Prague, 13 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western media commentary today continues to focus on the perceived U.S. policy shift on the use of nuclear weapons, as outlined in a secret Pentagon report titled "Nuclear Posture Review" whose contents were published recently in "The Los Angeles Times." Several commentators condemn the report for "lowering the nuclear threshold," while others suggest the report does not herald much of a policy change at all.
Other attention is turned to the Middle East, as Israeli raids into Ramallah and the West Bank continue in what some are calling the largest Israeli military operation in more than three decades. Also discussed are the dubious outcome of presidential elections in Zimbabwe, transatlantic differences in perception, and the European Union's recently appointed envoy to Bosnia, Paddy Ashdown.
An editorial in "The Irish Times" says the Pentagon's "Nuclear Posture Review" has introduced a "deeply disturbing element" into the debate over how to prosecute a war on terrorism. The paper notes that the review "makes two major changes to the contingencies in which U.S. nuclear weapons might be used. While previously they would be deployed only against a nuclear-armed state or a state in a nuclear alliance, there is now provision to use them against non-nuclear states, even if they have signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty."
A second shift is that the review discusses the option of developing new nuclear weapons for use against targeted states. The paper says both changes "lower the nuclear threshold and blur the categorical distinction between conventional and nuclear weapons that has stabilized international relations by giving potential nuclear states an incentive not to develop them."
The paper says these developments "herald a much more uncertain and dangerous world." The means of reducing the risks from terrorism and weapons of mass destruction are highly contested, it observes, suggesting that "a joint approach" is the best way to face up to any potential threat.
The paper notes that the U.S. administration has focused on Iraq due to its alleged development of such weapons. But it says there is already "a well-established procedure to process weapons inspections in Iraq through the [UN] Security Council. That is the only acceptable way to deal with the matter."
An editorial in "The Times" of Britain looks at the expected arrival tomorrow of U.S. special envoy Anthony Zinni in the Middle East. The paper calls his return to the region to attempt to broker a cease-fire a "notable shift" in U.S. policy. The editorial says the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has displayed what it calls "extreme reluctance" to become diplomatically engaged in the Middle East.
"This caution has flowed from the sense that the United States could not either 'make' or 'broker' a peace that the parties concerned did not care for. This skepticism was legitimate but conditions [have] deteriorated to the point of undeclared war," says the paper.
"The Times" goes on to say that Zinni's task is "extraordinarily difficult" but not impossible. It says the "low expectations could well count in his favor. If Mr. Zinni can persuade all the key actors in the region that his presence is not a passing phase but a permanent feature of local politics, then he will have achieved something. And if he sets his sights at a suitably modest target -- a much-reduced level of violence and the resumption of discussions on less contentious questions -- then he could make progress." But the paper adds, "Even this limited agenda [will] prove demanding enough and could easily be interrupted by terrorist atrocities."
In the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Bernhard Kueppers looks at the career of Paddy Ashdown, Britain's former Liberal Democrat leader who is the first Western politician due to appear as a witness at The Hague war crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
European Union foreign ministers recently named Ashdown as the bloc's envoy to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Kueppers says Ashdown's task will be far from easy, with respect to the first Bosnian elections scheduled for October -- especially in the face of growing tension between Bosnian Serbs and Croats. In addition, he says that despite international assistance in rebuilding the country's infrastructure, "it can hardly be said that the tragic state of the economy is experiencing an upswing."
Kueppers concludes that Ashdown's task might be made easier if, before he takes up his new office, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and military commander General Ratko Mladic are captured and brought before The Hague tribunal.
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger looks at the skepticism that is beginning to crop up regarding the policies of the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush. He says that in Europe and elsewhere there is "clear mistrust of the president, his policies are increasingly thought to lack insight, predictability and rationality, [and] the United States is suspected of striving for global hegemony."
As a result, he says, "political divisions seem to be taking the place of political unity." The post-11 September promise of "unlimited solidarity" with the U.S. that came from Germany is "fast approaching its limits," he writes.
Frankenberger says the U.S. president will have to question whether he can dismiss those who caution that attacking Iraq will "spell disaster for the Middle East, [or] whether he can continue to shrug off the already widespread anti-American sentiment.... [If] the roots of terrorism in the Middle East have to do [with] the impression of being disrespected and marginalized, then [any] attempt today to topple by military force Saddam Hussein's regime would provide dangerous new fuel for further anti-American outbursts," says Frankenberger, adding "as if there were not enough grievances already due to the awful situation of the Palestinians."
He concludes by saying that although unilateralism as a policy "offers the advantage of maximum freedom of action, it has its price -- a price that may be measured in mistrust, animosity and the formation of open or veiled opposition."
An editorial in the British daily "The Independent" looks at the victory, announced today, of incumbent Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe's presidential election. The election has been widely condemned internationally amid allegations of voter intimidation and of the beating of opposition members and supporters, as well as the obstruction of election observers. The editorial says this situation "should not be allowed to persist without some serious objection." But it says Mugabe "is used to the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom raising objections to his conduct, and he views such condemnations as an occupational hazard and with a certain degree of equanimity."
However, the editorial says, "There is one voice that Mr. Mugabe does have to listen to: that of his powerful southern neighbor, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa." It calls on the South African leader to raise his objections to the election. South Africa is a regional superpower and "has, in effect, bankrolled the Mugabe regime," it says. A denunciation of Mugabe by South Africa's Mbeke would "carry enormous weight and would represent a serious embarrassment for the Zimbabwean leader."
The paper says one main reason Mbeke should raise his voice is that it is the very values "of democracy, ideals that South Africa's ruling ANC fought for so long to secure, that are being abused in Zimbabwe."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
In "The New York Times," Serge Schmemann says as soon as the announcement was made that U.S. special envoy Anthony Zinni was being sent back to promote peace in the Middle East, "as if on signal, the scale of the battle swelled and spread to a whole new dimension, culminating with the invasion of Ramallah [yesterday] by an armada of tanks [and] elite forces. At the same time, Palestinian gunmen and suicide bombers seemed to appear everywhere. Many were intercepted, but those who were not struck hard," he writes. "Such is the brutal logic of the conflict, that once a date was set for the new peace effort, there was certain to be an operation that had to be finished, scores to settle, [and] domestic audiences to satisfy before guns could be stilled."
Schmemann says that unless Zinni arrives "with some evidence that the United States [intends] to promote serious negotiations," his visit will alter little. But Schmemann says the word from Washington, as many suspected, "was that [Zinni] was carrying nothing beyond the Bush administration's desire to keep the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from interfering with business elsewhere -- notably in Iraq."
Schmemann says if the Israelis and Palestinians welcomed Zinni's visit "by launching the worst violence in their 17-month death struggle," the history and logic of their conflict offers little hope that it will end with anything but more blood.
The French daily "Le Monde's" main editorial today also looks at the Pentagon's "Nuclear Posture Review," released in early January to the White House and Congress and leaked to the press earlier this week. It says the suggestions contained in the study betray "a state gripped by panic; not a power that is conscious of its responsibilities."
"Le Monde" says the report advises the development of what the paper calls "miniaturized nuclear weapons" that can limit "collateral damages" and that are capable of drilling into subterranean bunkers where a state may have hidden weapons of mass destruction. The report even names states on which these may be used: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, North Korea, and, finally, China and Russia.
"Le Monde" writes: "What is suggested here is a complete overturning of the American nuclear doctrine. [It] radically demolishes the principle of atomic nonproliferation. Why sign or remain a signatory to a treaty which, in exchange for a renunciation of the ultimate weapon, no longer guarantees that they will not be used against you?" the paper asks.
It adds that by suggesting that it may use nuclear arms in a "first strike," the U.S. "normalizes" the idea of using a weapon that was meant to be a deterrent. The editorial concludes that the unique nature of nuclear weapons is thus denied -- and, as a result, nuclear proliferation is encouraged.
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)