Original by Piotr Celej published by Na Temat; translated from Polish by J.Hawk
Polish President’s Andrzej Duda’s key foreign policy priority were to be permanent NATO bases in Poland. Duda announced an all-out diplomatic offensive prior to the NATO summit to be held in Warsaw on July 8-9. However, the project is already under a big question mark.
Poland wants to build its security by increasing NATO presence in the country. These would be permanent military bases. The Presidential Chancellery announced that Poland will want to prepare the most advantageous negotiating position in order to obtain a positive commitment. Poland chose that option due to growing severity of geopolitical shifts. Unfortunately, the project may prove to be impossible to realize.
Americans not interested
Newspaper Rzeczpospolita reported that Americans diplomats have stated the US will not build NATO bases in Poland. “US attitudes have changed in the fall of last year. Washington came to the conclusion at the time that the Warsaw summit ought not be directed against Moscow,” Rzeczpospolita-cited US diplomat stated.
The definitive US withdrawal from this project has its justification. When the declaration that such bases could protect NATO’s eastern flank against Russian attack was made, the war in Ukraine was raging, and the migration crisis or fighting ISIS were not yet burning issues. The change of approach came with Russia’s involvement in Syria. It’s difficult to expect the Americans to irritate its ally by building bases in Poland.
The US decision is therefore not a surprise, but it can topple the sophisticated political agenda laid out by Duda. During his recent visit to Brussels, he met not only with the European Council chair Donald Tusk. He also went to the NATO Main Headquarters and held discussions with NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg. Then he visited the Supreme Headquarters for Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Mons, where he met NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), Gen. Philip Breedlove.
All of this was aimed at making the Warsaw summit one of decisions, not reflections. The president mainly wants to see bases in Poland. He promised them during the election campaign. Right before Duda’s departure for Brussels on January 17, they were mentioned by minister Krzysztof Szczerski: “After the upcoming summit, we as Poles will be able to say that we feel more secure and strengthened by NATO’s presence in this part of Europe.”
Building consensus around NATO forces presence in Poland was elevated to Duda’s main foreign policy priority. There was also a pronounced division of responsibilities: NATO and security–president Duda; EU and economy–government and PM Beata Szydlo.
It doesn’t mean that Duda was alone in his fight for bases. Minister of Foreign Affairs Witold Waszczykowski offered London making Poland’s position on Polish citizens’ social rights in the UK in exchange for British support for the Polish idea. However, everything suggests that the bases will be one of president’s and, indirectly, government’s, defeats.
Change of strategy?
Polish diplomats no doubt learned earlier that the NATO base idea was abandoned. It was evident from PiS statements, where the phrase “permanent NATO troop presence” has been appearing with greater frequency. But that could mean ABM crews, advisors, or simply troops on training exercises or peacetime missions. One such mission is being implemented from the Malbork airbase. It involve patrolling and security Baltic states’ airspace. In addition to Poles, also French and Belgian forces have been deployed to Malbork.
Minister of National Defense Antoni Macierewicz spoke in similar tone following a meeting with his British counterpart Michael Fallon. In an interview with Radio Maryja, Macierewicz said that a thousand British soldiers would be stationed on Poland’s territory.
“They will be relieved periodically, there will be rotation, but it will be a permanent presence. We were told not so long ago that it was unrealistic to expect permanent bases, permanent presence. And yet it turns out it’s realistic,” Macierewicz said in the interview.
Great Britain quickly contradicted Macierewicz. It issued a communique stating that the UK will send 850 troops for the two-week Anakonda maneuvers and 150 troops for the Swift Response exercise. UK also committed 1,000 troops to the so-called NATO spearhead. They will not be permanently based in Poland, however, but ready for action at their bases within 72 hours of NATO issuing activation orders.
So it appears it’s a lost cause. Changing geopolitical situation means that NATO countries do not want to risk worsening relations with Moscow. Duda’s main campaign promise will go unfulfilled, though it’s not necessarily his fault. It’s possible the Presidential Chancellery will try to transform the defeat into a victory by replacing “permanent bases” with “permanent presence.”