately seek NATO's protection from the strategic competitions and conflicts by which they have been repeatedly victimized."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," EU high representative for foreign and security policy Javier Solana also discusses U.S.-European relations in a post-11 September world. In an interview with the "Journal's" Geoff Winestock, he looks at common European complaints that the U.S. is both isolationist and unilateralist.

But Solana says it is not isolationism that concerns him. Rather, it is what he calls "global unilateralism." The U.S. has now extended its global reach but is doing so in conjunction with special tailor-made coalitions, without using the multilateral institutions already in place. Solana remarks that the multilateralism of nations acting in concert is more the EU philosophy. He says the complexities of the world necessitate having institutions of a multilateral nature. "Coalition-building and consensus-building are absolutely essential," he says.


Also in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Vladimir Socor of the Jamestown Foundation discusses Russian President Vladimir Putin's proposal last week for the formation of a Eurasian alliance of natural-gas exporting countries, comprising Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, and under Russian leadership.

This, says Socor, would give effective control to Russia over the "countries at either end of the Central Asia-Europe route. [Both] groups of countries would in that case depend on the Russian 'single channel.'" Owning both the pipeline and most of the gas pumped through it to Europe, he adds, "Moscow would have the last word on transit tariffs and on pricing policy." Socor says that Putin's proposal seeks to capitalize on "the Central Asian countries' and the West's failure thus far to develop gas export routes."

Socor goes on to say that analogies between Putin's proposed Eurasian group and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) "miss essential differences." Unlike in OPEC, where no one country can determine policy, Russia would have the overwhelming advantage in a Eurasian alliance. While OPEC has nowhere near a monopoly on the world oil market, Socor says the Russian-led association would operate only within the European gas market, "dwarfing" competitors. And whereas OPEC's exports originate in many producing countries, the Eurasian group's export would predominantly originate in Russia. Socor concludes that Putin's proposal is a game of "winner take all."


A "Los Angeles Times" editorial notes that as the World Economic Forum meets in New York, a group of social activists are meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, to "take on the same big issue: how to convince rich nations to invest in the well-being of poor people in poor countries."

The paper says it is "heartening" that the people at the WEF meeting in New York seem to have acknowledged "that while globalization is now a fact of life, the world won't fully accept it -- and free trade and international cooperation won't truly thrive -- until power brokers address the monumental matter of social and economic inequity." The paper adds that while the power brokers meeting in New York should ignore the "fringe protesters, they'd be well advised to pay attention to certain underlying themes."

"Opponents of globalization, for instance, encourage the strategic cancellation of poor nations' debt," the paper notes. This can have "positive reverberations even in the strongest economies," it writes. "At the World Trade Organization meeting last fall, governments agreed to give poor countries better discounts on drugs for AIDS and other killer diseases. This is the sort of progress that can occur when people with competing visions let their fiery rhetoric cool and start to listen."


An editorial in "The Times" of London looks at the interim Afghan administration of Hamid Karzai, and says, "Barely before he has had a chance to try to get a grip on Afghanistan's collapsed administration and infrastructure, let alone those warlords who have no intention of taking instructions from Kabul, the chairman of the interim authority is already, and by international design, a lame duck." The paper adds that the danger that "his fragile authority will disintegrate" has been "underlined" by the factional battle this week for control of the town of Gardez south of Kabul.

"The Times" says Western leaders are in danger of making two mistakes with Karzai. "[Afghanistan's] future does not rest on [Karzai's] frail shoulders and too much praise could render suspect what authority he has," it writes. "Leaders considered by Afghans to be in the pocket of foreign powers end up hanged." The other danger, the paper says, is that Karzai needs "swift, practical help to make life tangibly better" in Afghanistan. Karzai's main asset, it says, is "the desire of most Afghans for calm in which to shore up what little they have to build on. It must be banked, while there is yet time."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" remarks that a week after the Afghan donors conference in Tokyo, at which the international community pledged $4.5 billion to Afghan reconstruction, fierce fighting continues to plague the country. "Unless this anarchy and theft can be contained," the editorial warns, the promised aid program will fail. There's no use talking about reconstructing rural irrigation systems when whole villages are emptying out for fear of marauding gunmen. If the country is to achieve stability, the international community must help enforce the peace that makes economic reconstruction conceivable, the paper adds.

The paper says that the U.S. administration "appears to believe that Afghanistan's warlords should be left to fight until they are exhausted, at which point some kind of balkanized stability may emerge. Aid can then be used as a tool to bribe warlords to guarantee order within their spheres of influence." But this policy, it says, has two serious drawbacks. "First, it suggests that the United States has been less than sincere in its support of international efforts designed to construct a centrally administered Afghan state. [Second,] the peace-through-warlord strategy might well fail. Regional rivals might carry on fighting for years, each sustained by neighboring patrons."

The editorial concludes that it does not make sense to depose a regime unless one is prepared "to ensure that what comes afterward is better. Playing a good endgame in Afghanistan is therefore crucial," it writes.


An editorial in Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" also looks at Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai, whom it describes as "pliant and laid back" during his official visit to the U.S. and Britain this week. Nevertheless, the paper notes that as prime minister of a six-month government, his powers are limited. Facing empty state coffers and reliant on foreign aid, Karzai is also hampered by the fact that his power base is confined to Kabul -- warlords are in charge nearly everywhere else in Afghanistan.

It is no wonder, the paper adds, that even Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim -- who had earlier objected to a large international security presence in Kabul -- is now supporting Karzai's appeal for a larger force to spread beyond the capital to other Afghan cities.

The protection of a country the size and complexity of Afghanistan is a daunting task, the paper says. But the UN is duty-bound to comply. "Otherwise," the editorial concludes, "Karzai's days in office are numbered."


The Mideast conflict is the subject of an editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung." The paper says "there is much truth" in Israelis' claim that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat talks of peace even as he conducts a war of terror. The paper goes on: "The world is led to believe that [Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon is quite different. That, too, is true. When he says war, he means it, and prefers to keep silent on the subject of peace."

However, the paper says, Sharon's reputation for brutality and his knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time disqualify him from any accolades. Now, it adds, he has once again jeopardized the peace process by declaring that Israel should have killed Arafat when it had the chance in Lebanon 20 years ago. Such a pronouncement, the paper says, is nothing short of an "absolute failure of a politician."

It adds that Sharon, who himself has been internationally condemned for his role in the Sabra and Shatila refugee massacres, could not have chosen a worse moment for "getting off track." Under the circumstances, the editorial says: "Arafat could again become a negotiating partner for Israel. Whoever has such enemies, will also again find friends."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this press review)