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JUNE 2023

Does the alliance with the United States serve Poland’s interests?

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Does the alliance with the United States serve Poland's interests?Original written by Tomasz Kwasnicki and published in the Polish Do Rzeczy news weekly; translated from Polish by J.Hawk
On the road to Locarno. Does the alliance with the United States serve Poland’s interests?
The eternal Polish-French friendship was dogma in the Polish II Republic diplomacy, just as the Polish-US friendship is today. Then and now, any attempts to chart an independent course for Poland’s foreign policy were met with fierce counterattacks, writes the Do Rzeczy weekly.

This approach is remarkably similar to the approach adopted in the interwar years, when France, after a victorious World War, with our own help and to our own demise, France made us into a tool of its foreign policy, effectively playing the II Republic card in its dealings with the Weimar Republic and III Reich. So: at one point we were used to check the Germans, at another our interests were sacrificed on the Locarno altar of good neighborly relations between France and Germany and then, when the war was unavoidable, we were thrown to be devoured by Hitler in order for France to gain a little time. All the while the French tricolor was flown in Poland in front of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as a reflection of highly advanced naivete. Like today, all attempts to make Poland’s foreign policy more independent were met with fierce counterattacks in both the opposition press and the government press. The eternal Polish-French friendship was the dogma of Poland’s diplomacy, just as the US-Polish friendship is today.I am not an opponent of a strong Polish-US alliance, provided the Americans were genuinely intent on creating out of us their Central European cruiser, just as they turned Israel into their Middle Eastern aircraft carrier, by investing colossal amounts of money, providing advanced weapons and technologies. However, if the Americans are only prepared to offer us the role of a frontline state in their conflict with Russia which would enable us to buy some obsolescent equipment and become an official target for Russian missiles, then good Polish-US relations ought to mean as much as good US-Hungarian relations. Like Hungary, we ought to remain loyal US allies. But we should rid ourselves of the delusion that the Washington elite will give us anything in return for our overzealousness.  Otherwise Radek Sikorski’s vulgar description of US-Polish relations will remain an accurate one.The other Law and Justice foreign policy dogma is the continually antagonistic course against Russia. “Putin’s Russia is not heading the same way we are”, says Witold Waszczykowski in one of his interviews. “We haven’t damaged our relations with Russia. We are behaving correctly, we are a well-behaved member of the EU,” he adds to justify his openly anti-Russian rhetoric. Here, too, Law and Justice is dropping its best cards before even starting the game. Russia already knows perfectly well how Poland under L&J government will act, and it is not difficult to outplay such a predictable opponent. There is nothing easier to handle in diplomacy than clientelist mini-states which deprive themselves of freedom of maneuver in a dispute between more powerful rivals. Both Poland’s and Europe’s history provides many examples illustrating how a weaker ally’s servile and submissive stance will be used against him at the proper moment–both by the hegemon and his opponent.It is more than likely that, sooner or later, the US will seek to normalize relations with Russia. The US can’t afford to be simultaneously in conflict in the Middle East, Ukraine, and the Pacific, and it’s the latter that is the crucial theater of global rivalry where the US is concentrating its efforts, which means the US will attempt to win over Russia to its own camp. There is no doubt that in such a scenario they will come to terms at the expense of third parties, especially those which gave themselves up as a political resource for free. Therefore one can imagine a situation in which the US, in the process of the current “tug of war” with Russia, will place a few military installations to the sounds of Polish wind orchestra, in response Russia will not only demonstratively aim more missiles at Polish targets but, what’s more important, increase the number of troops stationed in the Kaliningrad District and Belarus.

When a period of thaw comes in the US-Russian relations, the Americans will always be able to do Russia a favor at the expense of their infantile Polish friends, while the Kremlin only strengthens its military dominance in the region. The situation will be similar in the economy. Not only the US and Western Europe but even Ukraine maintains lively, for wartime conditions, trade relations with the “aggressor country” in spite of the restrictions imposed on Russia. Ukraine not only buys gas from Putin at prices that Poles could only dream of, but also makes engines and other subsystems for Russian missiles and helicopters, not to mention Poroshenko’s private business which is thriving on Russian Federation’s territory. Once the situation is at last normalized and the sanctions are lifted, it is the strongest countries that will benefit from renewed cooperation with Russia, as well as countries which, like Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, or Finland, did not try to out-do the anti-Russian coalition.
A Self-Fulfilling Prophesy
On the one hand, Polish elites are constantly claiming that Poland would lose stature without US support, but on the other hand they are equally insistent there is nothing to talk about with Russia. The effect of such a simple-minded diplomacy is the gradually deepening clientelization and the near-total dependence of the Polish III Republic on its overseas patron. Anyone who tells the world they are “nothing” without the US while at the same time proclaiming to be a personal, ancient, and hereditary enemy of the Tsar of the North is engaging in a self-fulfilling prophecy. He has made himself into “nothing” on the geopolitical chessboard, even if he still thinks he’s a regional leader.Poland could abandon this profitable and honorable position in two ways: first, become a superpower (for example, through patron’s help), secondly by leveraging its position by relying on America’s rivals. The US never declared its willingness to turn Poland into a regional power. Thus Poland has only the second option available–use Hungary’s example, which underscores its independence of external centers of power. Even as Polish politicians are busying themselves with proclaiming outrage at “Russian imperialism”, Orban is hosting Putin and demonstrating own independence. In a gesture of gratitude, he received many gifts from the Russian ruler, including the lowering of the price of gas and 10 billion euro credit for the expansion of the powerplant at Paks.
The Magyarization Option
Can Poland conduct foreign policy toward the Kremlin analogous to that conducted by Hungary? The answer depends not only on Russia’s readiness to cooperate with Warsaw, but also on whether Poland has statesment of Orban’s caliber. Alas, everything suggests that after the the era of government by petty wise guys we are about to be ruled by moralizers, which means we’ll never find out whether Poland could “magyarize” its relations with Moscow. That’s a pity, because if that possibility appeared, it would give us the most valuable asset in diplomacy–the freedom of maneuver. It is in our interest to tell Moscow “we’re evaluating your proposal”, and that step does not carry any political costs or risks. It also doesn’t mean betrayal or desertion, as our political lunatics tend to claim. It would be merely a demonstration of our sovereign diplomacy, and the fact it has to be explained shows the level of bankruptcy of Poland’s political culture. It’s not easy to say how this test of Russian openness would turn out? Nevertheless it’s a fact that if it were negative, it would complicate our position. It would mean we have a limited freedom of maneuver, which would make our client state status permanent relative to Western political centers. However, today Russia is facing bigger problems in its attempts to break out of political isolation. Hungary were able to use that state of affairs, Bismarck-style. Poland, on the other hand, to quote Witold Waszczykowski, is “behaving itself correctly.”
J.Hawk’s Comment: Do Rzeczy is a prominent Polish newsweekly read by the conservative wing of the Polish political class, and the fact such an article would be published in the first place suggests there is some room for improvement within the Polish political class. Kwasnicki is no doubt correct that the overarching desire of the Polish political class over the last decade at least has been to persuade the US to transform Poland into the Israel of Central Europe, to help keep tabs on both Russia and Germany (!). However, there is zero chance of that happening, and the US refusal to place permanent bases on Polish territory only drives that point home–Poland might be asked to be the frontline state, maybe even a market for US weapons (though not necessarily the most advanced ones, and certainly without the level of subsidization that Israel receives), but not much else. Moreover, Poland is being pressured by the EU to accept refugees flowing into the Union, while at the same time refusing to adopt Poland’s ideas for dealing with the Ukraine crisis. Combine that with the negative reaction to the resurgence of Banderism in Ukraine, and the field is ready for a Polish pivot toward Russia.This could have happened in 2010, when President Lech Kaczynski flew to Smolensk to meet with Vladimir Putin and visit Katyn. Since Kaczynski was killed in the air crash in Smolensk, nothing came  of it, though one wonders what that visit would have led to. In all likelihood it was going to be a breakthrough in Polish-Russian relations, with Kaczynski having the credibility to declare Poland’s feud with Russia is over. But it was not to be, and instead Lech’s brother Jaroslaw preferred to pursue an anti-Russian campaign, blaming Russia for assassinating his brother in Smolensk. From the narrow party perspective, it was an effective policy since it mobilized the Law and Justice electorate but at the same time it, and Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s visit to the Maidan, set back Poland-Russia relations by many years.Are we going to see a revival of efforts to reach Russia-Poland rapprochement? A lot depends on Poland’s economic situation (which is weakening), events in Ukraine, and the condition of the EU. But it is clear that, as Kwasnicki writes, Poland has made itself into such an obedient client state that its opinion carries no weight in Brussels, Berlin, or Washington. After all, it’s not as if Poland will suddenly make a pro-Russia pivot? Right? For that reason, and the fact that even Kiev is not making any adjustments for Polish sensitivities (for example, the glorification of OUN-UPA has angered many in Poland), points in the direction of Poland pursuing a more flexible, less Russophobic foreign policy. Not only is the Law and Justice party the only political force in Poland capable of making such a move, many politicians associated with anti-Russian policies (starting with the former Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski) have been discredited to the point of being forced out of politics altogether. Therefore the next few months in Polish politics will be important to watch, because they will determine the course of President Duda’s foreign policy.

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