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Dec 9, 2010 | 22:08 GMT

Poland Examines its Defense Partnership Options

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Summary
Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski ended a visit to the United States on Dec. 9. The visit comes amid some tensions between Poland and the United States, as Warsaw is dissatisfied with Washington's level of commitment to Polish security. Poland is thus looking elsewhere for security guarantees to guard against the Russian resurgence. It has begun cooperating with Sweden and discussing security issues with other Central European countries and, more recently, has been developing a cooperative relationship with Turkey.
Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski wrapped up a two-day visit to the United States on Dec. 9. The most significant result of the visit was U.S. President Barack Obama's official commitment to a previous Washington proposal to station U.S. land-based SM-3 interceptors in Poland by 2018 as part of its NATO-wide missile defense system and an offer to periodically station F-16 fighter jets and C-130 transport planes in Poland starting in 2013 for joint military exercises. Poland confirmed the latter offer, but Washington has not issued confirmation as of this writing. The periodic stationing of U.S. Air Force assets in Poland is significant in that it will enhance Poland's ability to use its own F-16s, purchased from the United States in 2003. However, neither the SM-3s nor the F-16s — nor the current rotational deployment of a unarmed Patriot missile battery — are enough to guarantee that the United States is fully committed to Poland's defense. Poland therefore could look to enhance its strategic situation through a multitude of partnerships much closer to home, particularly with Sweden, other Central Europeans and potentially Turkey. Komorowski's visit to the United States came amid slight tensions between Washington and Warsaw. Recently leaked U.S. diplomatic cables showed that Warsaw was not satisfied with the rotational deployment of the unarmed Patriot missile battery; one senior Polish military official quoted in the cables referred to them as "potted plants." But the tensions preceded the leaks and even the Patriot missile system's deployment. Specifically, they have been building ever since September 2009, when Washington reneged on the ballistic missile defense (BMD) plans struck between the previous U.S. administration and Warsaw. What irked Warsaw in particular was the perception that the United States changed the BMD plans in order to gain assurances from Russia that it would not sell the S-300 air defense system to Iran and that it would support the U.S. effort to impose U.N. sanctions on Tehran. The perception in Warsaw was that the United States was trading Poland's security guarantees for concessions from Russia in a part of the world completely unrelated to Warsaw's security.

What Poland Wants

Essentially, Warsaw wants Washington to explain its grand strategy so that Poland understands where it fits in it. As Komorowski directly said during his visit, Poland has "no interests either in Iraq or Afghanistan," and it followed the United States into both countries purely out of principle. In other words, Poland sacrificed in Iraq and Afghanistan so that it can receive strong security guarantees from the United States in Europe. The unarmed Patriot battery, the horse-trading between the United States and Russia on BMD, and the rotational, for-exercise-only deployment of F-16s is an inadequate commitment from Warsaw's perspective. The deployment of F-16s is not a complete throwaway, however; it will help Poland become proficient in flying and maintaining its own F-16s and thus enhance its security. But Poland has wanted a permanent U.S. deployment of some sort for a long time, a point that Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich reiterated in his visit to Washington on Sept. 30. The rotational and temporary nature of both the Patriot and F-16 offers is insufficient. And the fact that the F-16s only come into the picture in 2013 — and the SM-3 BMD component in 2018 — adds to Poland's suspicion that the United States simply is not ready to commit itself to Polish security fully. Poland's geopolitical situation is difficult. Komorowski pointed this out by saying, "We are between Russia and Germany and this is such a place where, even if someone integrates, even if we have a common European home, or NATO, there are still some drafts. No matter on which floor someone opens a door or window, we Poles still have a runny nose."

Looking Elsewhere

Without a firm U.S. commitment, Poland is looking to patch up its security holes as best as it can. It has turned to Sweden for help on the diplomatic front, jointly applying pressure on the Russians in Eastern Europe. The Polish and Swedish foreign ministers have made joint visits to Ukraine and Moldova in the past three weeks. Warsaw is also looking to its fellow Central Europeans via the Visegrad Group — Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary — a group that in 2010 began discussing security matters seriously, including cooperation among members' air forces. It also intends to make EU defense policy — a concept that has not really carried much weight in policymaking circles for much of the last 60 years — one of the main pillars of its EU presidency in the latter part of 2011, a big part of which will mean turning to France to try to spur greater cooperation on defense matters. However, Poland's solutions come with their own problems. Cooperation with Sweden has not (yet) included defense matters. The Central Europeans — even combined — do not have the strength to counter Russia (and often bicker with each other). And any EU defense policy would have to include Germany, which is unlikely to offer Poland any true security guarantees due to its budding relationship with Russia. This is why STRATFOR is watching carefully the cooperation developing between Poland and Turkey. While Komorowski was in Washington, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk was in Ankara meeting with the Turkish leadership. The talks were broad and concentrated on everything from general cooperation in NATO, Turkish EU prospects and a potential EU visa waiver for Turkish citizens. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan specifically stated that cooperation between the countries' defense industries will increase. But what is interesting is that both Poland and Turkey are sizable regional powers that are trying to manage a Russian resurgence in their own regions. The two countries have no outstanding security concerns, nor are they politically at odds on any significant issue. Neither country wants to be outwardly hostile toward Russia, but both want the credibility and strength to give Moscow notice that there are red lines and limits to the spread of its power. There are differences as well, with Ankara far more reserved about openly aligning with the United States on contentious issues like Russia. The more Warsaw feels that the U.S. alliance, which Poland has no intentions of abandoning, is insufficient for its security, the more it will look to the countries in its immediate region that perceive the Russian resurgence with as much — or almost as much — trepidation as Poland does. Sweden and Turkey both fit this profile. What they perceive as their own spheres of influence — Stockholm in the Baltics and Ankara in the Balkans and Caucasus — are experiencing heavy Russian involvement. They are therefore potentially useful allies in countering Russia while the United States is constrained by its operations in the Middle East.
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