Hopes for the defense that our allies may provide should not by any means release are from the national responsibility for the security of our country and our independent initiative at the forum of NATO members. Poland must have the agenda of interests and demands in the event of the growth of tensions between the West and Russia, or another Obama-like the policy of detente.
A solid foundation for our position in the relations with America is provided by our constant engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the fact that Poland is one of only few NATO-member countries that fulfil their common obligation to spend 2 per cent of their GDP on defense. This is why we have a right to be a co-constructor and not just consumer of the security.
Admission of the Baltic States to the NATO considerably moved eastwards the political borders of the West, which – in turn - substantially improved our security. Engagement in Iraq (despite this war’s ramifications that we are aware of today) was a rational response aimed to sustain American solidarity with the Central European countries and their security, notwithstanding the war against terrorism. Support lent should be the response to support received. Given that the fundamental imperative of the Polish reason of state is perpetuation of changes that occurred in Eastern Europe after the collapse of Soviet Union, Poland should have acted for the strengthening of Ukraine’s security (support, for example, calls for the European “implementing mission” in the areas impacted by the conflict) and particularly Latvia and Estonia, that are the most threatened NATO members. This also regards Georgia and its road to NATO, that has become much more windy after president Saakashvili had been removed from power. This is why The Right of the Republic of Poland demanded that these actions became a direct response to the Russian aggression on Georgia and later Crimean Peninsula. The policy aimed to perpetuate independence of the new East European countries should reduce the probability of direct Russian invasion on the territory of Poland to minimum.
Yet our security is under a constant pressure posed by the Russian exclave around Kaliningrad, the most militarized area in Europe. Dislocation of Iskander-M missile complexes to this area enables Russia to carry out a frontal attack on the central part of our country, which poses the gravest threat and challenge. Although from time to time public opinion’s interest in the Kaliningrad exclave grows whenever media inform about dislocation of Russian troops to this area, so far we have rather been indifferent in this regard, which is quite surprising. The international status of Baltic States and Ukraine have changed but we tend to treat the situation in the Kaliningrad exclave as a constant.
New American president declares a new, pragmatic (military and diplomatic) approach towards Russia. Donald Trump’s recent declaration that sanctions against Russia should be combined with a new agreement on the reduction of nuclear weapons. This is another reason why in the long-time perspective (longer than the coming 4-year tenure of Donald Trump) we should be aware that Russian-American relations will be characterized tensions alternated with détente. In both cases we should know what we can expect from the United States and other NATO allies. We must have clearly defined interests, considering special security requirements for our country. United States – unlike Poland - are not threatened with a hybrid war within their borders. Therefore, we should be prepared to put forward the demands for strengthening the security of our north-eastern border by allied troops along with the demands for the demilitarization of the Kaliningrad exclave, during détente periods. This would substantially lessen a threat to Poland’s security. Certainly, the question does not regard the national status of the Kaliningrad exclave. A second generation of Russians live and most of them were born there. Thus the Russian sovereignty in this area is out of the questions. Moreover, this sovereignty could even become – in the event of demilitarization – a subject of special international guarantees.
The demands for changes in the international policy are usually pushed through and perpetuated for a long time. This is something that requires perseverance and consequence, something of the category different than electoral flashes of wit. Certainly, this also concerns a status of the region that Stalin created as a territorial citadel guarding the Soviet control over Poland and annexed Lithuania. However, as everybody denies having any Cold-War intentions, Polish diplomacy should consistently highlight the unintelligible Russian intention of sustaining the role Kaliningrad exclave used to play during the Cold War – a large navy base used for attack. The demand for demilitarization of this region may also be uses as a manifestation of the constructive, resolute and creative character of our policy regarding security of Central and Eastern Europe.
Polish diplomacy is unable to independently lead to the change of the status of Kaliningrad region. Yet it is in the position to frame a problem that other countries will have to refer to and, consequently, pursue such policy that this became the must subject of every negotiations concerning Russia – West relations. Just as the question of Polish – German border became a must subject during the process of German unification. We ought to make every country aware of the real threat posed by the hyper-militarization of Kaliningrad District to the European security and a fact that this region is a barometer of the European security. If we continue to recognize the missiles aimed at Poland as something typical of the Eastern European nature, other countries will not perceive this problem in a different way.
Poland must take into account a risk of invasion and war. But it is exactly due to this contingency that our actions and endeavors should be aimed to effectively defend against the worst contingency. Such policy would require courage and imagination. Demilitarization of the Kaliningrad exclave would not only substantially enhance our security but would also allow us to expend more efforts on the internal development. Furthermore, it would contribute to building the international image of Poland as a country capable of a long-term thinking in the categories of collective security. Importantly, along with other Central and Eastern European countries, Russia would also be – in a longer perspective - a beneficiary of the lessened tension. All our partners and, primarily, Polish public opinion should be aware of this fact.
Marek Jurek is the Chairman of the Right of the Republic of Poland and a member of the Committee on Security and Defense (Sub-Committee On Security) of the European Parliament.
Kazimierz Michał Ujazdowski is the Deputy Chair of the Committee on the Constitutional Affairs of the European Parliament.