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In recent years the security environment in the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) region, especially in areas in close proximity to the Polish borders, has significantly deteriorated as a result of the crisis in the Eastern Ukraine, sparked by Ukrainian internal political turmoil and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Actions taken by Russian Federation and Ukrainian authorities in the aftermath of the Crimea crisis, have shaken the political landscape not only in this part of Europe but throughout the whole continent, resulting in a deterioration of political, economic and military relations between the West, represented by the EU and NATO, and Russia, forcing European countries to adapt to new geopolitical realities and modify their foreign policy goals and security strategies.

Poland, as a country located on the eastern flank of EU and NATO, felt particularly endangered and decided to reconfigure its defence strategy. As a solid and trustworthy member state, who for many years had tried to pay its tribute to the prosperity and safety of both organisations, found it necessary to confirm security commitments of its major European and transatlantic allies in the event of any major attack to its independence.

Poland’s Defence Doctrine

A few years ago, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) published the ‘Polish Foreign Policy Strategy 2017-2021’. The document outlined three major foreign and security policy priorities for the near future, which included:

  • enhancing NATO credibility, boosting the EU’s potential, and maintaining close ties with the US;
  • closer co-operation with the countries in the region, especially Romania, the Visegrad Group (V4), and Baltic and Nordic states; a pro-active Eastern
  • significantly bolstering Poland’s defence capabilities.

The Polish defence doctrine is based on the assumption that in today’s world only a handful of countries, the so called ‘global’ or ‘regional’ powers, are able to maintain sovereignty and full control over national interests on domestic and international grounds. However, developments in the last few decades, have proven that even countries like the US, until recently an unquestionable military superpower, cannot act unilaterally on the global scale and are in need of assistance from other countries.

Multinational Co-operation

In Poland’s view, maintaining a fruitful and lasting co-operation with local, regional and global partners is the ‘cornerstone’ of its security and defence strategy and plays a key role in keeping the country safe. Therefore, as one of the strategic goals of its foreign policy, Poland highlights the need of NATO’s central role as the main pillar of Europe’s military security. However, in order to keep the Alliance as the main guarantor for Poland’s security, NATO has to cultivate a strong bond of solidarity between its member states and reassure those ones who feel threatened by external factors or political players, about the commitments, that other NATO-partners made to guarantee their safety and independence.
In this regard, Polish authorities were satisfied with the outcome of recent NATO summits, especially the ones in Newport (2014) and Warsaw (2016), which led to the conclusion that the Alliance needed to redefine its security strategy and pay more attention to the countries on its Eastern flank, such as Poland and the Baltic States. As a result, the allied nations decided to boost their military presence in the CEE region through the ‘Enhanced Forward Presence’ initiative, which lead to the formation of four multinational battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland as well as smaller military contingents in Bulgaria and Romania.

European and transatlantic institutions, such as NATO and EU, are important for Poland’s foreign policy. Preserving close ties with its major allies and maintaining a strong commitment to solidarity is crucial.

According to a NATO statement, these battle groups, led by the UK, Canada, Germany and the US respectively, are multinational, and combat-ready, demonstrating the strength of the ‘transatlantic bond’. Their presence is evidence of the fact that an attack on one ally will be considered an attack on the whole Alliance. NATO’s battlegroups form part of the biggest reinforcement of NATO’s collective defence in a generation.

In a comment to the EFP initiative, the Polish MFA stated that the presence of the first allied troops in Poland and the Baltic States has sent a clear signal that further attempts at undermining the European order will not be tolerated. From the Polish perspective, by launching the EFP initiative and reinforcing the Eastern flank, NATO regained its core role of an organisation providing collective defence to its member states by maintaining and strengthening mutually recognised security commitments.

NATO is not the sole pillar of Poland’s defence strategy, as the country seeks to boost security co-operation between EU Member States.

In order to keep NATO’s efforts in reassuring its Eastern European members about Alliance’s security and defence commitments at the desired pace, Poland intends to reach a number of goals on the European and transatlantic scale, such as: ensure full implementation of the Newport and Warsaw NATO summit conclusions, continue measures to strengthen the eastern flank, while engaging in joint operations in the south, also in co-operation with Turkey, foster co-operation between NATO and the EU in the spirit of the Warsaw Summit Communique, promote a robust transatlantic relationship and a strong US presence in Europe, observe commitments on defence spending and armed forces modernisation and take part in out-of-area missions carried out by NATO.

European Defence Co-operation

Fundamentally important as it is, NATO is not the sole attribute of Poland’s defence strategy, as the country seeks to boost security co-operation between EU member states, which, in Warsaw’s opinion, is best represented by the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), as well as any other forms of multinational defence initiatives on the European scale. In the view of the Polish authorities, Europe has many attributes in its foreign and security policy, which might enhance the defence capabilities of its members and secure them from various types of threats, on a scale from a classic military confrontation to unconventional or hybrid security issues like terrorism or illegal immigration, which might destabilise the EU from the inside.

Poland understands that countering modern security issues, especially unconventional and hybrid ones, requires co-operation between EU Member States and commonality in the way they identify, define and solve these problems. Therefore, the Polish authorities are devoted to explaining to their European allies about various threats to the EU’s security system, especially the ones originating close to its Eastern borders. Warsaw also intends to put pressure on other EU members to devote adequate resources and competencies to secure common interests.

From Poland’s perspective, an efficient and successful approach to preventing or fighting a wide array of modern threats requires application of a diverse range of tools, which could be defined as ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ power. The EU as a major economic and political alliance has the ability to act as an independent and sole provider of solutions to emerging problems, especially the ones related to issues such as civil society, rule of law or industrial growth. It is also capable of operating as part of a wider, multinational task group, where its own set of tools is coupled with and enhanced by more classic, military means, provided by other global actors, like the US.

Therefore, it is in Poland’s interest is to keep focus on cultivating unity of the transatlantic community and to enhance co-operation between EU and NATO in facing modern and future threats, which might hamper political and economic relations between partners on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as affect independence and sovereignty of particular member states of each organisation. These threats could be identified either as the possibility of an outbreak of a classic military conflict within the transatlantic community or in its proximity or prospect of an economy or the energy crisis at the national or international level.

Good relations with the US, an unquestionable military superpower, remains a priority in Polish foreign and defence policy.

At the Crossroads of European Relations

Poland as a country located in a strategically important part of the continent, plays an important role in shaping the security system of Europe. Lying at the ‘crossroads’ of two geopolitical systems, Poland separates Western modern democracies from Eastern dysfunctional regimes dominated or influenced by Russia. Furthermore, Poland acts also as an interconnector in political and economic relations between Northern and Southern Europe, serving as a gateway to the wider Baltic Sea region as well as the Black Sea and Mediterranean markets.

As a country that has a predominant political position and decisive military strength among EU and NATO eastern-flank member states, Poland’s defence strategy is a key factor in shaping the future of the European security system not just in relation to the CEE region, but the continent as a whole. Therefore, the way in which Poland perceives recent political and military developments in the region, influences decision making processes on the European and even transatlantic level.

For various historical and modern reasons, Eastern Europe, especially countries located east of Polish borders, plays a decisive role in Poland’s security strategy and is one of the main factors shaping its defence and foreign policy. From a Polish standpoint, unpredictability in this part of the world, coupled with gradually deteriorating control over the use of military forces in local conflicts, affects Poland’s sense of security and endangers its independence and sovereignty.

For many years, the Polish strategy towards countries of the former Soviet bloc has been – and still is – focused on helping to implement much needed political and economic reforms, bringing them closer to the Western international standards. Therefore, Poland makes an effort to enhance awareness of major Western multinational organisations, like the EU or NATO, about the influence they might have on the Eastern European struggling democracies and the role they may play in helping former Cold War rivals in the much awaited transformation of their political and economic systems and introduction of pro-European and transatlantic values.

Adoption of Western policies and values could be achieved through various diplomatic and political initiatives, such as NATO’s ‘Open-Door’ policy or the EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative, launched by Poland and Sweden. In theory, these programmes could even lead Eastern European countries to access each of the organisations, as was the case with most of the former Warsaw Pact members like Baltic States, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland, Romania or Slovakia.

Poland has learnt from its own example, that accession to the EU or NATO is related to openness and willingness to adopt numerous values and rules that define each of these organisations. Therefore, as possible future member states, Eastern European countries would be obliged to meet high standards of political and economic legislation as well as changing their approach to security and law enforcement.

A Focus on the Political Environment

The Polish government envisions a wide range of opportunities for co-operation with its neighbours, especially countries that hold similar views on urgent problems in the region and have the same approach to dealing with current and future challenges to their safety and prosperity. The Polish MFA points out a number of actions it might take in order to secure its interests and reach the goals of its foreign policy, such as co-operation with its closest NATO neighbours: the V4 countries, Romania, and Baltic States. According to the MFA’s document, Poland will also seek to consolidate ties with the Scandinavian countries – especially Sweden and Finland – and NATO-aspiring Eastern European countries such as Georgia and Ukraine.

Modernisation of Polish Armed Forces is a prerequisite for national security. Poland’s authorities invest heavily in procuring modern weapon systems.

In addition, Poland will support EU-NATO co-operation in the spirit of the Warsaw Summit Communique – in the fields of crisis management, energy security and strengthening the eastern dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy, especially the Eastern Partnership. The MFA continues by assuring that Poland will also seek to improve regional resilience to crisis situations by enhancing connectivity between Baltic and Central European countries, for example within the Baltic-Adriatic-Black Sea ‘triangle’.

In this regard, the Polish MFA perceives its main goals in dealing with challenges and crisis situations within the Eastern Europe region, as taking action to uphold the European security architecture based on OSCE principles, ensuring that NATO-Russia are a tool for the Alliance to clearly communicate its position and to make Russia aware of the costs of continuing its policies of aggression (not to side-lining sensitive questions and returning to ‘business as usual’ policy), supporting NATO and EU ‘open-door’ policies, strengthening security co-operation with Eastern European countries and building up their crisis resilience, continuing co-operation with the Baltic States and Romania on reinforcing the eastern flank (especially when it comes to the Baltic Air Policing mission and EFP initiative), continuing co-operation with the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary in the framework of the V4 battlegroup, continuing Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian military co-operation as part of a joint brigade, taking measures aimed at consolidating co-operation between the defence industries of the V4 countries, as well as co-operation between Poland’s arms industry and its Scandinavian counterparts, facilitating co-operation between the Polish and Ukrainian defence industries, deepening co-operation within the ‘Weimar Triangle’and supporting regional and global measures to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The Polish defence industry alone is unable to meet the requirements of the Polish Armed Forces regarding modernising its inventory. Poland is dependent on importing new weapon systems from abroad, most commonly from the US.

Safety Through Military Strength

Poland has identified the need for developing national military potential and, therefore, enhancing the country’s defensive capabilities, as a focal point of its security strategy. Furthermore, the Polish authorities are aware that a strong and capable armed forces are not only the guarantor of nation’s sovereignty and independence, but also a useful tool in terms of implementing its main foreign policy goals.

The ability to use its armed forces in foreign, expeditionary operations, usually launched by multinational coalitions of allies, the so-called ‘willing nations’, strengthens Poland’s position as an important ally and precious asset of the transatlantic community. Furthermore, its enhances Poland’s credibility in the eyes of its closest partners, laying the ground for achieving its main foreign policy objectives, for example increasing its safety by guaranteeing the solidarity of partner nations in securing Polish national interests.
The Polish authorities are dedicated to investing in the country’s defence capabilities by continually modernising its armed forces. This process is perceived as constant, evolutionary technical modernisation of military equipment as well as introduction of new weapon systems, which are the outcome of the development of new and emerging technologies. Therefore, the country will continue assigning adequate funds for the procurement of new weaponry as well as maintenance of in-service systems.
Poland is one of a handful of NATO members who meets the requirement of spending at least 2% of its GDP on defence. The Polish government has already announced its intention to increase the scope of defence-related investments to 2.5% of GDP starting from 2030 or – if the economic situation allows – even 2024.

In February 2019, the Polish MoD announced a modified Technical Modernisation Plan (TMP) which, in its current form, is set to run until 2026 and covers a number of procurement programmes worth approximately US$47Bn. The MoD estimates that in the period of 2019-2026, procurement spending will gradually increase with the planned appropriation for US$2.8Bn in 2019, US$3.6Bn in 2020, US$4.5Bn in 2021, US$4.9Bn in 2022, US$5.2Bn in 2023, US$6.5Bn in 2024 and US$6.7Bn in 2025. The budget plan for technical modernisation in 2026 is will determined in due course.

The current TMP outlines 16 major modernisation programmes, which will help to enhance operational capabilities of the Polish Armed Forces and ensure their readiness to defend the country’s interests. First, Poland intends to enhance its air-and-missile defence capabilities against short and medium range aerial threats. These will be achieved through implementation of the WISLA and NAREW programmes.

The WISLA programme, the first phase of which has already been contracted and awaits implementation, calls for the procurement of eight batteries of the PATRIOT medium range air-and-missile defence system in the 3+ configuration, which could consist of the Northrop Grumman-developed IAMD Battle Command System (IBCS) and new 360˚ AESA GaN radar coupled with 208 PAC-3 MSE missiles from Lockheed Martin and a number of low-cost interceptors.

Under the NAREW programme, Poland intends to acquire at least 19 batteries of the short range air defence system, which will serve to protect armyunits while on the move, as well as stationary targets, such as bases, command centres or other infrastructure of strategic importance. NAREW is expected to use the IBCS command system, which eventually will make it interoperable with PATRIOT batteries, creating an integrated medium/short range air-and-missile defence system operating under one command structure.

Further on the list of major procurements that will have significant impact on Poland’s security and defensive capabilities is the HARPIA programme, which calls for the acquisition of at least 32 5th generation multirole fighter jets. Ever since the HARPIA programme was announced, experts and commentators have tried to predict what the Polish MoD will decide in regards to the preferred future fighter platform as well as the favoured acquisition procedure.

At that time, it remains to be determined whether the MoD will continue with the procurement through an official, open tender process or through a simple selection preceded by an unofficial evaluation of the platforms available on the market. In May, it became clear that the MoD decided to continue with the latter option, as the Minister of Defence, Mariusz Blaszczak, announced that the ministry had sent a formal Letter of Request to the US Defence Security Co-operation Agency in regards to the planned acquisition of F-35A LIGHTNING II fighters.

Future 5th generation fighter jets will complement the currently operated fleet of 48 F-16C/D Block 52+ fighters. Their acquisition will allow for the gradual phasing out of legacy, Soviet-era Su-22 bombers/fighters and MiG-29 fighters, which no longer present required combat effectiveness due to their deteriorating technical condition and obsolete onboard equipment. According to Wojciech Skurkiewicz, the Secretary of State at the MoD, the number of 5th generation fighters in the Polish Air Force’s inventory may increase as the ministry envisions procurement of another batch of 16 fighters after 2026.

Under the current TMP, the Polish MoD will also try to finalise other strategic modernisation programmes, such as the procurement of a series of new, modern submarines capable of launching cruise missiles (Orka), an unspecified number of coastal defence vessels (Miecznik), tactical, medium range unmanned aerial vehicles (Gryf), micro-class UAVs destined for use in urban terrain and equipped with day/night electro-optic observation systems (Wazka), multirole patrol/reconnaissance military aircraft with IMINT, SIGINT and RADINT capability (Plomykowka), new attack helicopters (KRUK), additional 120mm RAK wheeled mortars and 155mm KRAB self-propelled tracked howitzers, long-range rocket artillery squadron armed with US HIMARS systems (HOMAR), new guided anti-tank missile systems (PUSTELNIK), infantry fighting vehicles (BORSUK) and a fleet of light multipurpose 4×4 vehicles (MUSTANG).

The future will show whether the MoD will manage to finalise all these procurements and if the modernisation priorities will not be modified, as European and transatlantic security system will be subject to constant changes, shaped by various events and factors, not all of which are related to Poland and its nearest geopolitical environment. Nevertheless, it is not hard to imagine that the Polish authorities will continue to follow all developments on the political landscape and try to correctly identify emerging threats, adjusting country’s foreign policy and security goals accordingly.

Michał Jarocki is an independent, Warsaw-based defence expert who has reported on security issues and developments from a qualified ‘insider’ position for many years.