Defence Policy

The Most Important Decisions Are Not Under Threat. M. Błaszczak Talks about the NATO Summit in Brussels, Negotiation with the United States of America and Special Purpose Modernization Acts

Image Credit: Defence24
Image Credit: Defence24

“The most important decisions have already been discussed and are not under threat”, said Mariusz Błaszczak, Head of the Polish MoD, during an interview with August Żywczyk he gave in the anticipation of the NATO summit in Brussels. The Minister also outlined the negotiation pertaining to the US bases, Polish participation in the European new generation MBT programme, new financing methods for the Polish Armed Forces, or the acquisition of Adelaide Frigates for the Navy.

August Żywczyk: Decisions related to NATO readiness and NATO command structure reform are expected to be taken during the upcoming summit in Brussels. The said summit, however, takes place in a context of a crisis in the transatlantic relations, caused by tensions between the United States of America and Western Europe. Recently, President Trump was frequently and openly criticizing, for instance, Germany for too limited defence expenditure, under the required 2% GDP level. Could the crisis, that is being intensified, have an influence on the course of the summit and the on completion of the objectives that the Poland has set for itself?

Mariusz Błaszczak, The Minister for National Defence of Poland: Our goals had been specified and confirmed earlier, for instance during the recent meeting of the North Atlantic Council involving the Ministers of Defence that happened back in June, in which I took part. Back then, we were discussing the issues that form the content of the ultimate arrangements prepared for the summit in Brussels that is to involve heads of the governments and states.

The most important decisions have already been discussed and are not under threat. Here I am referring, above all, to two areas. First is the “4×30” Readiness initiative. We are very much looking forward to this initiative, as it covers a significant reinforcement of readiness of the NATO member states’ armed forces, so that they can decisively respond, should one of the NATO member states be attacked. 

Another decision that is to be taken during the summit in Brussels is the establishment of strategic commands in Norfolk and Ulm. This is very important. The former command is to provide ability and safety of transfer of forces over the Atlantic Ocean. The latter, on the other hand, would provide logistic capabilities that are going to be used by us, on the Eastern flank as well, both in case of training exercises, as well as in case of actual conflict. 

The summit in Wales was focused on creating the rapid response force, meanwhile the Warsaw summit was focused on the presence on the Eastern flank. What the focal point is going to be, in case of the upcoming meeting in Brussels?

Both these initiatives constitute a major reinforcement of the NATO defence system, understood as a whole. Decisions made in 2016 and 2014 that you’ve been mentioning have been very relevant, but also related to some elements of Allied defence related to the Eastern Flank.

In Brussels, NATO is going to make another step towards strategic adaptation. On one hand, command structures that would coordinate and secure deployment of forces, across the Atlantic as well as around Europe, would be prepared. On the other hand though, the allies are making commitments to get ready to use much greater forces, quantitatively, to be able to rapidly deploy them, should a greater scale of threat emerge.

I think that the “4x30” initiative and reinforcement of the command structure both constitute a proper response and a proof of understanding of the evolving threats, we’re witnessing in case of the allies. Commanders and experts from different countries have been calling for heightening of the readiness of the forces and for preparation of those forces for rapid deployment since a long time. And this is the direction towards which the decisions made in Brussels go. We must remember that the Alliance, also following the NATO Heads of State and Government meeting back in July, will still have to perfect its capabilities and procedures.

I would like to stress, that the decisions that are going to me made soon constitute actual and relevant reinforcement of the Polish security. I would like to say even more: these decisions will, at least partially, make it possible to reverse the adverse trends that were prevalent among the NATO forces, following the end of the Cold War. Reinforcement of the readiness and of the deployment-responsible structures means that NATO is going back towards collective defence. This is good news for Poland, considering the development of threats. 

Poland proposed that the US deploys a US Armoured Division to Poland, and then the US Senate made a request to examine the possibility to deploy a brigade with support units here. We witnessed a wide public debate on that matter in Poland. Is the issue of permanent deployment of US Army forces in Poland still going to be brought up during the bilateral talks with the Americans, over the course of the upcoming summit?

My goal is to expand capacity to defend Poland. Thus I have been focusing on this issue during my last two visits to DC. I was talking about this issue during meetings at the White House, both with the former President Trump’s security adviser, Herbert McMaster, as well as with the current adviser, ambassador John Bolton, who invited me as the first guest.

I was also bringing this matter up during the meetings at the Pentagon, and at the US Congress as well. I was discussing this both with the Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Mac Thornberry, as well as with the deputy chair and leader of the democratic minority Jack Reed, as the Chairman (Senate Armed Services Committee - ed.) John McCain was unavailable at the time, for personal reasons.

I would like to stress the fact that the Senate ordered the Secretary of Defense to assess the options within the scope of increasing the quantity of the US Forces stationed in Poland and within the scope of establishing permanent basing for the armoured brigade. And this actually has already happened. Submission of that request is a fact, here we are speaking of something more than signals of positive attitude towards enhancing the US presence in Poland. 

I do not want to judge it now, what the final result is going to be. I want to repeat this: my main task is to provide security for Poland and for the Poles. This is the main purpose of my efforts to make the Polish-American relationship closer. 

Within the context of the intensification of the US-German diplomatic conflict, the media are suggesting that US bases could be transferred to Poland from Germany. Has this topic been brought up in your talks with our allies?

We were reading about that in the press. I do not want to comment on this information, as my goal is to create a consensus on the matters that bear the key meaning for our security. 

I am not going to refer to media speculations then, but I will refer to a decision made by the Senate that asked the Pentagon to asses the possible establishment of permanent bases in Poland. And this is concrete.

NATO forces constitute a relevant reinforcement to our security. Starting from 2017, a battalion battle group has been present in Poland, composed out of US, British, Romanian and Croatian units. This also relates to bilateral relations. I would like to recall that a “quadriga” meeting took place two weeks ago, involving heads of Polish and British Ministers of Defence and Ministers of Foreign Affairs. We were discussing the relationship in the domain of security, and this relationship’s status is very good.

Are you noticing the danger for long-term coherence of the alliance, considering the deep political division and conflict of national interest among the individual NATO member states?

Of course, some danger always exists, thus we will never attain perfection here. In my humble opinion, there’s a consensus when it comes to the main directions of NATO involvement, despite the differences in national interests of the individual member states. It is not a secret that NATO consists of member states that have a different assessment of a relationship with Russia.

We agree though, on the main objective, that is the deterrence. We also know that our attention is focused primarily on the Eastern flank, while our southern partners focus their efforts on the Southern flank. The key here is to adopt a 360 degrees approach towards the threats that concern us. Poland is endorsing solution as such, and thus, as I mentioned before, we’re involved both in NATO, as well as in the EU missions. We maintain a spirit of mutual solidarity which guarantees our security.

POTUS has been harshly criticizing the European NATO member states for the low level of defence expenditure. Increasing the defence expenditure by Poland, Romania or the Baltic States, involvement of the Polish military in multinational operations all form a solid basis for cooperation with the United States. During the recent years, decisions were being developed to increase the NATO presence in our region, even if that presence is of rotational profile. However, are you not worried that due to the deterioration of the relations with the western Europe, the Americans would perceive Europe as a whole and thus limiting their involvement on the Eastern flank?

In my opinion, no threat as such exists. The dispute with the US pertains to lack of proper involvement of the Western European states in bearing the cost of the collective defence system. NATO, however, is a unity, while the US actions could be interpreted as infliction of some healthy pressure on the allies who do not fulfill their commitments, even though they accepted such level of involvement. 

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Poland is meeting its NATO obligations, not only within the scope of finances. We maintain solidarity with our allies, hence the presence of our forces in Latvia, Romania, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo. We are involved in NATO missions and operational activities organized by the EU. The Polish soldiers are staying in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Africa, they are also a part of the Sophia operation in the Mediterranean.

Industrial cooperation and defence procurement also constitute an important element of the process of building the international relations. Poland, on the basis of an inter-governmental agreement, procured the US-made Patriot system back in March. Are the issues related to other modernization programmes involving the US-based companies, for instance rocket artillery or attack helicopters, an important part of the talks taking place between the MoD and the US Administration? To what extent the issue of involvement of the US domestic industry is being brought up by the Americans, when it comes to modernization of the Polish Army, with that involvement acting as an impulse that could accelerate the decision on deploying of forces to Poland?

We must differentiate the objective set by us, and the means used to reach the ends. The basic goal is to provide security for Poland. To meet this assumption, we’re taking a variety of steps. Making the cooperation tighter and increasing the US military presence in Poland is one of the elements of such a plan.

Intensification of international cooperation is not taking place at a cost of important initiatives. One of those initiatives is a broad modernisation effort pursued by the Polish military and procurement of modern equipment. Alongside the above, we’re also taking other steps. We’re expanding the Armed Forces quantitatively, along with its holistic potential. My decision to create the fourth division of the operational component of the military, deployed east of Vistula, and expansion of the Territorial Defence component, fall well within that scheme. 

We must also remember to take care of good morale in the Polish Armed Forces, and to take care of many other factors. Coming back to modernization, we’re procuring the best equipment that provides the soldiers with proper capacity. And so it happens that the Americans offer the best air and missile defence solutions. Hence our decision to acquire the Patriot batteries within the scope of implementing phase I of the Wisła programme. We also are negotiating further programmes.

This is the first stage of building the air defences.

I would like to stress the fact that today, at the MoD, we need to deal with many years of backlog. The decisions to introduce modern equipment into use in the Polish Armed Forces should’ve been made many years ago - not two and a half years ago, but much earlier, and then this should be followed by consistent implementation.

You were mentioning 2% GDP defence expenditure. I would like to recall the fact that the PO-PSL [Civic Platform-Polish People's Party] coalition did not spend more than 10 billion zlotys on the military, with these funds being guaranteed by the regulations of the Act on transformation and technical modernization of the Armed Forces. This is a major amount of money that could have been used to support the rearmament and reinforcement processes in the Polish military. 

I would like to say even more - this is the negligence that we witnessed in case of our predecessors. Today, it’s us who are launching the modernization process and who are speeding it up. Signing of an Agreement on 28th March with the US, on the Wisła programme, would bring the Polish Armed Forces up to a much higher level, so that they get their hands on the 21st Century technologies.

Since almost 6 months the MoD has been informing the public that in-depth analysis pertaining to modernization is taking place. On the other hand, Fiscal Year has rights of its own. We have a budget of more than PLN 40 billion, which is largest one ever, and that needs to be utilized to address specific tasks. The Ministry had made declarations, suggesting that Homar and Orka programmes are a priority here. What are the most important modernization agreements that are planned to be signed this year?

We will be consistently implementing the programmes, we are not resigning from any of them. I would like to place a major emphasis on that here. I adopted a rule which is different from the one used by my predecessors. I inform the public about the decisions being made, but not about the talks in progress. Announcing declarations during the negotiation process weakens our position. It is my interest to procure the equipment in as short time as possible, and at prices as low as possible.

You have stressed it multiple times, that enhancing the national defence capacity is your goal. This begs a question, as to what factors shall be decisive within the scope of procurement - operational capabilities or industrial input, transfer of technology? The Plan for Responsible Development suggests that the Polish manufacturing capabilities shall be supported, with the country being a subject to reindustrialization. What is the role that should be played by the Polish defence industry in the modernization process?

The Polish defence industry requires large expenditure and extra investments. There are some domains where our skills are high, but in some areas we have no relevant expertise. I am trying to create a situation in which we make full use of our potential, taking the capacity into account as well. And I think that this is a rational approach. 

Many years of delay, within the scope of modernization, also impact on the defence industry.

We are dealing with many years of modernization negligence, also influencing the industry. This is also measured by a fact that decisions regarding the submarines should have been made 5 to 7 years ago. Today, more vessels are being decommissioned. Actually, a few years back Minister Klich and Minister Siemoniak should have been aware that delaying the procurement decisions would create a situation in which the Navy would be forced to withdraw the owned vessels, and yet no procedure to acquire the successor was initiated. As the former governments remained irresponsible, today, the condition of the Navy is far from being satisfactory.

I, yet again, want to emphasize that the Polish defence industry is very important, as offset for our companies, was provided within the framework of the Wisla programme. However, we are also aware of the fact that not everything can be manufactured in Poland. We should be focused on the domains where our skills remain the greatest.

I would like to ask additional questions related to the Navy. Since many months now, talks have been in progress, pertaining to purchase of second hand Australian Adelaide Frigates that, according to the assumptions, would replace acquisition of brand new surface combatants. Have the analyses pertaining to that matter been finalized yet, has the MoD assumed a stance within that scope?

I can only say that within that scope, we’re at the final stage, and our decision is soon going to be presented to the public. Our goal is to increase the capabilities of the Polish Navy, as quickly as possible and at a good price. We also want the money coming from the budget, the taxpayers’ money, to be well spent.

To what degree the analysis pertaining to the Adelaide frigates was taking the industrial aspect into the account? Maintenance of these vessels at the Polish shipyards?

This is quite complicated. We’ve only started to rebuild the shipbuilding potential, after years of decay. As I said earlier, details pertaining to the Adelaide frigates are going to be announced soon. We’re looking for the best solution.

So can you declare as to which of the warship programmes would be launched this year?

I do not want to make such declarations, as this may weaken our position in negotiation. I would also like to point out that once I have been appointed the head of the ministry, I was focused on several fundamental matters to create a good base for the Army modernization and expansion processes.

First, I am speaking of healing the relationship with the Polish President. This is absolutely required here. The President also acts as the Supreme Commander of the Polish Armed Forces. The actions need to be properly coordinated to be successful, within the scope of completing the basic goal – providing Poland with security. 

Secondly, preparation of documents that constitute the organizational and financial basis for the individual procurement processes also had a key meaning. Thus, the Council of Ministers adopted detailed directions for transforming and modernizing the military, extending the timeline by 4 years, until 2026. At the moment, a bill that would amend the Act on Tansformation and Technical Modernization of the Armed Forces is being developed in an inter-ministerial manner. That Act would assume that the military development programming period would be extended up to 15 years. 

The experts were calling for a similar solution to be introduced, Strategic Defence Review has also been prepared on the basis of a timeline of 15 years.

The amendment of the Act would make it possible to match the Polish planning system with the solutions that have been recently introduced in NATO. This would also make it possible to match our needs rationally, with the ability to meet them.

Moreover, it was last year when an amendment of the Act on Transformation, Technical Modernization and Financing of the Armed Forces was adopted. The aforesaid Act assumes that 2.5% of GDP level of spending would be reached by 2030, but increase beyond 2% would begin as early as in 2020, when expenditure level equivalent to 2.1% of GDP would be reached, with gradual growth expected afterwards. All of the above provides us with a solid foundation which may be used to build and reinforce the Polish military. 

Information has reached the public sphere suggesting that the MoD is considering use of peculiar legal solutions, special purpose acts, that would envisage financing of the largest and the most costly modernization programmes to fulfil the grand requirements the military has. Are you going to take steps as such?

Yes, we are working on solutions as such. According to the principle I adopted, we will only release more information once specific solutions are in place. This process is already a bit further down the road than analysis, but I would not like to make any explicit declarations within that scope, at least now. 

Adoption of National Armament Policy and bringing the Armament Agency to life were to have a key meaning for the modernization process. Is there any specific schedule in place already, within the scope of creating a new organ?

I have appointed a plenipotentiary who is to deal with foundation of the Armament Agency and he, in an ongoing manner, provides me with information on progress within that scope. Today it is to early to speak about the details though. Arranging the military procurement system into order is one of my primary goals, and bringing the Armament Agency to life is to serve completion of that goal.

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Let’s address the issue of the EU activities in the area of security. Poland decided to join more PESCO projects. In what ways could the EU support the defence issues, and where is it, that Poland wants to get involved in that process?

We are currently in eight PESCO programmes, we also submitted our request to access the ninth one, managed by France and related to chemical warfare threat protection. In my opinion this constitutes a proof of our major involvement.

Action Plan on military mobility is another area where we’re involved, and I am placing a special emphasis on our involvement in that domain during the meetings of the EU Defence Ministers. This initiative concerns infrastructure and legal solutions that would allow for rapid deployment of forces. I would also like to note that we were covering this issue also in a B9 (Bucharest Format) setting. The B9, alongside Poland, also involves authorities of Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary. 

Can regional cooperation take place within the framework of the EU?

In proper conditions, undoubtedly yes. When it comes to military mobility and collaboration of the countries of the eastern flank, deployment of forces in north-south direction is also very important. B9 Format is well suited for such initiatives, and the Romanian side expressed its will to participate in such solutions.

Will Poland make efforts to be involved in major European defence programmes, such as the one aimed at designing a new generation MBT?

We are discussing these matters with numerous partners and allies, with regards to modernization-related cooperation, bi- and multilaterally. When it comes to the new generation tank, I have been talking about potential involvement in this project on our side with the Ministers of Defence of the Germany and France.

So far, the work is at the early stage, however, our declaration has received interest. We want to be active and present in initiatives as such, as this builds up the Polish position on the international arena, also enhancing the security.

Let’s get to the domestic matters. We know what shape is going to be adopted for the first stage of the reform of the command and control system. What can be said about phase II, related to recreating the individual branches of the military? Last year, no consent could have been witnessed between the Polish Ministry of Defence and the National Security Bureau, when it comes to the operational level. The National Security Bureau now came up with a concept of creating a Joint Forces Command. What the final shape of this structure is going to be?

When it comes to stage I, it is practically ready for implementation. I have presented the proposal related to phase I of the command and control system reform, in close collaboration with President Duda. The project has now been adopted by the government. It is going to be discussed at the Sejm now, and the Parliament is to make the final decisions. When it comes to stage II, the work is fairly advanced, but I do not want to make any final declarations prior to finalization.

However, I would like to stress that I want to maintain a good relationship between the government and the President, between the head of the MoD and the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Thus we are going to talk first, and then develop target solutions, and only after that we will inform the public.

When will we be able to speak about readiness of the Territorial Defence Component and subordination of that component to the Chief of Staff? Will this happen at the second stage of the reform, will this happen earlier, or should we expect this later? And when the whole new command and control system is going to be ready?

The Act adopted by the government assumes that until the WOT component is formed, it would still be subordinated directly to the head of the MoD. I think that this is a very rational solution.

During my talks with the Chief of Staff and with the Commanders we reached a conclusion that the military shall, as quick as possible, create competency to establish cooperation between the operational units and the Territorial Defence. I have witnessed an exercise in Nowa Dęba in person, where operational units of the 21st Highland Brigade were working together with the 3rd “Podkarpacka” Territorial Defence Brigade.

Meanwhile, Territorial Defence units were involved in a joint training with the 25th Air Cavalry Brigade in Nowe Miasto nad Pilicą. And this is a move in the right direction - obtaining competency so that the Territorial Defence Component complements the operational units. This is the right arrangement of the priorities. The operational forces, quantitatively larger and better equipped, form the foundation of our national defence, with the Territorial Defence supporting and complementing that foundation. These abilities must be perfected and trained, and this is done by the commanders. 

Territorial Defence Forces would attain readiness when the conditions you mentioned are met?

Yes, and this is going to be implemented and verified in practice. I do not want to define a timeline here, but this is the task that has been set for the commanders, and it is going to undergo implementation. Expertise, [force] integration and ability to operate together of both branches are of key meaning here. 

Establishing the fourth division of the land component is said to be one of the key elements of the reinforcement of the Polish military. Some of the experts suggest that alongside the new unit, serious structural changes shall take place in the division-level structures, with similar solutions being mentioned by the Strategic Defence Review. Is the Polish Ministry of Defence going to modify the structure of the Polish military prior or in parallel to establishing a new division?

Generally speaking, the review of dislocation of the Polish military is one of the tasks defined for the new Chief of General Staff, General Andrzejczak. Today, the situation is directly transferred from the Polish People's Republic. The dislocation of the Polish Army was dictated by objectives adopted by the Warsaw Pact, and it was to make it possible to complete those objectives. 

The Warsaw Pact has been non-existent for many years now, luckily, while the Polish military, with some minor or major changes involved, in general, distributed in the very same way as the one we could have witnessed in the Polish People's Republic. This needs to be changed. I will say even more, the military should be more mobile, and this is also one of the tasks assigned to the new Chief of the General Staff.

More and more often we’ve been recently witnessing deployment training involving Polish and allied units, within the NATO framework.

I am happy with the fact that more exercises are organized, and I appreciate the allied presence in Poland within that context, which forces us to carry out training and exercises. Both the permanent ones, related to the battalion battle groups, as well as the ones concerning the Polish detachments.

During my visits to Romania, Afghanistan or Latvia I could, first hand, witness the benefits brought to the Army thanks to exercises as such. This is very distinctive. The readers know this, but I would like to note that in Latvia troops from as many as eight nations have been deployed. Introduction of homogeneous procedures, so that this works, is a difficult task. 

In your opinion, does this multinational system, which is undoubtedly complicated, function properly?

Yes, this system works, and a major contribution to that has been made by our soldiers too. The members of the Polish Armed Forces are presenting certain models and solutions that later on undergo proper implementation. This is very important for capabilities and readiness of the Polish military to conduct defensive operations. 

Thank you for the interview.