POLAND: STRATEGICALLY ACTIVE OR PASSIVE?
by WALTER JAJKO
Speech to the Polish American Congress Annual Thanksgiving Dinner, 13 Nov 2011. This was subsequently published as an article in the January 2012 edition of the Sarmatian Review. It will also be published in the annual Polish American Calendar, a compendium of noteworthy fiction and non-fiction articles published during the year.
I add my congratulations to your honoree, Mrs. Irena Mirecka.
I am pleased and honored to be in such distinguished company with so many who do so much to advance the interests of Poland and the United States. Thank you for inviting me. Now let me speak of Poland’s strategic position, as I see it.
With Poland’s release from Communist captivity and its subsequent accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, its strategic situation was transformed and seemed to have improved dramatically. Poland’s security is in reality not what it appears to be. Rather, Poland’s security situation, in my estimation, has deteriorated and is likely to deteriorate further. As this situation becomes painfully obvious, Poland will have to decide whether it will remain strategically passive or become strategically active.
It is ironic that just as Poland joined NATO, the Alliance, having simply outlived the Warsaw Pact, weakened in its strength and in its will. Starkly put, despite the legal obligations of treaty commitments, Poland can not be assured of NATO’s – really the United States’s – steadfast commitment to its security in all circumstances, particularly in response to the new ambiguous tools of threats, for example in economic warfare and cyberwar. Yet, this US guarantee was precisely the indispensable singular protection that Poland sought as a guarantee of its independence when it joined NATO. Despite the parlous state of NATO’s defense capabilities and determination and notwithstanding the rhetorical pronouncements of the current NATO Secretary General and the reassurances of the US State and Defense Departments, it seems to be politically incorrect to admit this fact publicly. Nevertheless, Poland needs to accept this depressing but realistic appreciation as the undeclared factor motivating its security policy. Poland needs to pursue its own security actively – independently in some ways if necessary. It must be understood that this would be a high risk policy.
There are three disadvantageous strategic developments which Poland must mitigate or compensate for, although by itself it does not have the power to eliminate them. Firstly, the US is determined to establish a permanent strategic relationship with Russia. Whether or not the US and the Europeans understand, such a relationship, if realized, would subordinate Europe to a dependent status with Russia. (Parenthetically the US’s suicidal pursuit of China’s friendship would render even this relationship secondary and perhaps inconsequential.) Secondly, NATO is lapsing into a progressive, wasting decrepitude and most probably can not be rejuvenated. The European Union, another institutional foundation of Europe’s security – and therefore Poland’s security – is also slowly collapsing economically and politically, again ironically while Poland holds its presidency. If the Eurozone collapses and then the European Union loses its economic viability, only Germany in the medium term will prosper. However, Germany’s long term prosperity is questionable because of its demographic trends, which mirror those of all Europe. The European Union’s economic stasis will, of course, weaken NATO’s political and military strength. These two developments, in the US and Europe, mean that the foundations of Poland’s post-Cold War security are slowly sinking. Thirdly, Russia’s leadership is deliberately and with malice aforethought reconstructing the Russian Empire – albeit with means different from its two predecessors and in a form to accommodate current conditions and sensibilities and on a less costly basis. Just last month, Putin announced that Russia would begin an effort to construct an Eurasian Union including the former Soviet “Stans”, Belarus, and – most importantly – Ukraine. Most dangerously for Poland specifically, Russia still adheres unwaveringly to its contention of its privileged position in Eastern Europe.
In the US, for the past two decades, Democratic and Republican Administrations have subordinated American interests in Eastern Europe and American support for Eastern European interests to the pursuit of a strategic partnership with a supposedly democratizing Russia. The so-called Reset Policy is the latest expression of this years-long, self-delusionary pursuit. Arms control agreements amounting to US unilateral disarmament and the modification of US missile defense emplacements in Eastern Europe because of Russian objections serve to weaken US and NATO defense capabilities and resolve. These agreements also do not address contemporary forms of threats such as economic pressures for political ends and cyberwar. So long as Russia does not adopt and operate on Western principles and values, a US strategic partnership with Russia is a chimera. Agreements on more limited subjects do not contradict the fundamental difference between Russia and the US and can not lead to a strategic partnership. Notwithstanding these facts, the United States will continue to pursue Russia – when necessary in preference to and to the detriment of Eastern Europe’s interests.
Russian policy on key diplomatic and defense issues, at its core, is consistently and reflexively anti-Western, and on these key issues Russian policy is expressed in non-negotiable differences. This will certainly not change for the better with the extension of Putin’s rule over Russia. Russia will not democratize – certainly not in our time – quite the contrary. Russia perforce may have been a European power by virtue of its overweening and aggressive strength and its penchant for self-aggrandizing intervention into Europe, but Russia has never been a European country culturally and historically – as several prominent and respected Russian historians, including the great Vernadsky, have contended. Even in the Twenty-First Century the Russian State explicitly and emphatically rejects the principles and values of the West – and, moreover, glories in this rejection. It is worthwhile to recall a historical truth: Russia can be of Europe or in Europe or over Europe only when it is in Poland or over Poland. And Russia is most content when it has Poland.
Since the end of the Second World War, one of the geopolitical foundations of US power has been NATO. In fact, it was NATO that made the US the paramount European power for half a century. The Russians have repeatedly declared their intent to expel the US from the Continent and replace the US with themselves and NATO with a pan-European security system, thereby becoming de facto the paramount European power. In the meantime, almost a quarter century after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russians still claim a special sphere of influence over all of the former Warsaw Pact states. According to official Russian diplomatic declarations, these still are Russia’s ambitions.
NATO, which is the basis for Polish security, is steadily weakening. Only the United Kingdom, Germany, and Poland have been meeting the defense budget targets set by NATO, 3% of GNP – at least to date. However, even Germany and Britain are in the process of drastically cutting forces and equipment, and therefore core capabilities. Both have already clearly expressed their unwillingness to deploy their forces out of area. The other NATO members are in worse and worsening shape. The potential volunteers for any future coalition of the willing and able are all becoming conscientious objectors. The recent Libyan Intervention demonstrated that the European Allies can not intervene much less impose their will even in a third-rate country without the indispensable and substantial participation of the US. Libya showed both the failure of US leadership and the failure of Europe without US leadership.
During the past few years, Poland has been building an historically unprecedented cordial relationship with Germany, due chiefly to German investments in Poland. Yet, during these same years, Germany has demonstrated that it is prepared to compromise politically with Russia over economic matters, such as natural gas deliveries. Neither Germany nor France, supposedly the two strong powers on the Continent, is particularly strong in confronting Russia. Italy, Greece, and Turkey, NATO partners of Poland, also have shown their willingness to accommodate Russia.
The effects of European weakness will be exacerbated as a domestically-oriented and economically-weakened American Administration turns its national security policy attention from the Continent to China. The US, because of its debt, deficit, and declining economy, is likely to cut US forces in Europe to the bone. It is these forces that are the visible sign of the US commitment to Poland’s security. What US forces will remain will be only those elements necessary to support the transit of the declining number of US operating forces to the Middle East. Thus, stationing a US Air Force fighter squadron in Poland even on periodic temporary deployments, as has been proposed, is unlikely. Standing, capable, and ready military forces are essential as weight backing a country’s or an alliance’s diplomacy. Cumulatively, the defense cuts in the US and on the Continent will weaken the force of Western diplomacy and influence. To strengthen the arm and spine of the Alliance, perhaps the time has come for a conservative Pole to be selected Secretary General of NATO.
Although there is no foreseeable danger in the future of Russia resorting to military force against Poland, there are in the current international system other more subtle and ambiguous instruments of aggression against countries. These can be employed to subvert the sovereignty and plunder the patrimony of states. Various financial and commercial tools can beggar or blackmail a country. One has only to recollect the repeated price gouging and denials of service of natural gas throughout Europe in the past few years by Gazprom, which is an instrument of the Russian Government. Additionally, there are the media campaigns, deceptions, and political warfare conducted for long-range strategic objectives to inculcate false knowledge, condition attitudes, and influence policy based on an incorrect understanding of reality. Compounding this danger are the clandestine intelligence and covert programs undermining states. A newer and growing threat to policy, intelligence, defense and industrial, commercial, and financial infrastructures is cyberwar. Again, we only have to recollect the organized Russian cyber attacks of a few years ago that brought the Estonian banking system to a halt for two or more weeks and caused large economic losses.
With the obliteration of the distinction between war and peace in the Twentieth Century, the new means of aggression, and Russia’s hostile posture towards the West, the time is long past due for NATO to redefine and reaffirm Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty. This article commits all the signatories of the Treaty to come to the aid of any member who is attacked. In this era it is unlikely that a state will attack a neighbor openly with armed forces across their common border. Rather, ambiguous and unattributed aggression is conducted, using the sophisticated measures of economic, social, psychological, informational, and political warfare. In order to meet the needs of NATO’s member states to cope with these new threats, Article V ought to be redefined. Poland, which occupies the exposed flank of Europe, and whose immediate neighbors have suffered such attacks, ought to take the lead in this enterprise.
Ukraine is the geopolitical key to a rebuilt Russian Empire. During the past score of years, the US wasted the proverbial golden opportunity in Ukraine. The US and NATO Europe should have had a stronger hand in Ukraine: more forceful diplomacy and an extensive and strong covert action program to secure Ukraine for the West. Ukraine, after all, was once part of the West under the old tripartite Commonwealth, as depicted in the shield of your partner, the Zwiazek Narodowy Polski. Before the current pro-Russian government came to power in Kiev, Ukraine had declared its intention to join both the EU and NATO. The US and Europe could have done much more and more effectively in practice to shore up the feckless, venal, endlessly argumentative, competing politicians in Kiev, instead of bemoaning the chaos and watching them fritter away the independence of their country. The interminable, petty bickering over small change in the Rada ought to be a lesson for Poland’s domestic politics. But Western prevarication, prejudices, and perspectives, old conceptions and old thinking, and, frankly, lack of understanding and fortitude coupled with distractions elsewhere would not combat the pernicious effects of seventy years of systematic Soviet inculcation of evil. The US and Europe, and indeed Poland, ceded what should have been a primary geostrategic rampart of the West. This cession was a loss of incalculable strategic consequence.
The Kresy, Poland’s historical eastern borderlands, are still important to Poland’s security. It is astonishing and disappointing that Poland itself did not do more to keep Ukraine on the right side because it is Poland alone that has an acute and accurate appraisal of the criticality of Ukraine and the strategic position of all Eastern Europe vis-a-vis Russia. Poland’s insufficient activity in Ukraine is particularly astonishing because of the open, active, and useful activities Poland has conducted on behalf of the democratic opposition in Belarus. If Ukraine had moved westward, Belarus would have followed certainly. These developments would have cut Russia off directly from Europe and solidified Poland’s geostrategic position. These developments also would have left Russia geographically and historically where it belongs.
There is another issue of great potential danger about which the US, NATO, and Poland have kept their shameful silence. This issue is Kaliningrad or more properly Koenigsberg or Krolewiec. The issue is even more shameful because the territory is named after the Bolshevik Kalinin, one of the signers of the death sentence on the Polish prisoners in Katyn and the other camps. The territory, so named, is an affront and insult to Poland and another example of Russian barbarity. At the end of World War Two, the Soviet Union unilaterally incorporated this territory, comprised of the northern half of the former East Prussia, some 5,830 square miles, simply by right of conquest. Obviously, half of Poland, Sub-Carpathian Rus, and large parts of Romania were not sufficient to satisfy Soviet Russia’s acquisitiveness for foreign lands – a blatant indulgence of Russian imperialism. After the Russians seized East Prussia, they expelled the inhabitants, replaced them with colonists, and shut the land to the outside world as a closed military zone. The territory now houses an army garrison, several air bases, and the headquarters of the Russian Baltic Fleet. Because of the need for land transport to Kaliningrad from Russia through Poland and the Baltic States, use of the transit routes raises accompanying issues which the Russians exploit frequently to pressure the transited states. More importantly, the Russians in recent years have several times threatened to station tactical nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad in retaliation for NATO developments that they did not like, including in 2008 short-range surface-to-surface missiles in the exclave and SS-27 strategic missiles in Russia itself aimed at Poland in retaliation for the stationing of US-NATO air defense missiles in Poland. It is very likely that the Russians have stationed large numbers of nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad, notwithstanding any public declarations or denials of theirs. Kaliningrad is a direct and ever-present threat, like a loaded gun, pointed at the heart of Europe, especially Poland. The Russian occupation of Kaliningrad is not a case of beati sunt possidentes. Russia has no right or claim historically, demographically, culturally, or legally to this ancient land. In fact, Poland has the best claim because Prussia was once a dependency of Poland. Recall Matejko’s famous painting of Hold Pruski, The Homage of Prussia! There is no good reason for the Russians to continue to occupy this land and every good reason for Europe to oust the Russians from it. Poland should break the West’s silence on this danger.
There is more that Poland could do to improve its security. Poland’s membership in the Visehrad Group ought to continue although it has resulted only in limited usefulness. The quartet’s power is simply too limited in scope, interests, and influence, and its cohesion is too unstable. Poland ought to mobilize and lead “new Europe”, all the states of Eastern Europe from the Baltic to the Black Sea to strengthen NATO and to act as a united bloc on foreign policy, defense, and economics equal to “old Europe”. Poland as the pivot of Eastern Europe is in a position to be the leader of “new Europe” – if it wants to be.
Poland’s internal political cohesion could strengthen the realization of its geopolitical strategic interests. Polish patriots ought to protect Polish political and intellectual life against the persistent, pernicious influence of alien agents in academia, the media, politics, and the several components of the national security establishment who propagate disinformation, discord, and disunion in the interest of states inimical to Poland. The Polish Nation in the post-war period was strongest when a Polish Pope electrified Polish patriotism and spirituality. Polish patriots should take heed that the more Poland becomes like Europe in the sense and sensibility of the European Union, the more Poland will depart from its unique spirit. The Communists sought to kill Poland’s soul; the European moral relativism too could kill Poland’s soul. Moral relativism affects more than personal character and personal behavior in daily life. Moral relativism can deform and displace the correct and realistic understanding and judgments of leaders and the public that are necessary to deal with the challenges and problems in foreign and security policy. Essentially, moral relativism, certainly in security affairs, can compromise and jeopardize Poland’s independence. Poland needs to look to the best in itself, its character, its history, its traditions, its values, its uniqueness. These qualities need not only to be preserved but to be encouraged and strengthened. To sustain its soul and its security, Poland has to remain what it was: the antemurale christianitatis.
The Polish American Congress’s unrelenting pressure on the State Department and the United States Congress to withdraw the outrageous ethnic discrimination against Poland in the issuance of visas is an essential effort. Having the President issue Proclamations and the Congress pass Resolutions commemorating Kazimierz Pulaski, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, and the Third of May Constitution (Konstytucja Trzeciego Maja) are important and laudable and sustain the Polish heritage in America. However, there is much too that the Polonia and its organizations can do to support Poland’s security. Strong lobbying on behalf of Poland’s strategic issues would be more consequential. Why shouldn’t all of the Polonia’s organizations combine to pressure Congress and the Executive and the Democratic and Republican Platforms, especially in this Presidential Electoral Campaign, and the Polish Sejm and Poland’s government in support of the hard issues of Poland’s foreign and defense policies: for example, secure US and Polish support for more radio and television broadcasts into Ukraine and Belarus; promote expanded Polish close cooperation with the US Intelligence Community; lobby for the stationing of some US armed forces in Poland, particularly an Air Force fighter squadron, homeporting a US Naval warship in Gdansk, and the conduct of combined exercises in Poland of US special forces with Polish special forces; press for a redefinition of Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty; campaign for a conservative Pole to be chosen as Secretary-General of NATO; lobby in the US, at NATO, and in Ukraine for Ukraine’s membership in NATO; support regime replacement in Belarus; obtain the Central Intelligence Agency’s support for a Polish covert action program in Ukraine; and mobilize a diplomatic campaign to expel Russia from Kaliningrad? Polonia consists of many voters. Why not mobilize those voters for the hard issues of Polish security?
Poland, preferably with the support of the US, ought to take the initiative to confront the difficult strategic challenges of its security and not merely accept the efforts of others, however friendly and well-intentioned, to set the fundamental conditions of its security. In fact, I contend most emphatically that Poland has no other choice.
At this Thanksgiving dinner, I think that we all should give thanks to Our Lord for the lasting friendship of Poland and the United States. I wish all of you a blessed and happy Thanksgiving and for that day’s turkey I wish you Smacznego!
Thank you for your attention.