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Western Press Review: Tumult In German-U.S. Relations, EU Reform, And Modernizing NATO

Prague, 24 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Discussion in the Western media today continues to focus largely on the outcome of the 22 September elections in Germany, in which German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's party and its ally narrowly beat out a conservative challenge led by Edmund Stoiber. Schroeder's Social Democrats now continue in a power-sharing coalition with the Green Party of Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. Other analysis looks at German-U.S. relations in the wake of Schroeder's re-election, modernizing NATO, and the possibility of a U.S.-led military attack on Iraq.


An analysis in "The Times" of Britain says the European Union has launched several "momentous initiatives" in the past year, including EU enlargement, a constitutional convention, economic reform, and an overhaul of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). But these moves have been stalled by first the French and then the German election campaigns.

Now that Germany's election is over, the paper says the EU is free once again to pursue these objectives. However, the narrow victory of the Social Democrats-Green Party might suggest that "Germany may not be able to provide vigorous leadership" on EU initiatives. Moreover, the persistent differences between the two newly re-elected French and German leaders, Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder, "may impede progress" on these issues.

"The Times" says the result of Europe's recent elections is thus likely to be "'more of the same' for the European Union. The EU's constitutional arrangements would remain familiar while its boundaries would extend further. Neither industry nor agriculture [is] set for a revolution." The paper says while this situation is better than no progress at all, it is "far from an ideal outcome."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says that after much speculation over NATO's role in a post-Cold War world, the U.S. is now supporting an overhaul of the alliance to make it relevant to new global security needs. The paper says at the meeting today of NATO ministers in Warsaw, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "will unveil provocative new ideas to hasten the alliance's move into the 21st century."

The U.S. wants a NATO rapid-reaction force to be able to deploy up to 20,000 soldiers within a week to anywhere in the world. The paper says this aim "makes military sense and represents an imaginative solution" to advancing the alliance's current troop structure into the "state-of-the-art, light, flexible and easily moveable forces" that are needed today.

A partnership between the U.S. and Europe "on a new venture to defend each other against common threats serves everyone's interests," says the editorial. Washington's new proposals for revitalizing NATO indicate that the U.S. is now "serious about giving the alliance an important role again." But it says the question is now whether Europe will "respond by getting serious about military modernization and backing these reforms." NATO, it says, "may be back in business."


Stefan Ulrich in "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" examines German-U.S. relations following Germany's elections, which saw the Social Democratic-Greens coalition headed by Chancellor Schroeder win by a narrow margin.

During the heated campaign, Schroeder's resolute anti-American stance stemmed from the German public's opposition to a U.S.-led campaign in Iraq. But Schroeder's position has caused considerable friction in Germany's relations with the U.S. Ulrich says this friction cannot merely be dismissed as part of Schroeder's campaign rhetoric.

Ulrich says repairing the diplomatic damage will take time, and Schroeder will have to pay dearly for his stance. He predicts that U.S. President George W. Bush's policy will emerge stronger and will ultimately weaken his critics in Germany and in Europe. Germany will have to pay a political price to again ingratiate itself to the United States, perhaps by softening its objections to American policy on such issues as the International Criminal Court. Perhaps Bush will ask for more German soldiers to be deployed to Afghanistan or to the Balkans, in order to free up the Americans to deal instead with Baghdad.

Germany's image has severely suffered through its election campaign, says Ulrich. It has gone from "an exemplary European nation to a country of national egoists," he says, adding that this recent spat has inflicted the most damage to Germany itself.


A Stratfor (Strategic Forecasting) commentary says the outcome of Germany's heated election campaign may have left the government in a weaker position both at home and abroad.

Schroeder's faltering campaign received a boost in the polls when he began vehemently opposing the idea of a U.S.-led military intervention in Iraq. Stratfor says Schroeder must now "move quickly" to repair the damage this stance has done to German-U.S. relations, without seeming to go back on the strong opposition to U.S. military plans that helped him win re-election. Germany may now have to tread lightly on this issue, thus finding itself "marginalized in the dominant issue of the next year."

Germany's election also saw the ruling coalition's majority in the Bundestag -- parliament's lower house -- fall from 21 seats to nine, while it remains a minority in the upper house (Bundesrat). The potential here for "legislative gridlock" may make it difficult for the government to address Germany's pressing economic problems. Stratfor says Germany's influence "traditionally has rested on two pillars: Berlin's tight relationship with Washington and the country's role as the economic powerhouse of Europe. But Schroeder's election strategy damaged the first pillar," and parliament's postelection composition "doesn't bode well" for an improved German economy either.


Israel's recent siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Ramallah compound is the subject of an editorial in the Swiss daily "Neue Zuercher Zeitung." Israeli troops surrounded the compound six days ago and demanded the surrender of militants alleged to be inside. Israeli troops destroyed the Palestinian Authority buildings around Arafat's headquarters in the days that followed, only stopping two days ago in apparent response to international protests. The paper comments that the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is obsessed with cornering the Palestinian leader, whom Sharon himself has labeled "irrelevant." And yet Sharon is bent on labeling this "irrelevant" leader as responsible for all the misery in Israel and Palestine. This stance would be more credible, the paper says, "if Sharon proposed a solution to the problem." Although Sharon has mentioned the possibility of a "painful compromise" with the Palestinians, he has thus far not clarified what a concrete solution might entail.

Sharon's public support is actually based on Arafat's opportunistic tolerance of Palestinian extremist suicide bombers. "Yet," says the paper, Sharon's "one-dimensional concept of counter force" probably will not achieve anything. Sharon will only be in political trouble if the Palestinians desist from terror. As long as this is not the case, Sharon is free to pursue his policy toward the Palestinians -- with armored cars and bulldozers -- and shelve all efforts at a fair political solution.


In France's daily "Liberation," Patrick Sabatier says the victory of German Chancellor Schroeder's "red-green" coalition after a campaign set firmly against a possible U.S. military action in Iraq has demonstrated the possible anti-Bush bent of Germany's next government. But Schroeder has also made clear that he might amend his stance on this issue if the threat posed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is clearly demonstrated. Sabatier says this position, ultimately, is similar to that adopted by French President Chirac. Both leaders want the United States to furnish proof of the imminence of any Iraqi threat and seek approval from the United Nations Security Council.

This new Germany may not prove an easy partner for Washington, says Sabatier. Its weight on the international scene -- represented by the 10,000 members of the German army deployed in the Balkans and Afghanistan, goes hand-in-hand with the assertion of what are clearly national interests. This, he says, is a radical departure from the usual behavior of Germany since 1945, during which time it was an invariable, unconditional, and loyal ally of Washington.

Sabatier says Germany may be setting an example that could provide Europe with an opportunity to make its voice heard on the issues of the world, as it so desperately seeks to do. Berlin and Paris, he says, should seize this chance to catch up on lost time.


In the "Financial Times," Michael Quinlan, formerly of the British Defence Ministry and now of the London-based Centre for Defence Studies, says the U.S. administration's decision to involve the United Nations in any military plans it has for Iraq has halted "the rush towards a unilateral, regime-changing invasion." But "hard choices still lie ahead," he says. "No one knows how a war and its aftermath might go."

Iraq's "flagrant breach" of treaty commitments and UN resolutions has inflicted "a savage wound" on international law and order. "That is the key reason for action," he says, "and it imposes both a special responsibility upon the Security Council and a parallel constraint upon the U.S. It would be bizarre to uphold UN authority by action that dispensed with that authority."

Quinlan says the main aim "should be to demonstrate to everyone that breaking treaties and defying the Security Council 'has consequences,' in the Bush phrase." But he adds that the options should not be narrowed to only the "neo-conservative option. Punishment can still hurt even if the regime is not toppled and even if we are not sure that weapons of mass destruction have completely gone -- deterrents could deal with that."

Quinlan concludes that, "given the costs and risks of invasion," other options should remain on the table.

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