Focus On Security – Polish Foreign Policy in 2015

  • Baza SpaceX w centrum kosmicznym Kennedy'ego na Florydzie. Fot. NASA /
    Baza SpaceX w centrum kosmicznym Kennedy'ego na Florydzie. Fot. NASA /

The events in France and Syria, along with the largest migration crisis in Europe since the World War II, have altogether been the dominating themes of the international politics narrative this year. The persons responsible for creating the Polish foreign policy have been less active than in the preceding years. This was a direct result of their involvement in the electoral campaign. The newly elected Polish President, and Law and Justice Party winning the parliamentary election, make us wonder, what the main foreign policy directions are going to be – as Marek Połoński states, in his analysis for  

Last year had a special value for security, since 2015 was full of events that had direct impact on the lives of the Europeans, including the Poles. When on 7th January 2015, a terrorist act was committed against the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly headquarters, nobody expected that at the end of the year, within the EU forum, talks would be initiated, covering the limitation of freedom of movement within the European Union. Moreover, nobody thought that soldiers would be patrolling the streets of the European capital cities. Almost every month, all around the world, we could have witnessed an act of terror. The terrorist activity was also intense during the preceding years, however, Europe had seemed to get away from this threat easily. Most of the terrorist acts were committed by the Daesh or Al-Qaeda Jihadists, whose “baptism of fire” took place in Syria or Iraq.

The long-term Middle-East and African crises forced hundreds of thousands to emigrate. The wave of immigrants coming to Europe, along with the Daesh terrorist offensive, both had an impact on the shape of the foreign policies, throughout the year 2015. Russia got involved in the Syrian conflict, simultaneously de-escalating the operations in the Eastern Ukraine. The security policy has gained a primary meaning, becoming more important than the economy. Security was also the main theme prevalent within the foreign policy narrative in Poland.

The last year was also quite special for the Polish diplomacy since, as a result of the presidential and parliamentary elections, changes took place within the scope of the most important positions in the government. This translated into relevant changes, within the Polish foreign policy. President Bronisław Komorowski and the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, both involved in the electoral campaign, had reduced their activities outside Poland. On the other hand, Andrzej Duda and Witold Waszczykowski have just started to define the Polish foreign policy.

Starting from the beginning of the year, three, concerning processes could have been noted in the vicinity of Poland, namely the migrant crisis, Eastern security crisis and changes of the economic situation within the European Union. These three elements had an impact on the shape of priorities in case of the foreign policy implemented by President Bronisław Komorowski and the Government led by Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz. The aforementioned circumstances, at the same time, were a factor that shaped the schedule of the diplomatic visits. Obviously, numerous sudden events took place, requiring the authorities to adjust their plans.

President Bronisław Komorowski, throughout five years of his term of office, was involved in 102 presidential trips – most of them related to visits to Germany and Ukraine. These two countries played a key role in the Komorowski’s vision of foreign policy. At the end of his term of office, Komorowski was focused on constructing a stable relationship with Ukraine, integrating the Poland’s Eastern neighbour with the West. Ukraine and Germany were also the latest countries, visited by the former President.

During his visit to Kiev, Bronisław Komorowski met President Petro Poroshenko and made a speech at the Ukrainian parliament, which was the first speech ever made by a Polish head of state, at the forum of the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada. On the other hand, during his visit to Germany, which took place in the first week of July, the President met Joachim Gauck and the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Frank Walter Steinmeier. This was solely a courtesy call, the aim of which was to sum up the Komorowski’s term of office. During the visits and trips, security of the Central-Eastern European states was the primary issue which was being discussed. Secondly, the former Polish President was also involved in talks about the preparations regarding a joint stance which to be taken during the next year’s NATO summit in Warsaw. Finally, the visits also covered the area of policy with regards to Russia. This year, Bronislaw Komorowski was also involved, multiple times, in talks with the leaders of the Baltic states and Slovakia, nevertheless, there was no option of initiating talks with the remaining leaders of the Eastern European Union member states. However, such chance was given to Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz, during the meetings of the European Council.

Bronisław Komorowski also left Europe twice, during the year 2015. In March, he visited Tunisia, taking part in a march against terrorism, constituting a reaction to the attack at the Bardo National Museum, in which 23 persons were killed, including three Polish tourists. During that trip, opportunity of meeting the President of Tunisia, Sibsi, President of Palestine, Mahmud Abbas, and the President of France, Francois Hollande, was taken Prior to that, at the end of February, Komorowski also had made a trip to Japan, where he met Akihito, the reigning emperor of Japan, and the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. Besides the infamous visit at the Japanese Parliament, President Komorowski also took part in the Polish-Japanese economic forum. This meeting was significant, since Japan is the leader among the Asian nations investing in Poland.

The activities taken by Bronislaw Komorowski, within the scope of the international relations, throughout the last year, did not result in any specific initiatives, while the trips could be treated mostly as courtesy calls. However, Komorowski’s activity within the scope of cooperation with the NATO partners was more significant, even though steps taken within this area are also an initiative of the Polish National Security Bureau and the Polish Defence Minister, Tomasz Siemoniak, who was the most active politician of the former Polish government, when it came to the international security.

Siemoniak was showing the largest degree of initiative throughout the process related to negotiations with the US partner, regarding the American armament storages in Poland and within the territory of the remaining countries of the NATO Eastern Flank. During his visit to the United States of America, Siemoniak met Ashton Carter, the US Secretary of Defence, discussing the preparations for the next year’s NATO summit in Warsaw, and the Polish plans pertaining the expansion and construction of the air defence system.

Tomasz Siemoniak and Grzegorz Schetyna, with the latter acting as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, also marked the presence of the Polish government in the Balkans. Visits to Montenegro, Macedonia and Bulgaria were significant, in the light of the European migration crisis, as well as in the light of the political stance taken against Russia. Montenegro was invited to become a NATO member state. A similar invitation is expected in case of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The Skopje government is also interested in the products manufactured by the Polish defence industry. Bulgarian MiG-29 fighters are going to be overhauled at the Polish aviation facilities. Bulgarian government also decided to get involved in the works undertaken by the Multinational Corps North-East.

Two ways have been taken in 2015, within the area of the Polish security Policy, as the provisions of the Newport Summit were being realized, with parallel initiation of preparations for the NATO summit which is scheduled to take place in 2016, in Warsaw. The most important goal for Poland is to reinforce the NATO’s Eastern Flank, inter alia, thanks to the full realization of the readiness action plan arranged during the Newport Summit. In 2015, ca. 10 thousand NATO troops, including 3 thousand US soldiers, took part in the military training exercises, organized in Poland. Polish authorities consider the above to be a diplomatic success. However, it should be stressed that much larger exercise was organized in the southern part of Europe, since the events staged in Spain, Portugal and Italy involved more than 36 thousand soldiers. During the Polish exercises, lack of deeper involvement on the part of the NATO Eastern Member States could have been noted, and considered to be a shortcoming of the operations staged in Poland.

Nonetheless, it shall be emphasized that the Polish government also undertook actions, the purpose of which was to start joint cooperation of the Baltic States and Bulgaria and Romania. This line of policy is being continued by Prime Minister Beata Szydło and by President Andrzej Duda. We may hope that after the NATO summit in Warsaw, joint actions of the Eastern European states will be realized in a much wider scope, both within the military, as well as within the intelligence areas of activity.

When back in April 2015, Grzegorz Schetyna, head of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, presented the main assumptions of the Polish foreign policy for the upcoming years, many people doubted whether these points would be followed by the government led by the Law and Justice (PiS) party. Head of the Polish diplomacy stressed the importance of the joint foreign and security policies, implemented by the European Union. The immigration crisis and the terrorist acts in Europe have shown that no such policy exists, while the joint EU army is still solely a plan. Considering the above, NATO is going to act as the key instrument, providing the proper level of security for Poland, and Poland should focus on NATO, when it comes to development of own capabilities.

LITPOLUKRBRIG, a multinational brigade, may be treated as one of the elements of such developments. The aforesaid element was formed on the basis of an agreement signed by the Defence Ministries of Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine, ratified in May 2015 by Minister Bronisław Komorowski. The brigade is going to consist of three national battalions and a special unit. The element is going to involve 4.5 thousand troops, including: 3.5 thousand Polish troops, 545 Ukrainian troops, and 350 coming from Lithuania. LITPOLUKRBRIG is scheduled to achieve combat readiness in 2016. 

Minister Schetyna announced that Poland is going to increase its importance within the NATO structures, getting involved in the Quick Reaction Forces component, and in the initiatives related to the reform of the NATO Response Forces. Increasing the defence spending is yet another important issue, as the defence expenditure is expected to reach the level equivalent to at least 2% of the GDP. It shall be stressed that the Polish government also tried to have a significant degree of influence on the remaining NATO member states, within the scope of increase of the defence budget. This is an important step taken in the light of the growth of the Russian military potential.

PM Ewa Kopacz’s priority was to support the Ukrainian authorities, in the process of implementing the relevant reforms. Beata Szydlo’s government has a similar set of priorities. Within that area of the Polish foreign policy, continuity is going to be maintained. Constant contact with the Ukrainian government was being maintained by the former Polish authorities, the situation is similar in case of the present government of Poland. PM Ewa Kopacz provided EUR 100 million loan to the Ukrainians. During the December meeting of Duda and Poroshenko, it has been announced that a line of credit is going to be created for Ukraine, involving an amount of PLN 4 billion. During the joint conference with Duda in Kiev, Poroshenko said that Poland is a “committed and strategic partner for Ukraine”. When it comes to Ukraine, Poland tried to be a part of the Normandy format in talks. This stance was not supported, neither by Ukraine, nor by our nearest neighbour – Germany. By providing a loan and intensifying the reform-related strategy, Poland will get a chance to change this format, by imposing pressure on the government in Kiev. Neither Komorowski, nor the government led by Ewa Kopacz have managed to achieve the above. Time will tell, whether the stagnancy is going to be broken by Andrzej Duda or Witold Waszczykowski. Nevertheless, the former government managed to convince the European Union not to lift the economic sanctions against Russia.

Poland faces an enormous challenge, in the light of the growing role of China, taking a position of a global superpower. The world’s centre of gravity is shifted towards the Pacific. Poland needs to try to reinforce and redefine its foreign policy strategies outside the territory of Europe, getting involved in trade and investment initiatives, and promoting the Polish culture and national heritage. PM Ewa Kopacz and her government, in the light of involvement in the electoral campaign and internal tensions in the EU, could not have been focused on that area this year.

China is a serious economic partner, however the Beijing’s role in shaping the international security cannot be disregarded, also within the scope of the struggle against the global terrorism. Thus, a quick reaction of Andrzej Duda, who visited Beijing right at the beginning of his term of office, should be interpreted as a good sign. Placing China on the trip agenda, for the initial 100 days of the term of office was interpreted positively among the Chinese officials. Moreover, the character of the visit defined by the Chinese diplomatic protocol, is a proof that the Asian superpower treats Poland and the steps undertaken by Warsaw very seriously. The Chinese trip made by the Polish President was the most significant one in 2015, and it may bring a lot of benefits for the Polish economy, in the upcoming years. During the visit, the issue of Poland becoming a rotating member of the United Nations Security Council was raised. Poland is willing to take that role between 2018 and 2019. It shall be noted that the candidacy is an initiative which has been started by the former government. Chinese opinion and support, as China is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has a key value here. The Chinese authorities were satisfied with the visit, as they have accepted the invitation addressed to the Chinese President Xi Jinping, to visit Poland as early as next year.

Minister Grzegorz Schetyna had stressed the fact that cooperation with the Middle East and the Northern African nations is yet another priority for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, it was not a priority for Bronisław Komorowski or for Ewa Kopacz, since no official visits to Africa or the Middle East took place, throughout the last two years. This is incomprehensible, since, in the light of the Russian sanctions concerning the Polish products, there is a need to find new target customers for the Polish businesses. Moreover, in the light of the low resource prices, the Middle East nations are trying to penetrate the markets that could have been only accessed by Russia so far. Numerous African states, as well as those located in the Middle East, in the recent period, have shown a significant economic growth. In the upcoming months, economic sanctions against Iran are going to be lifted. This event will constitute an impulse, sparking the development of the whole region. The global terrorism, and the immigrants are further issues justifying the fact that the governments should become more active in the aforementioned regions.

Diversification of the energy sources is yet another element of the Polish national security, and of the security of the Central-Eastern European states. Polish diplomacy, so far, has been successful in blocking the Nord Stream 2 initiative, being an investment led by Germany and Russia. It shall be noted that the MEPs have shown solidarity within that scope, both in case of the coalition, as well as the opposition. The fact that an energy connection has been established between Poland and Lithuania in December 2015 is yet another important element of policy, when it comes to the energy security. The investment, started by the former government, may become an impulse, creating a positive relationship of the Szydlo’s government with Vilnius, and initiating subsequent large joint projects, within the area of energy.

Despite the panicky articles and news pieces published in the Western press, no significant, radical changes of the foreign policy may be expected, after the Law and Justice Party took over. The Civic Platform, as well as the Law and Justice, placed the emphasis on different aspects and came to different conclusions, however, in the key areas, their stances were similar. Both Parties have shown a critical stance towards Russia and focused on the West, European Union and NATO. Both parties were sceptical, facing the immigration crisis. However, when it comes to the relationship with France and Germany, it should be expected that the stance taken by Poland is going to become firmer.

Right after they have taken over the power, members of the Andrzej Duda’s administration presented a trip package not only showcasing the main policy areas for President Duda, but also indicating the steps that may be expected from the government led by PM Beata Szydło. Throughout the last six months, the steps taken by the Polish authorities have shown that Andrzej Duda is going to create the Polish foreign Policy together with Witold Waszczykowski. Throughout that period, Duda took official trips to Berlin and Paris. Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande are well-aware of the fact that, for the government led by PiS, the French-German duo is going to be less important. The will of being included in the EU mainstream, close to the main players, is irrelevant for the new Polish authorities. The new government is going to be willing to make Poland’s role more significant in the region. Secondly, a joint stance is to be worked on by the Visegrad Group and the Baltic States. During the initial months of his term of office, Andrzej Duda met all of the leaders of the NATO Eastern Flank’s member states, and he also was involved in talks with the Ukrainian authorities. This is a right step, in the light of achieving a joint stance which is to be expressed during the NATO summit in Warsaw, and in the European Union public sphere.

The firm stance in the relations with France and Germany caused a quick reaction on the part of the British government. David Cameron visited Warsaw on 9th December 2015, proposing reforms in the EU, and he made points referring to a referendum, which would answer the question whether the United Kingdom is still going to be a part of the EU structures. Despite numerous differences, there is a chance that London would offer its support within many areas significant for Warsaw, particularly in the field of national security.

Moreover, international security was the most important element of talks between Andrzej Duda, President Obama and the King of Jordan, at the 70th UN Session in New York. These talks were also significant, within the context of the plans, the aim of which is to reinforce the NATO Eastern flank. When it comes to the discussions involving the King of Jordan, Andrzej Duda was involved in a dialogue about the security issues in the Middle-East, including the fight against Daesh. Jordanian intelligence services may become a significant partner for Poland in the Middle East. Jordan is also an important partner, when it comes to providing a solution to the migration crisis the Europe is facing. Thus, it is unexplainable that the Witold Właszczykowski’s visit in Amman was cancelled, as it was more important for him to take part in the voting procedure regarding the amendment of the act related to the constitutional court.

Last year, the Polish authorities did not expressly react to the events significant for the international security. In the light of the terrorist attacks in France or Tunisia, a need was present to make a specific declaration or statement, referring to the war on terror. This would make our position stronger, during the upcoming NATO Summit in Warsaw. Polish government should have also used the Ankara-Moscow crisis, after the Russian bomber was shot down, expressing its support for the Turkish government. Russia is an important geopolitical adversary for Turkey. Ankara, on the other hand, is a significant player in the Middle East, at the same time being a strong NATO member, with significant intelligence network in the whole region. Relevant voice of the Polish authorities within the area of the Syrian crisis was also missing. Such voice could support the anti-Daesh coalition formed by France and the United States of America. No stance has been made, within the context of the Russian involvement in Syria. Declaring a strong position in NATO requires the member states to make a statement in the key areas of the international security.

The upcoming year is going to be filled with work for the Polish Diplomacy.NATO Summit in Warsaw and World Youth Day in Cracow are two important events, scheduled to happen in Poland next year.When it comes to the NATO and EU forums, Poland is going to try to represent the unity of the Central-Eastern Europe. Several countries, including Bulgaria, Romania, the Visegrad Group, Baltic States and the Scandinavia, may create a pressure-inflicting group, having an influence on our allies and partners in NATO and in the European Union. If our region receives support from the UK, then we would have a mighty instrument and influence tool, which could have an impact on the EU and NATO decisions, at our disposal. However, this would require our diplomacy to get involved deeply, in the process of creating the aforementioned tool.

Marek Połoński