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Peering into Poland from the outside, as an outsider, there are many facets that catch
the eye. While Poland’s encounter with Covid-19 is unexceptional and has little to tell us, the country’s exceptionalism is, at least for the moment, encapsulated in the likelihood at the time of writing that MSPO will be one of the very first defence exhibitions to
actually take place since the pandemic began.

New world

The coronavirus has obliterated face- to-face exhibitions, seminars and conferences for most of 2020, but MSPO thrives on its nationalism: an absence of international visitors may be less consequential than for many other events, but the global community will be looking to learn lessons from this impor- tant, local exhibition.

This is not to say that Poland is irrelevant for the international status quo, far from it. Poland came through the recent, pre-Covid-19, financial crisis, better than most of Europe, and continues to be one of few countries able to cause Russia to pause for thought. At a time when NATO relies on the already obsolete, “tripwire”-based “30-30-30-30” response to potential Russian expansionism, strategic uncertainty as to a likely Polish tactical response to Muscovite adventurism may be one factor that tempers Russia’s behaviour towards the Baltic States.

The proposed move of US forces from their comfort- able but distant bases in Germany to more forward positions in Poland seems likely to add security rather than diminish it – even if it means that NATO has once again aban- doned a fundamental legal premise in the name of “convenience“. German populism claims another scalp.

Poland’s Context

Poland as a whole may also be seen to be less engaged with the international mode du jour. The government is broadly popular, with a working majority, at least in the Sejm, while having the opposition party dominating the Senate implies that there is some sort of system of checks and balances in place.

Some policies that garner international attention, such as the anti-LGBT “movement” legislation, remain steadfastly in place. Others deserve more but receive less international scrutiny, such as the treatment of older citizens who defended their country in socialist times: a professional in the armed forces is fundamen- tally apolitical, and to punish him or her for being subject to civilian control of the military is probably wrong. Similarly, the creation of official paramilitary organisations to reinforce, through violence, unpopular legislation, is somewhat questionable.

So the social and political situation in Poland is generally stable and broadly prosperous, but the security and defence status is less rosy. In particular, the creation of PGZ (and
its predecessors) has done no favours for national defence capability or the wider Polish defence industrial complex. Viewed from the outside the effect has been to introduce a significant element of managerial incompetence, at all levels, for a long time, as well as
to create a very strong disincentive to what should have been healthy, national competi- tion across all industrial capability segments.

Precedent

India provides the blueprint for excluding privately-owned companies from state contracts – and the consequences. Procurement from abroad of extremely high-technology equipment: fighter aircraft, helicopters, Main Battle Tanks, air defence systems and so on, is logical and perhaps necessary, but Polish industry has always been capable of supplying its own armed forces with much of the less glamorous but equally necessary materiel for self-defence. To “administrate” such com- petition out of existence is simply perverse.

Poland is and will remain one of the small handful of NATO members that allocate the fabled 2% of GDP to NATO. Poland also remains committed to NATO and to the concept of collective defence. The rest of NATO can be thankful that capability and commitment, from politics, the people, the military and the defence industry both prevail, despite the obstacles.

Stephen Barnard