Defence Policy

Former Polish MoD: Vilnius Summit Shows NATO passed a Stress-Test. Türkiye with An Important Role [Interview]

Photo. R. Suchy

NATO is the best solution, when it comes to the international security system, former head of the Polish Ministry of Defence, KO MP, and member of the Parliamentary National Defence Commission, Tomasz Siemoniak told us. In the interview, he also points out the significance of the Swedish and Finnish membership and the role played by Türkiye.


Jakub Palowski: We are now well aware of the key arrangements made during the NATO Summit in Vilnius. We would be dealing with the adoption of regional defence plans for the NATO member states, as well as a step towards the ratification of accession protocols for Sweden, by Türkiye. A certain type of support, and a possibility of an accelerated NATO accession have been granted to Ukraine, but no specific timeframe has been given within that regard. How do you perceive these arrangements?


Former head of the Polish Ministry of Defence, KO MP, and member of the Parliamentary National Defence Commission, Tomasz Siemoniak: It is a very important NATO Summit. The location remains symbollic, as this is the second summit in history ever, to have been organized in the territory of a former Soviet republic, following the event in Riga. The challenges that NATO is facing now are unprecedented - this is a test for Western solidarity. The perspective is different from the one adopted in Madrid last year. Back then, the "current" situation had been the main focus, whereas this year the long-term perspective was of key importance. And surely, the decisions made, regarding the support for Ukraine, with those decisions made both by NATO, as well as the individual states declaring a qualitative and quantitative boost in delivery of equipment, such as long-range weapons - in the case of France - remain very much significant.

When it comes to direct reinforcement of the Eastern Flank military presence, no new decisions were made. We do hope that during the next year's anniversary summit in Washington, long-term conclusions regarding the evolution of the European security environment would be drawn better. Of course, the adoption of defence plans is a positive element, with a significant bolstering of the rapid reaction force. That complements the arrangements made in Madrid.


I think that we shall, maybe not during the summit which plays a role of a political culmination of preplanned decisions, ask for further reinforcement of the military presence of the allied forces in Poland, and in other states in the region. Especially within the scope of air/missile defence, somewhat in a way similar to the reinforced enhanced Air Policing mission. I think that, observing what we have managed to achieve during the summit, and before, that we should struggle and ask for more, as the situation is a dynamic one, and calls for a continuous, growing response, on the part of the alliance.

Some comments are also being made, regarding the decision on the future Ukrainian NATO membership.

When it comes to Ukrainian NATO membership, a heated debate has been going on lately, we had numerous stances, but we can see clearly that everyone is supporting Ukraine strongly. Everything became clear after the statement made by President Biden. The POTUS recalled that Article 5 of the Washington Treaty stipulates that every square inch of the member states' territory would be collectively defended, should any aggression, occur. What follows, it is impossible to accept a membership request made by a country involved in an armed conflict, even if it was attacked.

We do have broad support, and a clear declaration made, that Ukrainian would be joining NATO in the future. Getting rid of bureaucratic obstacles, and the possible accession of Ukraine in NATO without the Membership Action Plan (MAP), and bringing a NATO-Ukraine council to life also remain important. These actions are quite concrete - and this is the maximum of what Ukraine and its friends could get. The US is somewhat entitled to pave the way for the adopted solutions - the US is also getting behind Ukraine, spending tens of billions of dollars, and providing political support. I do not think that some words said today may be a testimony of disappointment, as facts and specifics show that the US, NATO, and Poland included, are all very much involved in supporting Ukraine.

In my view, the alliance did and declared what's feasible at this stage, when it comes to what can be done for Ukraine, and this also remains realistic considering the Treaty-driven commitments. If we could speak about the possibility of the existence of NATO member states, in the case of which the Alliance could not offer complete, and direct involvement its defence, a solution as such would also be detrimental from the Polish point of view.

And what is your view of the progress made, regarding the Swedish NATO accession?

The third element of the arrangements made during the summit is the expansion of NATO - with Sweden - and a spectacular end put to the crisis regarding its membership. Swedish and Finnish accession are fundamental milestones for NATO, somewhat transcending our imaginations that were so valid a few years ago. This matter is very important for Poland. These states, given their location, and given their history, remain similarly sensitive, when it comes to the Russian threat. And these nations will also make major contributions to the NATO defence potential. This steps beyond the realm of politics, another flag. We're speaking of two strong states, EU member states, with major defence capabilities.

The Vilnius summit will probably be associated with Sweden, considering the unfolding events. However, those who are in favour of strong NATO may be satisfied with the fact that Türkiye has shown its standing on the Alliance's side, and that it treats NATO membership very seriously. I really received the statement made by the President of Türkiye well, with Türkiye renewing its European, and EU aspirations.

Critique of granting Türkiye the EU membership emerged in some western states, such as Germany, or the Netherlands. Some signals even suggested that the membership negotiation was about to come to an abrupt end. In your opinion, should we be driven toward the integration of Türkiye into the European structures?

Yes. I think we shall be driven towards the integration of Türkiye into the European structures. This has been the stance adopted by Poland, and this position has been unchanged, across governments. The matter is not an easy one, as it has now been going on for more than 2 decades - it is very sophisticated.

I would like to note that President Erdogan, who over the recent years was looking in several different directions, for instance when procuring the Russian S-400 air defence system, and other actions in the international arena, today claims the following: We want to be a part of the West, and we want to be a US ally, as it has been since the 1940s. Ultimately we want to become an EU member state. Over "a single measure", Erdogan expressed his endorsement of the Swedish NATO membership, and the Turkish willingness to work closely with the Western structures.

This matter is very important for Poland, also geopolitically. I do remember, from the times when I was working at the Polish Ministry of Defence, that we were aligned with Türkiye very much when it comes to many NATO-related matters. Both Poland and Türkiye, are at the very limits of NATO, we also used Article 4 of the Washington Treaty during a similar period. Türkiye was doing this when the civil war in Syria started threatening the country, we did this when Russia annexed Crimea. I am not referring to the internal situation in Türkiye here, but I think that Türkiye is a very important state for Poland, bringing a kind of closure to the NATO Eastern Flank. And I am satisfied with the fact that the crisis involving Sweden has concluded, and the President, and the Turkish authorities as well, are mentioning European involvement. We need to get back to this. Obviously, what steps, and when they would be made, is another issue. However, the direction, the heading, does bear significance in politics, very often. This is also an important contextual layer for this summit.

Looking into the future: in 2024 the NATO Summit has been scheduled to take place in Washington. The presidential and parliamentary election is also scheduled in the US next year. The new NATO force model would require greater involvement of the European states, also in financing their defence. These days, this matter is somewhat underwhelming. In your opinion, will NATO manage to stay coherent, over the upcoming years?

Many things have happened in NATO, over the last 8-9 years. I do remember 2014, the preparations for the summit in Wales, and the talks on "what's next", after the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan. These events, unfolding following the Annexation of Crimea, during the first phase of the Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2014 and 2015, restored the significance and role of collective defence in NATO. And what has been happening since 2022 can be viewed as a grand consolidation of NATO, and the West, led by the United States. All of these processes are beneficial.

Let me recall that President Trump did not believe in NATO, he was devaluating it, and also the President of France was making statements suggesting that the Alliance is brain dead. Today, in Vilnius, we could have witnessed unity in NATO, translated into support for Ukraine, and its future membership, but also into declarations on 2% of GDP as a minimum. A question emerges whether these guidelines would be followed. However, that is no longer a matter to be discussed, as it was more than a decade ago, for instance during the famous speech made by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, harshly criticizing the Europeans' own defence expenditure being too low.

These days everybody understands that defence has become important, while the post-Cold War era of peace has come to an end. And different states, even those that were reluctant modernization-wise, such as Germany, with 100 bn. fund invested across a variety of projects, engage in a process aimed at reinforcement of the defence capabilities. Thus, the NATO member states are headed in the right direction. The undertaken actions obviously stem from Russian aggression, a true tragedy for Ukraine. However, NATO has shown that it can cope well, during a "stress test". The alliance is drawing the right conclusions, setting proper goals, and remaining ready to respond to threats. Meanwhile, Sweden and Finland, states whose societies have been opposing the accession so far, as surveys have shown, joining NATO, shows that NATO is the best solution when it comes to the system for international security.

What do you expect, after the summit in Washington?

Next year NATO summit would be an anniversary one, celebrating 75 years since the inception of the alliance. I do expect that long-term plans would be made there, on how NATO would look over the next decade or two. Will the war come to an end by then? It is difficult to predict this - nothing suggests that this is going to happen so far. Meanwhile, after two and a half years of a full scale war, NATO will need to draw long-term conclusions.

As I said, I would like decisions to be made, during the summit in Washington, on further increase of permanent allied military presence in Poland, and in Central-Eastern Europe. The election in the US comes along the way. I think that the context tied to the election would encourage the tightening of the US-NATO relationship, which is personified by President Biden. We see that Joe Biden has placed a strong bet on NATO.

Biden's career has been a long one. The current POTUS remembers the Cold War well, and the NATO role in that period, he also remembers the times when the Alliance was focused on the mission in Afghanistan, as he was the Vice-President back then. Biden knows it well, that the West has no tool better than NATO. He managed to gather the West and unify it together around Ukraine. The presence of Japanese, Korean, and Australian leaders in Vilnius was also important. This shows that the West, understood as democracies of free-market economy gathered together, needs to engage in consolidation. The threat posed by Russia is one of many, for the coherence of the West, but NATO, and the West, are passing the test.

Thank you for this conversation.