Poland and the NATO Summit in Warsaw - expectations, perspectives and challenges (commentary)

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From the perspective of Poland’s security, the upcoming NATO Summit will likely be the most important event since our country’s accession to NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004. The conclusions of the Summit will greatly influence the future role and nature of the Alliance and therefore, the security of the Polish people as well.

In relation to the recent dynamic changes in structure of the European security (the illegal annexation of Crimea, the Russian invasion in Donbas, the militarisation of Russian foreign policy, the crisis of leadership in the European Union as well as the migration crisis and destabilisation of the Middle East affecting the most significant EU member states etc.), Poland mainly expects the reinforcement of NATO’s real military capabilities and defensive potential. The fact that a number of significant NATO members slowly shift their perception of the threat from the East towards the stance consequently advocated by Warsaw, gives hope. From the Polish point of view, the direction of this shift is positive. It emerges as an appropriate improvement in the attitude towards Moscow, compared to, the period shortly after the Russian invasion on Georgia in 2008. Furthermore, one should remember that, paradoxically, each new political or military provocation Moscow takes is a new argument against the supporters of coming back to the "business as usual" attitude in relations with Russia. On the other hand, Poland, despite campaigning for the strengthening NATO, simultaneously supports the political dialogue with Russia. Such a position appears to be very rational, especially in the context of the need to gradually compensate for the quite unfair Russo-sceptic image of Poland among some of the Western countries.

The next point worth noting is the concept of Polish authorities to reinforce not only NATO Eastern, but also NATO Southern flank. What Polish authorities have in mind, and what is, unofficially, warmly welcomed by our Western allies and partners, is the adoption of the „360 degrees’ doctrine” by the Alliance. This doctrine would allow an adequate response to the threats from the South. An example of the new Polish approach is the recent announcement by the Polish Ministry of National Defence. It states that Poland will send its frigate ORP "Gen. T. Kosciuszko", along with a team of four F-16 aircraft to carry out patrol and reconnaissance NATO missions in the Aegean Sea. The political, diplomatic and military steps made by Poland, in this case, can be evaluated as heading in the right direction.

One can observe also another tendency, which is in line with the Polish national interest - to gradually drop NATO’s "reassurance” policy - assuring its Eastern members of NATO’s readiness to defend them, again - and replacing it with the "deterrence" policy, which aims to develop and use sufficient military and political means to effectively discourage the potential enemy from any offensive operations. The described changes fit into the general scheme of coming back to NATO’s roots, meaning a broader redefinition of NATO’s main role from a collective security alliance to a collective defence alliance.

When it comes to a possible declaration of NATO’s Eastern flank’s reinforcement at the July Summit in Warsaw, it appears that these states can hope to achieve a continuous, but rotational presence of US heavy brigade and other allied forces from the NATO in general in the strength of 4 combat battalion groups. Despite some criticism, from the military point of view, there is no considerable difference between this kind of aid and the initially demanded fully permanent NATO’s force presence. Even a rotational force is, however, a firm political step, significantly hampering a potential military action against the host country. In order to effectively repel a potential aggression on NATO’s Eastern flank, there is a need to establish US&NATO bases („Army Prepositioned Stocks”) with heavy equipment, munitions and fuel there, so that any allied forces could use them in case of any potential attack. It is clear that Warsaw’s priority is to host as much of NATO’s member’s forces as possible. Summed up to one sentence, Poland’s expectation is the more NATO’s "boots on the ground", the better. Apart from that, Poles have to remember that only a successful and efficient development of its own military capabilities (mainly to intensify the application of the Programme of Polish Armed Forces’ Technical Modernisation) is the basis of an effective defence of Poland. NATO (the military factor) and the EU (the political factor) can only be an important, but still a complement, to affirming Poland’s security.

Form the Polish perspective, in the near future, NATO should consider introducing a new, flexible strategy that could answer to the most recent international circumstances and threats. The most significant challenges in this area include:

-    the urgent need to redefine the concept of NATO’s role and its deterrence potential (covering also nuclear deterrence - specifically in the context of a growing disproportion in this kind of tactical capabilities between the Alliance and the Russian Federation);

-    the question of counteracting the Russian "anti-access" doctrine (anti-access/area denial concept - A2/AD, in short) in Europe, with a particular emphasis on the Baltic Sea;

-    NATO’s position on the Northern flank, mainly the Arctics, which can become a place of a potential confrontation in the near future;

-    the need to redefine NATO’s strategy towards the Russian Federation and to find an effective "modus operandi" in relations between NATO and Russia;

It is very likely that some of the above will not appear in the agenda of July’s Summit, but the emerging compromise seems to be more or less in tact with what Poland could achieve, taking into account the objective obstacles, such as a different approach of some of NATO’s members towards the threat from the East. The conclusions established by this analysis, therefore, leave Poland moderately optimistic.

Adam Kowalczyk holds the position of the Director of Analysis Division at the National Centre for Strategic Studies. Previously he worked as an expert for the Diplomacy and Politics Foundation, the Amicus Europae Fonudation and the Energy for Europe Foundation. His research interests are focused on the Polish foreign and security policy, Eastern European security, Polish-Russian&Ukrainian relations, relations between theory and practice in International Relations as well as NATO's defence and deterrence policy. He is a graduate of Political Science and Eurasian Studies (both with MA degrees) at the Institute of Political Science, University of Warsaw.