Prague, 29 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Several commentaries in the Western press today focus on the future of NATO, in light of the new NATO-Russia cooperation agreement signed yesterday outside of Rome. The new partners will discuss matters of common concern such as security and take part in debate as equals. However, NATO members will retain the power to make decisions without Russian approval in the event of a disagreement with Moscow. Other discussion today continues to focus on tensions between India and Pakistan as well as in the Middle East, and the new U.S. military presence in Georgia.
An editorial in Britain's "The Guardian" daily says that yesterday's agreement between NATO and Russia is something of a facade -- the two make "hollow partners," it says. NATO's original purpose was not merely to deter the Soviet Union from making military advances on the West, says the editorial -- the alliance was also necessary to keep the United States engaged in Europe while "anchoring" Germany. The allies' World War II enemy needed to be yoked to a new partnership and "tied down," as the paper puts it.
"The Guardian" says that today, it is a different country that needs "anchoring." Yesterday's agreement has bound Russia to the West in a way comparable to what was done to postwar Germany. "Western leaders hope they have offered their old enemy enough trappings of partnership to keep it under control," the editorial observes. "Even in its heyday NATO was as much illusion as substance, but yesterday's event took artificiality to a higher plane."
The paper calls it "sad" that NATO "should go along with this dangerous nonsense." It says the alliance "would do better to check if 'global terrorism' really exists and whether there are not other, more intelligent and effective ways to handle disparate groups of desperate men than modernizing an arsenal of high-tech weaponry left over from a long-gone confrontation on the plains of Central Europe."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
Klaus Dieter Frankenberger in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" looks -- like many other commentators today -- at the implications of yesterday's signing of a declaration creating the new NATO-Russia Council giving Moscow a voice on some NATO security issues. The commentary views this step as establishing "a role for Russia in key institutions of the Atlantic community. It will no longer play the role of the difficult, mistrustful, and mistrusted outsider."
However, Frankenberger also expresses some doubts about Europe's future security: "Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the question of the alliance's meaning and purpose has been constantly posed, but never really answered." This insecurity is related to Europe's military deficiencies, which cannot be concealed, he says, adding that Europeans worry that Washington intends to knock down old geographic limits to military and security operations. It seems that now that the biggest threat is cross-border terrorism and gangsters aiming to procure weapons of mass destruction.
Frankenberger predicts: "If NATO is to extend one day all the way to the Black Sea, and if the heartland of the former Soviet Union is to be Washington's favored ally, then no matter what anyone wants, NATO is fated to become a pan-European security organization with military muscle -- sort of like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe with armed forces."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
In "The New York Times," columnist Thomas Friedman says Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is unwittingly undermining the chances for a Palestinian state. His intifada was lacking in clearly defined goals, Friedman writes, and Arafat, "instead of developing them, was just surfing on his people's anger and trying to direct it away from his own misrule." But this time, Arafat "has really hurt the Palestinian cause, and Palestinians know it."
Friedman says by allowing the suicide bombings to continue, Arafat has triggered an Israeli retaliation that has destroyed the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, and Bethlehem. By not doing enough to curb the violence, Arafat has also seriously damaged Palestinian ties with the U.S.
Friedman writes: "[This] Suicide War has badly alienated the only party that can deliver the Palestinians a state -- the Israeli silent majority. The whole history of the peace process can be reduced to one simple point: If the Palestinians persuade the Israeli center that they are ready to live side by side in peace, they will get a state; if they don't, they won't. Everything else," he says, "is just commentary."
In "Eurasia View," journalist Mark Berniker discusses some of the complications of the U.S. military involvement in Georgia that began this week. Officially, says Berniker, the U.S. has sent soldiers to Georgia "to solidify regional security in the war against terrorism, and to ensure a safe route for Russian and Central Asian oil and gas bound for Western markets." But he notes that a 22 May U.S. State Department report criticized Georgia for failing to sufficiently secure the Pankisi Gorge and other areas, allowing mujahedin movements to use the country as a conduit for terrorist activities.
Russia also claims to have an interest in antiterrorist operations in Georgia. Russian interest in the region -- whether as a safe haven for Chechen militants or a gateway to Central Asian markets -- figures to consistently affect American policy. If Russia uses allegations that fighters with ties to the Chechen conflict are holed up in Pankisi Gorge to justify pursuing its Chechen campaign within Georgia -- and if the United States "prepares to make the Vaziani base a platform for future action against Iraq -- upheaval in and around Georgia could worsen," he says.
Removing the foreign mujahedin and Chechen rebels from Pankisi Gorge would serve both Russian and American interests, says Berniker. But with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's credibility "damaged by recent reports, it is unclear how Georgian forces can manage such a task."
An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says that in many EU countries in the past year, populist politicians have promoted fears of a foreign infiltration. On this issue, it says, French, German, and other EU leaders are agreed that this is an urgent topic that should be raised at the forthcoming EU summit in Seville. It is not just a question of stricter border controls, says the paper -- a permanent plan must be implemented on how Europe is to deal with people beyond its borders.
The paper says this means coming to terms with three issues. There are those who oppose any kind of immigration, for any reason. Secondly, the aging of the European population will render nations unable to sustain themselves without an influx of younger, skilled workers. And third, the paper says there is a moral duty to help people who have been persecuted -- it is the duty of a continent where in the past millions from overseas found asylum.
The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says one must bear in mind that if no attempts are made to solve the problem, a political vacuum will be created that will eventually be filled by extremists.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Nanzan University international relations Professor Robyn Lim discusses some of the global consequences of a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan. She says the consequences would be keenly felt in East Asia, which Lim calls "a potentially volatile part of the world where the interests of all the great powers intersect."
She says the Al-Qaeda terrorist network seeks to provoke an India-Pakistan war "to deflect Pakistan's attention from the Afghan border areas, where the United States needs Pakistan's cooperation to defeat Al-Qaeda remnants."
Concurrently, India is demanding that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf "do what he cannot do -- prevent further attacks by Islamic militants." More terrorist outrages may "provoke India into a counterstrike against the jihad camps in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. That could easily get out of hand," says Lim. She says Pakistan might use nuclear arms first "if it thought its national survival was at stake."
Lim goes on to say that a nuclear exchange would not only be a humanitarian disaster, it would have geostrategic consequences around the world. America, she says, now "even more convinced that the world is dangerous," might want to disengage "and shelter behind their ocean moat and missile defenses." Lim says Japan would then "be forced to look after its own security. This would alarm China and inflame East Asian tensions just when stability is most needed to buttress economic growth."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
An editorial in "The Washington Post" today discusses the perception that the U.S. and Europe are experiencing "a growing divergence of policies and interests." It says even as NATO sealed a new accord with Russia yesterday in Rome, the alliance "was being declared dead by politicians and commentators who fault Europeans for failing to contribute sufficiently to its military means, and fault Americans for failing to enthusiastically include Europe in the Afghanistan campaign."
Many Europeans and Americans have a sense "that basic political bonds have slipped" -- that between the U.S. administration's rejection of several international treaties strongly supported by the Europeans, and Europeans' "reluctance to support aggressive action against Iraq and other members of Mr. Bush's axis of evil," the Cold War and NATO allies are headed unavoidably toward a split.
But the editorial goes on to say there are other signs that the EU and the U.S. are not on divergent paths. The most notable of these is NATO enlargement. Up to seven countries will receive invitations to join the alliance in November. The "Post" says expansion "will help preserve the U.S.-European relationship in two vital ways: by modernizing the alliance so that [it] transcends the former Cold War divide between East and West; and by ensuring that the United States will retain a formal and institutionalized place in guaranteeing the security of that more integrated continent."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)