Armed Forces

There will be no Maginot Line in Poland. Fortunately [COMMENTARY]

Photo. Kancelaria Premiera/Flickr

In the fortification system announced by Prime Minister Donald Tusk for the eastern border, two things are certain so far. First, no one knows what will actually be built. Second, it is really unclear how much the entire undertaking will cost.


The announcement of the launch of the National Defense and Deterrence Program „Eastern Shield”, immediately sparked a great deal of discussion and a series of speculations about what is to be built. Meanwhile, from the data disclosed by Prime Minister Donald Tusk on May 18, 2024, it is really only known that this plan has simply begun.


”We have decided to invest 10 billion PLN in our security, and above all, in a secure eastern border. We are starting a major project to build a secure border, including a fortification system and such terrain shaping and environmental decisions that will make this border impenetrable to a potential enemy. We have already allocated these 10 billion PLN. We began this work to ensure that the Polish border is safe in times of peace and impenetrable to an opponent during war. We have named this National Defense and Deterrence Program with the codename »Eastern Shield.« This will be a shield that protects us from potential attacks from the east and, above all, is intended to deter the enemy.” Prime Minister Donald Tusk- May 18, 2024

This also means, as confirmed by the Polish Prime Minister, that a fund of 10 billion PLN has already been allocated for this purpose. However, it should not be assumed that this is the final amount, as it is still unknown what exactly will be done, with what, and when. Therefore, it is difficult to estimate the total cost of the entire undertaking, which may be less or more than the amount currently declared for this program by Prime Minister Tusk.


A "secure in times of peace" border

Such a large number of unknowns has both its drawbacks and advantages. The negative consequence of the lack of data about „Eastern Shield” and specific plans is the possibility of using this situation to make a series of quick, costly, and ill-considered decisions, later justified by the well-known military legal loophole: the „urgent operational need.” However, there is no „urgent operational need” yet, and such hasty decisions could expose Poland not only to unnecessary financial expenses but also to irreversible environmental changes.

It is true that the construction of „Eastern Shield” started two years too late, but it is still not too late to create it. Therefore, there is no need to rush excessively, and careful consideration can be given to what and how it should be done. Ukraine, defending itself against Russia for over two years now, has given us both the time to build a protective border system and the knowledge of how to create it.

Fortunately, Prime Minister Donald Tusk has already indicated that all work on the border must be supported by „environmental decisions,” which means acting with a compromise between what is desired and what is possible, considering the surrounding nature and the people living in the border areas. Moreover, „Shield East” is not only about strictly military plans but also those generally related to a secure border.

The mere fact that the Prime Minister has already mentioned the launch of the program suggests that the improvement of the several-hundred-kilometer wall on the border with Belarus, intended to stop immigrants illegally crossing the Polish border, is being financed from this 10 billion PLN fund. Therefore, it is very likely that such actions will consume a large portion of the announced funds, and the construction of the „fortifications” will be postponed until after thorough and consulted project planning.

A border "impassable for the enemy during wartime"

Reminding about the necessity of conducting „thoughtful and consulted project planning” is not without merit. The information about plans to establish within „Eastern Shield” a system of fortifications based on terrain features has already sparked significant discussion. Fortunately, none of the known and reputable military experts have considered this declaration as an announcement of building a Polish Maginot Line, Siegfried Line, or Pomeranian Wall. Therefore, there is hope that the creators of the entire project share the same opinion.

This project is needed because the previous government focused solely on (politically correct from their point of view) physical barriers to stop illegal immigrants at our eastern and northeastern border during peacetime. However, no one created something that would physically help stop attacking Russian (and possibly Belarusian) troops during armed conflict. Now, this is set to change, and the discussion currently only revolves around how it should be done.

It is crucial to make decision-makers aware that reinforced concrete shelter systems are not a guarantee of stopping the enemy, a viewpoint shared by most military experts. The enemy, knowing where and what has been built, can prepare measures in advance to destroy, overcome, or bypass the obstacle (for example, by violating Ukrainian territory). This is facilitated by technological advancements, especially the introduction of precision ammunition, which can easily destroy practically any point of resistance. In the case of Russia, this is compounded by an unprecedented tolerance for large losses, simplifying Russian tactics to the principle defined by a single word, „wpieriod” („forward”).

However, by utilizing the character of the defended terrain, its configuration, networks of water obstacles, „hard” roads, field roads, and dirt roads, it is possible to create a defense plan for an area that will allow the construction of several lines of resistance in a very short time, slowing down the enemy’s actions enough to be able to destroy them with aerial and ground firepower. This is not just about determining where and what should be built, but also about who can do it, with what, and how.

In the first case, a specific document called „terrain mobilization” should be developed, which should be created by the military during reconnaissance in the field with the participation of local authorities, police officers, Border Guard officers, foresters, hunters, and even civilian population. It is because the residents know best how to interrupt roads, where the „bottlenecks” are in the road system, as well as what needs to be done to approach the border discreetly and from which direction.

This is important because these residents should also be utilized in the future for the rapid implementation of „terrain mobilization” plans. Of course, theoretically, it is possible to start building anti-tank ditches and trench lines along the several-hundred-kilometer border and pour concrete into the ground to create so-called dragon’s teeth. However, after a few years without war, nature will take its course, and not much will remain of these fortifications and obstacles. Therefore, it would be best to prepare in such a way that this network of fortifications could be established when the threat of war is truly serious, and the enemy begins to concentrate its troops on the border.

Here arises the most interesting question: Does the „Eastern Shield” program also include the construction of what former Chief of the National Security Bureau, General Stanisław Koziej, strongly encourages, namely, anti-surprise capabilities? This is extremely important because only such an effective early warning system will signal when it is truly necessary to start building barriers, obstacles, and digging „trenches” (of course, based on previously created plans).

Contrary to appearances, with a well-functioning reconnaissance system, there may be enough time for this, as long as measures are taken in advance to enable the implementation of the necessary work. For digging anti-tank ditches, excavators and people with shovels can be utilized, but specialized mining machines can also be used, which will perform such tasks several times faster and better. These machines do not necessarily have to wait for wartime actions inside military warehouses but can also be used during peacetime (of course, if they are appropriately designed for this purpose).

”Eastern Shield, therefore, the system of fortifications, enhancements, modernization of the 400 km border with Russia and Belarus, will be a deterrent element, it will be a strategy to push war away from our borders. We are doing this to deter the enemy, so that all those who wish ill upon Poland, who have attack plans, aggression towards our allies, or towards our country - so that they hear today from Krakow’s Market Square - stay away from Poland.”   Prime Minister Donald Tusk - May 18, 2024

It is also important to remember that no engineering obstacle will be effective if it is not secured with mines, barbed wire, as well as properly positioned firepower. However, it can already be stated that Poland does not have a sufficient number of anti-tank mines for the amount of vehicles that could cross our eastern border. Therefore, they need to be produced now, and a storage and distribution system must be developed for them in times of threat. After all, I don’t think anyone plans to mine the entire Polish border during peacetime.

Moreover, the fortification system should not assume the construction of just one line of defense, but several, which may stretch even several kilometers into Polish territory (often in densely populated areas). Additionally, the necessity of potential expansion of the fortification lines should always be considered if the enemy manages to gain any territorial gains. It would be much easier and faster if „Eastern Shield” included the creation of appropriate defense projects inland, as well as the quantitative and qualitative increase of the existing engineering machinery fleet in the Polish Armed Forces.

Additionally, it must be remembered that there is currently not a sufficient number of anti-tank barriers in Poland to block all roads from the eastern border to the west. Unfortunately, there are also no mobilization reserves in the industry to allow for the rapid commencement of their production and transportation. Again, in this case, actions should be taken thoughtfully. For example, it should not be done, as the previous defense ministry did, to already deploy barriers on Polish roads, as there is currently no direct threat of attack.

Propagandistically deploying such barriers raises justified concern and tension, hinders communication, and accustoms society to a threat that may result in a weaker response when a conflict actually arises. Fortunately, concrete and steel barriers can be produced and stored near roads in advance according to the principle: „the closer to the destination, the faster it will be secured.”

And most importantly, it must be remembered that obstacles alone and even a well-fortified defensive line will not stop an adversary like the Russians, who do not value their lives. While the fortification system will help Polish soldiers survive on the front line, the most crucial task will be carried out by the forces tasked with destroying the halted enemy, and at the greatest possible distance. In this case, the principle should be simple: „approach the obstacle - and you perish.” That will be the true deterrence system.

Therefore, both a warning and response system are needed. Once again, there is a need to introduce as much precision ammunition as possible into the Polish armed forces, which also means completing Polish programs such as APR 155, APR 120, or Pirat. Then, not only can the invading enemy be precisely destroyed, but also the formations of foreign troops preparing to attack on the territory of Belarus and Russia. This does not mean the necessity of adopting a „Russian” preemptive strike doctrine at all.

However, the crossing of our border by foreign soldiers must be synonymous with a green light for strikes on the locations from which these soldiers launched their attack, as well as where their orders and supplies come from. This requires changes in the way our politicians think and in many defense-related documents, such as the Defense Response Plan, and even necessitates the introduction of a new National Security Strategy.

As we can see, „Eastern Shield” is just one element of building the Polish deterrence system and must be a plan encompassing a wide range of actions implemented across multiple ministries, with active involvement from local communities. Therefore, it is a significant oversimplification for the government to publish posters with the slogan „10 billion PLN for border fortification.” Because that’s not really what all of this should be about.