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Western Press Review: Debating 'Phase Two' And A Lowered Nuclear Threshold

Prague, 12 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today focuses on debate over "Phase Two" of the war on terrorism, which many observers believe will see a U.S. military campaign launched in Iraq. Discussion also centers on whether the "Nuclear Posture Review" report leaked over the weekend indicates that the U.S. has lowered its threshold for the use of nuclear weapons against states it deems a threat. Other topics include Uzbek President Islam Karimov's visit to the United States, today's Macedonia donors conference in Brussels, and continuing events in Afghanistan.


An editorial in "The Washington Post" discusses some of the obstacles confronting the next stage of the war on terrorism. It says one of the U.S. administration's most difficult challenges will be to alleviate concern over its "unilateralism" while continuing to pursue U.S. security interests abroad. The paper suggests that this might be more easily accomplished if the administration steps up "its commitment to addressing the nonmilitary pieces of the terrorism problem, ranging from the reconstruction of Afghanistan to the lack of political freedom and economic opportunity in much of the Muslim world."

The "Post" cites a recent Gallup poll of attitudes toward the United States conducted in nine Muslim countries. A majority of respondents oppose the campaign in Afghanistan and many hold negative overall views of America. The paper remarks that there "may be little the United States can do [to] turn such attitudes around." But it "could more aggressively embrace the effort to stabilize Afghanistan under a pluralistic regime, nurture a similar vision for an Iraq freed of Saddam Hussein, and deliver more aid and more pressure for liberal reforms in other Muslim states." That, the paper suggests, "would likely win allies for the military battles still to come."


In Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Gunther Nonnenmacher discusses what some see as a U.S. policy shift on the use of nuclear weapons. The U.S. Pentagon's "Nuclear Posture Review," leaked to the press over the weekend, outlines situations in which the U.S. would consider using nuclear weapons. Nonnenmacher says the report raises the following question: "Are nuclear weapons only deterrents, in other words, weapons with no meaningful military use? Or does the use of nuclear weapons on the battlefield have to remain an option if they are to remain a plausible deterrent?"

He says that it "looks very much like political management and the deliberate development of a threat scenario that this question is being revived just when U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney is on a tour of Europe and the Persian Gulf states.... [Whether] it is good political management is another question," Nonnenmacher remarks. He says it is hard to tell whether the subject of nuclear arms "will really deter those who are meant to be deterred or whether it is more likely to reduce their inhibitions."

Nonnenmacher concludes that the United States' military and political position in the world leads to what he calls "an intellectual unilateralism. [Theories] and initiatives are no longer being played through in think tanks first, let alone discussed with allies. Instead, the U.S. government clumsily launches trial balloons to see how the public will react." But Nonnenmacher says that "there is no real reason" to put nuclear weapons on the agenda.


An analysis by Richard Norton-Taylor in Britain's "The Guardian" daily also looks at the apparent U.S. policy shift on nuclear weapons. He notes that the Pentagon's report foresees the use of nuclear weapons in three situations: against targets able to withstand attacks by conventional weapons; in retaliation for an attack with nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons; or otherwise, in the words of the report, "in the event of surprising military developments."

He says U.S. President George W. Bush's advisers argue that "by advocating the possible use of nuclear weapons, and abandoning the Cold War concept of mutual assured destruction (MAD) -- replacing it by the prospect of 'unilateral assured destruction' -- they are simply offering a more effective deterrence." But Norton-Taylor suggests that the threat of imminent annihilation may also offer an incentive for potential foes to develop nuclear weapons instead of bothering with less-effective chemical or biological weapons.

Norton-Taylor says the Pentagon's report ultimately makes the world more vulnerable to the threat of nuclear weapons, rather than less. This shift "can only encourage nuclear proliferation and undermine the Non-Proliferation Treaty, whose signatories, including the U.S., are pledged to work for the elimination of nuclear weapons (the U.S. subsequently pledged not to use nuclear weapons against states that do not possess them). And the development of new nuclear weapons might well lead to a resumption of nuclear testing, finally sabotaging the comprehensive test ban treaty," he writes.


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Joseph Nye of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government says that "mounting a military campaign against Iraq at this point poses a significant problem" for the war on terrorism. He says before any action is taken, the U.S. must "build a multilateral case against Saddam Hussein" that does not rest on thin evidence and suspicions. Instead, he says, the U.S. should maintain "that a government that has supported terrorism and violated its agreements in the past must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. Iraq's efforts to do so are a clear violation of the multilateral Non-Proliferation Treaty that it has signed. Moreover, since 1998, Iraq has been defying the United Nations by refusing to admit and give free rein to international inspectors as required under Security Council Resolution 687."

Nye says a U.S. diplomatic campaign "should aim to convince other nations that Saddam Hussein's actions present an immense peril." He says the support of Turkey and Kuwait, "and perhaps Saudi Arabia, will be necessary for an effective military campaign." The support of NATO allies and other states in the region will also be important to lend legitimacy to U.S. actions. Nye warns that the failure to heed the pleas for caution from U.S. allies runs the risk of undermining the cooperation needed "for a prolonged campaign against terrorism."


In "The Christian Science Monitor," Selig Harrison of the National Security Project at the Center for International Policy says the U.S. must move its role in Afghanistan away from its current, primarily military, one. "The time has clearly come to redefine U.S. policy in Afghanistan. Afghan anger over civilian casualties is mounting, which feeds anti-American sentiment, undermines the pro-American interim government of Hamid Karzai, and erodes the goodwill the United States earned for ousting the repressive Taliban regime." He adds that the repeated use of "indiscriminate U.S.-led bombing assaults" is intensifying anti-American feeling.

Harrison suggests that the U.S. should "adopt a lower military profile in Afghanistan, relying primarily on U.S. Air Force logistical and helicopter support to Afghan and allied ground troops, without bombing. More broadly, the U.S. should focus on helping the Kabul regime consolidate control by providing troops and support for an expanded international peacekeeping force, pending the development of an Afghan national army, and should greatly step up economic reconstruction assistance."

Harrison says the Pentagon has "inadvertently undermined the new regime by pouring arms and money into the hands of warlords who are now strong enough to resist Karzai's authority. [Afghanistan] needs a stable central authority to prevent the country from turning once again into a base for terrorism, to curb the narcotics trade, and to rebuild the economy. Washington should do what it can to promote these goals," he concludes.


In "Die Welt," Gerhard Gnauck looks at German immigration laws and the free movement of labor within an expanded EU, which has been a controversial topic among Europe's politicians. EU member nations are concerned that cheaper labor from newly admitted eastern nations will flood the labor market, driving down wages. But Gnauck says allowing free movement is beneficial for all concerned, and cites German history as an example of this: "Nothing better could have happened to the East Germans," he says.

It is an open secret, Gnauck continues, that the 2 million Poles who immigrated to Germany over the last 30 years have integrated amazingly well and have an excellent command of the German language. He writes that it is difficult to understand why politicians fail to highlight this success story and change their attitude with regard to EU candidate countries. After all, he says, in the Middle Ages many German towns had a mixed German-Slavic population. The commentary asks, "Why should this be impossible in the 21st century?"


In "Eurasia View," Sergei Blagov looks at Uzbek President Islam Karimov's current visit to the U.S. (11-15 March), aimed at expanding bilateral economic cooperation. He says that in order to pave the way for more economic assistance ahead of his U.S. visit, Karimov "made several prominent moves to help blunt criticism of Uzbekistan's rights record. On 5 March, the government registered the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan (IHROU). [Also,] in a landmark legal ruling, four law enforcement officers were convicted in connection with the torture death of a suspected Islamic radical activist while in custody."

But Blagov notes that "critics question the sincerity of Uzbekistan's commitment to adhering to international rights standards, and are calling for an intensification of pressure on Karimov." He notes that many observers believe the actions "are not indicative of a new-found commitment to upholding basic rights. Rather, they say, the IHROU's registration and the police convictions are aimed solely at swaying international opinion."

But Blagov says such criticism "does not appear capable of influencing Bush administration policy towards Uzbekistan, which has emerged as a crucial component of the U.S.-led antiterrorism alliance." He says while human rights groups are urging President Bush to pressure Karimov on upholding human rights, the Bush administration "has repeatedly indicated that strategic security concerns now outweigh all other factors in the formulation of foreign policy."


In a commentary in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Gareth Evans of the International Crisis Group discusses the donors conference on Macedonia hosted by the World Bank and EU, which takes place today in Brussels. The donors conference is seeking to raise close to 250 million euros, a sum Evans says Macedonia's leaders deserve in order to rebuild and implement the reforms agreed last August at Ohrid, when ethnic Albanian insurgents agreed to disarm in exchange for greater constitutional representation.

But Evans says the risk is that donors will award this sum while "overlooking the country's endemic and deeply troubling corruption," which he says "threatens the viability of the state." Macedonian media "are replete with detailed, credible allegations [of] corrupt practices affecting virtually every sector of the economy," he writes. "Demoralized citizens see corruption as a way of life that the international community tolerates for the sake of political compliance."

Evans says Macedonia "cannot fix this problem alone. Only an outside catalyst -- demonstrating international commitment -- can ignite the belief that change is possible." He suggests that the donors and the government ask the European Commission to send an anticorruption adviser to Macedonia.

"Raising the profile and effectiveness of the fight against corruption could reorient politics away from a zero-sum tussle over resources and ethnic rights into a joint struggle against a common opponent. Macedonia's people, on both sides of the ethnic divide, deserve no less."


An article in today's "Le Monde" discusses the speech given by U.S. President Bush yesterday at the White House, on the six-month anniversary of the 11 September attacks. "Le Monde" says Bush used the opportunity to announce a new phase in the war against terrorism, pledging not to allow Al-Qaeda members any refuge and to track them down wherever they may be found.

The paper says today, America's "Operation Anaconda" in Afghanistan continued with less intensity. The campaign begun in Afghanistan appears to be in the process of winding down, says the paper, although Bush is insisting on a continuation of the fight through military and material assistance supplied to the governments of the Philippines, Georgia, and Yemen, as part of the plan to actively prepare other nations for upcoming antiterrorism battles. "Le Monde" notes that Bush also discussed his concerns regarding the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, although it says the U.S. president avoided mention of his now-notorious "axis of evil" comprising Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.

"Le Monde" says that meanwhile, Vice President Cheney was in London, attempting to calm U.S. allies over the possible use of nuclear weapons against Iraq, in light of the U.S. "Nuclear Policy Review" leaked to the press over the weekend. The paper cites Cheney as saying that to imagine that the U.S. has plans for a multilateral nuclear attack is a little "exaggerated."


A "Financial Times" editorial also looks at the latest multilateral diplomatic efforts of the U.S. The paper says the second phase of the antiterrorism campaign will be "more sensitive diplomatically." It says European pledges of support were forthcoming yesterday, but "maintaining the cohesion of the alliance in an area as divided and conflict-torn as the Middle East is going to be critical to its success. [Bush] and his team must demonstrate that they are prepared to put just as much effort into bringing peace to the ever-bloodier Israeli-Palestinian conflict as they are in seeking to oust the regime of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad."

The paper says that these two conflicts cannot be separated and a solution must be found to both. It suggests that the U.S. and the UN Security Council "must agree to the exact terms of the demands to be made on Iraq." The "other essential focus" of U.S. policy in the Middle East must then be "to restrain Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister. His pursuit of a purely military strategy to put down the Palestinian intifada has allowed the conflict to spiral out of control."

The U.S., "the only power that has leverage over Israel, has resisted Arab -- and European -- appeals to put pressure on the Israeli government." What is perceived as unconditional U.S. support for Israel fuels anti-American sentiment, it says. That is why Middle East peace "is an essential part of the process of stopping weapons proliferation and curbing terrorism," the editorial concludes.

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