In the last decades, Poland has transformed itself into the strong, wealthy European country. Poland, among other influential members of European Union (e.g., Germany, France and Italy) creates modern political weather in the old continent. It is only natural, that the strategic importance of this country is increasing year-by-year. What are the main national interests of Poland? What are the principal challenges and threats for country’s national security? Which factors determine main directions of Poland’s foreign policy? Who are the most important strategic partners of Poland? In this article, I will try to answer those questions.
National Security of Poland – “The Republic of Poland is a sovereign security entity independently defining its own national interests and strategic objectives. They result from historical experience, existing political and structural conditions, as well as the state’s capacities” – This is the first sentence of Poland’s newest national security strategy (2014). Strategy defines country’s fundamental national interests and strategic objectives.
There are 5 fundamental national interests of Poland: 1. Possession of effective national security capacities ensuring readiness and ability to prevent threats, including deterrence, defense and protection against them, as well as elimination of their consequences;2. Strong international position of Poland and membership in reliable international security systems;3. Individual and collective protection of citizens against threats to their life and health;4. Ensuring that citizens freely enjoy freedoms and rights, without detriment to the safety of others and of the security of the state, as well as assuring national identity and cultural heritage;5. Ensuring a sustainable and balanced development of the social and economic potential of the state, with particular attention paid to environmental protection, as well as living conditions and health of people as the basis of existence;
Main strategic objectives of Poland are: 1. Reinforcing NATO’s readiness and ability to provide collective defense, as well as the coherence of EU’s actions in the field of security; building a strong position of Poland in the two organizations;2. Developing close cooperation with all neighbors and building partnership relations with other states;3. Promoting, in the international arena, principles of international law and universal values, such as democracy, human rights and civil liberties;4. Ensuring safe conditions for the development of human and social capital, efficiency and competitiveness of the economy, as well as of the state’s financial stability;5. Improving and developing the national crisis management system in order to ensure its internal cohesion and integrity;
Relations with EU – 15 years after joining European Union, we can boldly say, that Warsaw has become one of the driving forces for European integration. Politically, Poland is the inseparable part of European security. That is why Warsaw is closely cooperating with Brussels in security and defense issues, as well as democracy and human rights. With the gradually increasing strategic importance of Poland, Warsaw-Brussels interdependence has grown, too. Current political situation in Poland effects the European Union and vice versa. Furthermore,there is a tangible progress in economic cooperation. Poland has been the largest recipient of EU cohesion fund until now. This factor revived country’s economy. Only in the period of 2014-2019, European Union invested 57 billion euros in Poland.
Since Poland’s EU accession, the country’s economy accelerated and transformed itself. Since entering the Common Market, there has been a fast flow of technology, trade and investment, knowledge exchange, and free flow of capital, goods, services and people between Poland and other member countries of EU. Since 2004, economy of Poland has grown dramatically. The amount of nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was $255 billion, while it is approximately $585 billion today. In this period of time, GDP Per Capita has almost tripled (from 6,600 $ -2004 to 17, 800 $ – 2019). From 15 top trade partners of Poland, 13 are the members of the European Union. It is clear, that both: political and economic relations are progressing between Poland and EU. Supposedly, that trend will continue in the nearest future.
Relations with NATO – Poland celebrates the 20th anniversary of accession to NATO. According to the majority of Poles (70%), country’s membership in NATO improved the security environment within Poland. Since 1996, Poland has taken part in 14 missions and Allied Command Operations (e.g.,in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Afghanistan and Iraq).
In the last decade, Poland-NATO cooperation has flourished. Country is rapidly becoming the critical member of the NATO Alliance in its increasing efforts to deter Russian military threats and counter Moscow’s attempts to subvert European democracy. In this context, Poland is no free rider when it comes to European security. Poland is among 5 members of alliance, who are spending more than 2% of annual GDP on defense. The Polish military launched serious modernization program, in which NATO has critical importance. In his article “Poland: The Most Important Member of NATO”Dan Goure from National Interest describes above-mentioned modernization program – “Earlier this year, Warsaw announced a new Technical Modernization Plan for 2026 that will spend nearly $50 billion on fifth-generation fighter jets, assault helicopters, short-range rockets, submarines, and cybersecurity. The Polish Army has modernized its fleet of 140 Leopard tanks and is planning to acquire 100 more. It is purchasing more than 100 advanced self-propelled artillery and mortar systems.
Poland has vital importance in functioning Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP), which is a NATO-allied defense military posture in Eastern Europe to protect and reassure NATO’s Eastern European member states. Today, there are more than 5000 NATO soldiers in Poland. Most of them are Americans. With growing Russian aggression, NATO’s military presence in Poland will increase in the future.
Relations with the United States of America – 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. Two countries partner closely on NATO capabilities, counterterrorism, nonproliferation, missile defense, human rights, economic growth, energy security and regional cooperation in Central and Eastern Europe. In September, 2019 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.
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).
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.
It is obvious that strategic partnership between the U.S. and Poland has never been so productive and there is a potential to increase even more.
Relations with neighboring countries: 1) Russia – Russian revisionism is the number one threat for Poles. 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 latest military activities in Eastern Europe (military modernization, permanent strategic military exercises at the borders of NATO member countries and what is the most important, existing anti-aircraft missilesystems, like S-400 in Kaliningrad) is the source of anxiety for Warsaw. Majority of Poles perceive NATO as a main deterrent of Russian aggression and that is why Poland is desperately trying to increase NATO presence in the whole region. Poland is one of the most cordial supporters of NATO enlargement, while Kremlin is trying to suppress it in every possible way. 2) Ukraine – Poland and Ukraine share a lot of things. First of all, Poland supports Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and country’s aspiration to the Euro-Atlantic structures. Besides political integration, economic cooperation has improved in the last decade. Poland is Ukraine’s second biggest trading partner, while Ukraine ranks 14th in the list of major trading partners of Poland. Ukraine Exports to Poland was US $3.26 Billion during 2018, while import from Poland was $3.6 billion. There is a huge potential for mutual trade, and this can be a basis of a deepened interdependence between those countries.Association Agreement, signed between Ukraine and EU,has provided additional boost for bilateral trade.
One of the most important issues in bilateral relations ismigration. The total number of Ukrainians working inPoland is about 2 million people. Polish economy profits from supplies of Ukrainian labor, while Ukrainians get an access to higher salaries in Poland. Due to linguistic, cultural, and social closeness, Poland has become the leading destination for Ukrainians.3) Belarus – After the collapse of the Soviet Union, countries established diplomatic relations in 1991, when they signed the “Declaration on good neighborliness, mutual understanding and cooperation”. Belarus Exports to Poland was US$1.34 Billion during 2018, while the total amount of imported goods and services from Poland reached US$ 1.76 Billion in the same year. Poland’s main concern with Belarus links to country’s overdependence on Russia. Kremlin has various kind of leverages on Minsk, including political, economic and diplomatic tools. That is why Warsaw is rooting for Minsk’s European integration. 4) Baltic States – Poland has splendid relations with Baltic countries in every policy area. Their relations began in middle ages. Poland and Lithuania established Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569. Commonwealth was a dual state, which was ruled by the king of Poland and duke of Lithuania. Commonwealth was a quite strong entity in that period, however, federation dissolved in 1795, when Poland was divided between Russia and Prussia. In early 2000’s, Poland was one of the most cordial supporters of Baltic state’s Euro-Atlantic integration. With Poland’s active involvement, Baltic countries became members of European Union and NATO in 2004. Nowadays there are tight political, economic and social connections between Poland and Baltics. Today, These countries face same kind of security threat. They are trying to deter Russian aggression in every possible way.
Finally, we can summarize that there are several fundamental directions in Poland’s foreign policy, includingrelations with European Union, NATO, United States of America and relations with neighboring countries, like Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. As a consequence, we can say that Poland’s foreign policy priorities in the nearest future will be following: 1) To deepen economic ties with EU; 2) To improve military cooperation with the NATO and the US; 3) To neutralize security threats coming from Russia and stabilize relations with its other neighbours, including Ukraine, Belarus and Baltics.
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.