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Poland Needs Security and Ballistic Missile Defense

Interview with Minister of Foreign Affairs Witold Waszczykowski

Poland's Minister of Foreign Affairs Witold Waszczykowski

Published: January 1, 2016


Russia tests NATO defense systems, identifies their locations, and monitors how capable defense systems of NATO member states are. The question is whether Russia plans to attack, or whether it just enjoys provoking NATO and some of its member states. An answer to this question is critical.


What are the priorities of the Polish diplomacy for the year 2016?

First and foremost, it is Poland’s security, which has been seriously affected by the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Therefore, the priority is to increase security level to the same one that Western Europe currently has. The lives of Polish people are equally important as the lives of Germans, Spanish and other European citizens.


Ben Hodges, commanding general of U.S. army in Europe, named Poland’s Przesmyk Suwalski as Europe’s most likely boiling point after Donbass. Are his fears justified?

These are the subjects of analytical discussions among civil and military international security experts, as well as subjects of internal discussion within the Polish government. The problem of Przesmyk Suwalski is consistently discussed and must be a subject of discussions and decisions due to be made by NATO in both February and July next year, when the NATO summit in Warsaw takes place.


What does the Polish MSZ (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) expect the NATO decisions to be?

The MSZ expects NATO to place its defense forces in Poland as well as in other new NATO member states. It is also expected that NATO withdraws from any further implementation of declarations made to Russia in 1997, whereby NATO would not deploy significant forces or defense systems to the territories of its new member states. Those declarations were of political nature and were not finalized with legally binding agreements, and they were made in totally different international environment than the present one. Indeed, the NATO forces in Poland do not have to be numerous enough to be considered “significant,” just numerous enough to provide security and prove that Polish people’s safety is treated by NATO as equal to that of the Western states.


Is it right to assume that Poland is treated less favorably than other NATO members?

We have been aware of such state of affairs for a number of years. What is more, even western politicians confirmed that. For example late American diplomat Ron Asmus, when interviewed by a Polish newspaper in 2009, stated that “Poland joined NATO in 1999 as a second-class member.” Thus, Poland as a political member received verbal guarantees of safety, but those guarantees were not supported with the actual presence of NATO forces on Polish territories. Such agreement caused some of Poland’s external partners to doubt whether Poland was indeed enjoying the same NATO status as the Western member states.


It is hard to imagine that, e.g. Germany, which has been against NATO forces in Poland for years, and which maintains its close relation with Russia, would suddenly relent to demands of the eastern NATO member states. Is there a chance that Germany might change its stand?

Yes, there is. During Poland’s talks with Germany, it has been explained that the increase of security levels in Central-Eastern Europe to those of Western Europe is not a provocation towards Russia, which was Germany’s position. It is, in fact, the other way round – the lack of security provokes attack. It might provoke Russia to test NATO credibility and result in Russian military intervention in Central and Eastern Europe. Such interventions have already taken place, for instance the abduction of the Estonian officer during the NATO summit in Wales, or Russian aircrafts patrolling the airspace above Baltic States, or Russian submarines crossing the Baltic to reach as far as Great Britain. These are not just military drills, but a way to test NATO defense systems, since those systems (for example radars and anti-aircraft systems) react each time such situation occurs. Therefore, Russia has a chance to check how NATO defense systems react, to identify their locations, and to monitor how capable those defense systems of NATO member states are of reacting to Russian operations. The question is whether Russia intends to go ahead with the attack, or whether it just enjoys provoking NATO and some of its member states. We need an answer to this question.


So far, Russia, when sending its aircrafts to patrol the airspace above the Baltic States, has not been confronted with a firm response from NATO. The Turkish reaction on November 24 couldn’t be more different – Turkey firmly demonstrated to Moscow that it would not tolerate their borders being “tested” and simply shot the Russian aircraft down.

In fact, Turkey, which previously warned Russia not to illegally surveil its airspace, was the only NATO state that responded in such a determined manner to Russian aggression. Russia has been active over the airspace of Eastern Europe’s states, despite it being regularly patrolled by the NATO Air Policing Forces, including forces from Poland. While testing the NATO member states’ defense systems, Russia was not confronted with a response as firm as the Turkish one. Eastern Europe was visibly less defiant about its borders, whereas Turkey did not allow it.


Recently, there have been some speculations in the media about a possible treaty among Poland, Ukraine, Romania and Turkey, the so-called expanded intermarium treaty. Considering the escalating conflict between Ankara and Moscow, would Turkey be interested in uniting with Eastern European states?

Both Poland and Turkey, as well as Romania, are members of NATO, and so far there are no plans to join a separate treaty to ensure security of the region. However, additional treaties, exchange of intelligence, and joint military drills among these countries are of course desirable, due to the danger the Eastern Europe is facing, which is quite different to hazards Western Europe has to deal with. This is the reason why NATO mission and its presence in this region differ significantly from what they are in countries like Spain or Italy. Those countries might have to deal with an overflow of refugees and immigrants from North Africa. However, neither Spain, nor Italy has to face military conflicts, which Eastern Europe is in danger of. Obviously, the overflow of immigrants might have significant social and economical impact in France, Italy, or even Germany, but the very existence of those states is not threatened; whereas Russian aggression might threaten the existence of countries such as Georgia, Ukraine and others. Thus, working closely with NATO in order to stop conflicts that Russia causes from escalating is more than justified.


The recent statements by U.S. State Secretary John Kerry, who visited Moscow in December, suggest that the U.S. is after another reset. What should we think about the latest moves of the United States towards Russia?

It needs to be understood that the U.S. are now focused on the Middle East. They view the civil war and destabilization in Syria as a main threat to the world, together with the creation of the Islamic State on the territories of both Syria and Iraq. Americans think there is a danger of the Islamic State group’s terrorism to spread within the region and further, to finally reach the U.S. and Europe. For that reason, the U.S. wants to destroy the Islamic State and achieve a peaceful resolution in Syria. To achieve it, Americans are building an international coalition and want to include Russia. At the same time, they make it clear that working together does not mean Russia’s conflict with Ukraine can stay unresolved. We must hope that the U.S. keeps its word and will not fall again for a reset like in 2009, when Russia’s support in the Afghan conflict came at the price of stalling NATO expansion and the ballistic missile defense not being built in Poland.


Today, 6 years later, Poland still has no such system in place, but for example Romania’s system will be ready in May 2016. When can we expect the ballistic missile defense to be built in Poland?

I have been asking U.S. authorities this question for many years. I’ve had a chance to repeat my question to John Kerry a few weeks ago, when I met him at the NATO Foreign Affairs Ministers meeting. Americans confirm that the commitments they made in the past to Poland are still valid. They say that the process of building the ballistic missile defense in Poland will commence next year and will be completed by 2018. However, we are aware that keeping those deadlines might be difficult, as the next year is the election year in the U.S., and their interior affairs might take priority over foreign commitments they made. The ballistic missile defense is a very expensive project which requires tests and building the type of the system prior to it being installed in Poland. Thus, it is questionable whether the U.S. will be determined to start this process during the election year.


With regards to working with other states in the region, it is hard not to notice that perhaps a relation with one of Poland’s strategic partner, which is Romania, has been neglected. What action will the MSZ take to intensify Poland’s liaison with Bucharest?

Poland appreciated Romania in the past, and I don’t mean the interwar period, but the year 2009, when late President Lech Kaczyński viewed Romania as the second most important and the largest partner, who was also a member of the European Union and NATO. Back then, Poland had a strategic agreement with Romania. Although the agreement has never been acted on, it is the intention of the Polish government to change it. President Andrzej Duda is eagerly working to rebuild the relation between Poland and Romania, and even include Romania in working with other states in the region. Such was the purpose of the mini NATO summit in Bucharest at the beginning of November, during which nine states of the Central and Eastern Europe unanimously identified threats for the region and unanimously agreed that those threats can be addressed by increasing the level of security in the region with the actual presence of NATO forces on the territories of Central and Eastern Europe. Poland will continue to work with Romania, and I will visit Bucharest in order to begin the implementation of the new agenda. I would like to learn about Romania’s experience with Americans regarding the building of the ballistic missile defense with the U.S.


During the last summit in Brussels, Prime Minister Beata Szydło talked with the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, who previously openly accused the democratically elected government in Poland of a “coup.” Do you think that Beata Szydło’s intervention will put a stop to such sort of attacks on Poland?

I hope that Schulz found the Polish Prime Minister’s explanation convincing. His comments stem from a lack of information and knowledge, as well as from his personal feeling of nostalgia towards the left-wing, now disappearing from the Polish political scene. Schulz is extremely left-wing and he might have thought that a lack of left-wing politicians in the Polish government is abnormal, whereas he should have respected the democratic choice of the Polish people. I think that Poland can’t avoid critical opinions, some of which are instigated by Polish politicians, who should not be taking Polish internal matters to the international scene. Other instigators will be foreign correspondents, who remain loyal to the previous government, and foreign politicians, who think that Europe should develop in only one direction.


Which direction is that?

What I mean is a federal model of the European Union, dictated by the French-German duo. A few weeks ago, Poland was visited by a French politician Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, whose opinion was that expanding the European Union was a mistake. He also stated that Poland and other Central-Eastern European states invited to join should have been forced to accept this specific model of the European Union. However, there could be various ways of developing the European Union that should be discussed. My conclusion is that Poland is always going to be reminded that it should accept the one and only model of the European Union, and it will be encouraged or even forced to come to terms with it. However, I hope that such reminders will decrease in time, as there are more and more politicians in Europe who can see more ways than one for the European Union to develop, for example, Great Britain, so Poland is not on its own in its views.


It is also worth emphasizing that Poland was not the only one that benefited on entering the European Union, the Western states, the so-called states of the old Union, also benefited.

Of course, it needs to be pointed out that over the years, when Poland was still an associated state, the Union benefited from the access to the Polish market, and today the Union still benefits, because each single euro invested in Poland brings a significant return for the Western states. For example, building infrastructure in Poland requires hiring European contractors, so a large part of the European subsidies goes back to the Western pot. By cutting Poland off from those subsidies, the Western states would cut their own benefits too. This would be an unreasonable and irrational attack on Poland, resulting from the lack of knowledge.

Source: Gazeta Polska
Translation: JD
Photo: niezalezna.pl