Prague, 14 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary and analysis today looks at the Saudi-Russian struggle for dominance on the world energy market; U.S. nuclear strategy in the wake of the Pentagon's "Nuclear Posture Review"; and the Middle East, as U.S. special envoy Anthony Zinni arrives in the region in an attempt to broker a cease-fire. Other discussion centers on NATO expansion and European Union issues ahead of the EU summit in Barcelona this weekend.
THE WASHINGTON POST:
An editorial in "The Washington Post" says recent reports about the U.S. administration's review of its nuclear-weapons strategy "have tended to obscure the fact that much of what the administration laid out in the congressionally mandated report is not new." It says that for more than a decade, the United States "has sought to deter rogue states from using weapons of mass destruction by publicly suggesting that it might respond with a nuclear strike." The paper remarks that this policy has been largely successful.
But the editorial goes on to say that one aspect of the report, expressing the administration's plan to develop designs for smaller, more targeted nuclear weapons "is troubling." It warns that the presence of such weapons in the U.S. arsenal "could dangerously lower the threshold for launching a nuclear attack, while inviting a new arms race among existing and aspiring nuclear powers."
The editorial concludes by saying the U.S. administration "is right to focus more of its strategic planning on deterring rogue states, but developing new nuclear weapons for that threat is neither necessary nor sensible."
In the March-April edition of "Foreign Affairs," Edward Morse of the Hess Energy Trading Company and James Richard of the Firebird Management investment fund say Russia and Saudi Arabia -- the world's two largest oil exporters -- are battling each other for dominance on the global energy market.
Morse and Richard say this battle "will have fundamental consequences for the world's economy, U.S. energy security, Russia's global role, the future relevance of Saudi Arabia and the clout of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)."
In the past two years, Russia has "quietly but persistently" increased its oil output by nearly half a million barrels a day, say the authors. OPEC, correspondingly, had to decrease its own output to stave off a price collapse as world oil demand stagnated.
"Russia [can] easily continue to increase oil output at this rate for years to come." And OPEC "has not welcomed Russia's gain at the cartel's expense," they write. Moscow's actions may be seen as "an attempt to grab power in the global arena." Russia's petroleum revival "has also coincided with the terrorist attacks of September 11, which have provided Moscow a chance to displace OPEC as the key energy supplier to the West."
The authors go on to suggest that Saudi Arabia may eventually use its significant spare capacity to displace and undermine Russian exports if Moscow continues to challenge its market share.
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
In Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Erik-Michael Bader discusses the UN Security Council resolution passed on 12 March on the Middle East conflict. Bader says the resolution "represents progress in forming an international approach to a conflict that for a time was left up to the conflicting parties alone, with dire consequences."
He writes: "Although it does not constitute concessions on behalf of the other side, the sharply worded call from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for Israel to end its 'illegal occupation' of Palestinian territories and the resolution's naming a Palestinian state as its final objective could give the Palestinians sufficient political perspectives for their leadership under Yasser Arafat to take decisive action against Palestinian violence." But Bader says that in practical terms, the effect "is likely to be limited, because the Israeli strikes have considerably weakened [the Palestinians'] instruments of power and because a hard core of terrorists will remain unimpressed by any political perspective."
Bader says the task facing U.S. negotiators "will be to persuade Israel to honor an imperfect promise of peace from the Palestinians by refraining from violent action." He says this would pave the way for further progress.
Bader concludes by saying the creation of a Palestinian state "is self-evident, and the conflict cannot be resolved without its realization."
THE WASHINGTON TIMES:
In "The Washington Times," former U.S. assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs Franklin Kramer discusses the need to adapt NATO to better suit the world's changing security situation. Noting recent debate over NATO's "relevance" in the post-Cold War world, Kramer writes: "With the right leadership on both sides of the Atlantic, NATO can create at its upcoming fall summit in Prague a critical security framework for the 21st century."
But doing so, he says, requires an honest assessment of the alliance. He says there is a "real and growing capabilities gap" between Europe and America, and that Europe's unwillingness to counter it with an increase in defense spending has created "an enormous conundrum for NATO." He calls the alliance "a brilliant institution" that provides "a common defense for the European continent. Military rivalries are submerged; stability is enhanced." He adds: "If an effective working relationship can be developed with Russia, [the] Continent will have a common security system for the first time in history."
But first, Kramer says, NATO's "old habits and structures" will have to change. NATO must upgrade its military capabilities and work to bring Russia into a common military-command structure. The alliance must also seek to enhance U.S.-EU military inter-operation. Ultimately, he concludes, NATO's continued success requires adapting to new challenges.
In the U.S.-based "Business Week" magazine, John Rossant writes that it is "a sad reality" that apprehension about EU expansion "is mounting on both sides of the former Iron Curtain. Leaders in Europe -- East and West -- badly need to rekindle enthusiasm for this monumental project," he says.
Rossant describes EU enlargement as "not just about a bigger, better common market. It's about the historic reunification of Europe after centuries of often bloody estrangement. If expansion stalls," he says, "Eastern Europe's transformation into a peaceful and democratic free-market economy could stall as well."
But given the East-West division over issues such as agricultural subsidies and labor migration, Rossant says "delays are now likely." He warns that this could leave the 12 candidate countries "in a dangerous political and economic limbo. Hard-line nationalist groupings suspicious of Brussels are gaining support," he writes. "Sadly, a falloff in enthusiasm for enlargement is also visible in the EU itself" in places such as Germany.
Rossant says there are no easy ways to speed up the enlargement process. "The [European Commission] and applicant countries must still hash out a host of thorny issues -- such as regional aid, tax breaks, and rules on land ownership -- by the end of the year in order to make the 2004 deadline [for enlargement]." He says European politicians "need to start convincing increasingly doubtful voters that the advantages of enlargement are worth the cost."
"America is Serious about the Middle East," declares Alan Posener in a commentary in "Die Welt." He says U.S. President George W. Bush has again succeeded in "dumbfounding" all those who have accused the president of being an "incorrigible unilateralist."
But Posener also suggests the U.S. agreement to the 12 March UN Security Council resolution "affirming a vision" of a Palestinian state alongside Israel only reiterates what has already been said by Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on various occasions. What is remarkable about this new resolution, he says, is "the vision of a region in which two states -- Israel and Palestine -- live within secure and recognized boundaries." This, in Posener's words, "may be the keystone in a comprehensive solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict."
In the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Jochen Siemens views a resolution of the Middle East conflict in a broader context. Siemens describes the ever-escalating violence and tragic losses on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides, and says it seems "death and destruction" are again forcing both parties to consider a political solution. Siemens says that an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- which he says in fact bears all the characteristics of an outright war -- is an imperative precondition for successfully combating terrorism. He says that securing peace in the Middle East leads one closer to this goal than does an attack on Iraq's Saddam Hussein.
In France's daily "Liberation," columnist Jacques Amalric says that the U.S. overtures this week toward brokering a cease-fire in the Mideast are finally imparting a "small ray of hope" to the region. Amalric says little by little, the Bush administration has departed from the role of "indifferent spectator" to which it had limited itself as the region careens toward "the abyss." The UN Security Council resolution passed Tuesday embodies this transformation, he says, in recognizing the necessity of a Palestinian state as well as reinvolving the UN. But he says perhaps more importantly, the resolution text departs categorically from the policies of Ariel Sharon.
But Amalric warns against raising expectations too high. The UN resolution will not be enough to put an end to the violence, he says. And he notes that cynics view the American change of heart as merely a conciliatory gesture toward Arab nations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia in order to win their support for a possible U.S.-led military operation in Iraq. Amalric says it remains to be seen whether the visit of U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni, which begins today, will end in simple appeals to the two parties or in "precise and practical" proposals for an end to the conflict.
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this press review.)