Poland Ponders Putin’s Motives While Pumping Up Its Hard Power
By James Krotz
Coming amid the now year-long conflict in Ukraine, the Republic of Poland has announced a 10 year long defense spending increase, with a price tag of 42 billion (USD). The move is surprising, but not altogether unprecedented. With Russian aggression plaguing the eastern third of Ukraine, Poland’s direct neighbor, the Poles can hardly be blamed for increasing defense spending so drastically. After spending nearly 60 years under the thumb of Moscow, Poland’s wish is to remain oriented towards the West, and retain its membership in the EU and NATO.
After the fall of Polish communism in 1989, the democratically elected government was quick to establish good relations with all its neighbors. However, relations with the West were far easier than with its volatile neighbors to the east, Belarus and Ukraine. An unstable Ukraine and a Russian-aligned Belarus remain the gravest foreign policy threats of contemporary Poland.
The defense spending increase will have several facets, although it remains in step with the trend of the Polish military since its admittance into NATO in 1999; that of lean and rapidly-deployable armed forces. The most expensive purchase will be that of 70 multi-role helicopters. The contract has yet to be awarded but has seen interest from U.S.-maker Sikorsky, European consortium Airbus Helicopters, based in France, and the Anglo-Italian AgustaWestland. Among other updates will be combat drones, a missile shield, updated anti-aircraft installations, and even two new submarines. The decision of the contracts made by the Polish Ministry of Defense will be a highly political one. It will tip Poland’s hand in whether or not the country will remain a loyal Atlanticist, as it has done since the Afghan War in 2001, or orient more towards an independent European security apparatus, advocated by powerful EU countries like France and Germany. In any case, the spending increase will bring Poland past the 2% of GDP marker that NATO requests all members spend on defense. Currently, only 4 NATO nations meet the marker.
In this researchers opinion, it would behoove other Central European and Baltic nations to follow suit, and it remains to be seen if Poland will take a stronger stance against Russian revisionism. Russia continues to violate NATO airspace with impunity, with more than 100 aircraft intercepts in the past year, up 300% from 2013. If more NATO countries choose to continue trends of paltry defense spending, then perhaps Poland could seize initiative and form a working alliance of geopolitically threatened countries to strengthen European resolve. Perhaps an organization like the Visegrad Four could serve this purpose.
In any case, I personally applaud Poland’s realist approach to Russian aggression in a Europe that seems unwilling to commit to a hard power strategy and urge the United States to stand firm with our Polish allies.