“Poland is a stalwart ally in Central Europe and one of the United States’ strongest continental partners in fostering security and prosperity regionally, throughout Europe, and the world” – U.S. Department of State.
Ever since the end of the cold war, Poland has become one of the most crucial and loyal strategic partners of the United States of America. The latest researches show that more than 70% of Poles approve American leadership. They suggest that the U.S. only has a positive influence on the global affairs and the world is better under American domination. Two countries partner closely on NATO capabilities, counterterrorism, nonproliferation, missile defence, human rights, economic growth, energy security and regional cooperation in Central and Eastern Europe. In this article, I will examine historical background and the different issues of bilateral relations, as well as modern threats and challenges, which force two countries to cooperate more closely in the future.
Poland and the United States of America established diplomatic relations in 1919, after the end of the First World War, which brought independence to Poland. In that period, the most common foreign policy direction of the U.S. was isolation and non-interventionism. That is why U.S.was not fully involved in global affairs. Unfortunately, peace did not last long. In the 1930s, two global powers emerged in Europe: Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Both of them were trying to conquer Poland once again. On the 23rd of August, 1939 German and USSR signed Ribentrov-Molotov Pact, in which they divided up Eastern Europe, including Poland. According to the secret agreement, Germany received the right to annex Western part of Poland. At the same time, USSR took responsibility to invade the Eastern Poland 16 days after Nazi’s attack on Warsaw. Poland has divided once again.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, one of the victories– USSR descended “Iron Curtain” on the whole Eastern Europe. Moscow installed a communist government while abandoning the Polish government in exile. During the cold war, USSR oppressed dissidents and literally anyone, who were fighting for freedom. However, in the late 1980s, when the Soviet empire weakened, some freedom movements gained momentum. The most influential one was Solidarity (Polish: Solidarność). Solidarity gave rise to a broad, non-violent, anti-communist social movement, which played a crucial role in disintegrating the Soviet Union. In December 1989 Poland regained independence.
After independence, Warsaw was trying to achieve security and economic development. That is why since then, its main goal has become Euro-Atlantic integration. The United States of America encouraged Poland’s wish to join NATO. Washington supported “Open Door Policy” towards the Visegrad Group. Poland became the member of NATO in 1999, as well as the member of the European Union in 2004. Since then, bilateral relations and strategic partnership between the two countries have flourished. The U.S. believes that without independent and powerful Poland there will be no peace in the old continent. In his notorious book, “Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geopolitical Imperatives”, Zbigniew Brzezinski writes that Germany, France, Poland and Ukraine should create geopolitical pivot of Europe, which will be beneficial for the security and economic growth of European citizens.
Since joining NATO, Poland participated in almost every NATO mission, including Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan as well as the operations against ISIS. Soldiers of Poland always fought alongside Americans, while some NATO member countries stepped back. Poland hosts a U.S. aviation detachment and will host a ballistic missile defence site. It also hosts units from a rotational U.S. Armored Combat Brigade Team and a NATO enhanced Forward Presence battalion. Today, there are approximately 4500 American soldiers in Poland. The number of U.S. troops will increase time-by-time. In September 2018 president of Poland Andrzej Duda offered the United States $2 billion in financing for a division-sized U.S. base by the Vistula River in Poland’s eastern border, even suggesting to name it “Fort Trump.” Instead of constructing a single large military base, Washington has proposed to disperse U.S. troops across various existing bases in the country, such as Redzikowo, Poznan and Orzysz. According to him, this base will deter Russian aggression. After that statement, U.S. military presence in Poland quickly progressed.As a consequence, several days ago, Donald Trump and Andrzej Duda signed The Joint Declaration on Advancing Defense Cooperation. The present U.S. military capabilities in Poland, currently at some 4,500 rotational military personnel, “is expected to grow by approximately 1,000 additional United States military personnel in the near term,” the document says.
Moreover, Washington has agreed to sell F-35, America’s most advanced fighter jet to Poland. The estimated price tag of the agreement is 6.5 billion dollars. According to the proposed package, Poland will receive 33 F-35 fighters. In short, it is obvious that military cooperation between the U.S. and Poland has never been so productive and there is a potential to increase even more.
Besides military cooperation, U.S. -Polish bond is strengthening in economy and trade. In 2016, Poland’s export in the United States was $3,6 billion. This number considerably grew in 2017 (4,5 billion), 2018 (5,3 billion) and is gradually increasing today (3,6 billion in January-July, 2019). Furthermore, import from the USA is increasing too (2016 – 5,9 billion, 2017 – 7,1 billion, 2018 – 8 billion). According to the U.S. Department of State, “Strong economic growth potential, a large domestic market, tariff-free access to the European Union (EU), and political stability are prime reasons that U.S. companies do business in Poland.”
According to the estimates of the American Chamber of Commerce in Poland, the total value of American investments after the first quarter of 2018 reached $32 billion. At the end of 2016, U.S. companies invested $11.6 billion in Poland, which is far greater number than in the previous years.
Furthermore, Poland is a driving force behind the “Three Seas Initiative” of 12 countries between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas, which provides great business opportunities for U.S. companies. It is also a tool for developing cross-border energy, transport and communication infrastructure. Americans believe this is key to regional growth and security. President Trump recognized the potential “Three Seas” presents and pledged the United States’ support for it.
Poland cut its import from Gazprom by 6 per cent last year, however, the Russian state-owned company still accounts for two-thirds of its imported gas. Country’s leadership is desperately trying to reduce energy dependence on Russia. That is why Poland has begun importing liquefied natural gas from the United States.
Warsaw has joined Washington in seeking to block Gazprom from building a new $11 billion gas export pipeline under the Baltic Sea to Germany. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline would tighten the Kremlin’s hold on European gas markets. Gazprom said that it expects to complete the project by the end of the year. The United States has warned firms helping Gazprom build the pipeline that they could face sanctions. Poland fully shares American view about Russian gas pipeline. The consequences of developing Nord Stream 2 will be disastrous for countries, which are trying to reduce their energy dependence on Russia.
Visa Waiver Program:
On 23 September 2019 president Trump announced Polish entry into the U.S. visa waiver program (VWP) in coming weeks. Warsaw has long sought access to the State Department’s Visa Waiver Program under which most citizens of participating countries can travel to the United States for tourism or business for up to 90 days without obtaining a U.S. visa.
Tori Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy for U.S. Travel said that adding Poland to the VWP would be “an economic boon – not to mention the benefit to the security relationship between the two countries.”
Barnes said that Polish visitation to the U.S. had already increased by 53% between 2013 and 2018, making it one of the fastest-growing European inbound travel markets.
“That growth could swell significantly if Poland joins the VWP,” she said. “Within three years of joining the VWP, the U.S. could expect an additional 97,000 Polish arrivals annually and $312 million in spending, which would produce nearly $720 million in economic output and support 4,200 jobs”.
Russian revisionism is the number one threat for Polish people. According to the research, 77% of Poles consider Russia as the main threat to national security. Comparatively, only one-third of Germans think Russia as a threat, while in France – 40% of people have such an opinion.Russia’s military activity in Eastern Europe (military modernization, permanent strategic military exercises at the borders of NATO member countries, existing anti-aircraft weapon systems, like S-400 in Kaliningrad) is the source of anxiety in Central and Eastern European capitals. That is why they are trying to increase NATO presence in their countries. Besides military power, Kremlin’s diplomatic influence is growing too. Despite the fact that Russia occupied Tskhinvali (so-called South Ossetia) region in 2008 and annexed Crimea in 2014, many European leaders seriously consider nullifying economic sanctions against Moscow. Russia is developing a new grand gas pipeline, which will increase its energy influence over the whole continent. In short, Moscow is more involved in European affairs than it was several years ago. It is only natural, that Central and Eastern European countries are seriously concerned about Russian aggression because of they clearly seeKremlin’s gradually increasing influence.
Another challenge links to the domestic politics of the United States. US foreign policy is changing after every presidential election and that inconsistency makes alliances very fragile. In order to deter Russian revisionism, Poland and the USA should intensify relations even more in every sphere of politics.
The opinions and conclusions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Tbilisi or The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.