Original published by tvn24.pl; translated from Polish by J.Hawk
Already this year Poland’s security will be protected by the first guardsmen. Poland’s Ministry of Defense (MON) announced that territorial defense forces will be created in short order, so that in the event of war they might include as many as 46 thousand troops. What will they look like? There aren’t many examples, and in Europe there are very few such formations.
MON’s plans are not overly detailed. It’s clear that the inspiration will come abroad since Poland has no such tradition. The main source of ideas will surely be the United States, whose National Guard is an important component of the armed forces.
A company for each county
The idea of creating such forces is not new. The voices calling for the establishment of a Polish national guard were particularly loud following the outbreak of fighting in Ukraine. Even when the Citizens’ Platform (PO) was in power, MON announced it was conducting preparatory work but no specifics were provided. The process was clearly accelerated by the Law and Justice party (PiS) coming to power, whose candidates strongly supported the idea during the election campaign.
In November of 2015, during his first appearance as minister of defense before the Sejm Committee on Defense, Antoni Macierewicz stated that organizing territorial defense is one of the most important tasks facing his agency. “Its cost will not exceed 350 million zlotys, and it’s one of the most important tasks from the national security point of view,” Macierewicz said.
Now MON says that the first units will be created already this year. Initial plans call for creating three guard brigades in north-eastern Poland, or close to borders with Russia and Belarus. Considering that 12 months is not all that much time, we can expect only the organizational skeleton to exist by the end of the year, which will be fleshed out later.
Ultimately MON was to establish over a dozen such brigades scattered all over Poland. The ideal here is “a company for each county”. The Guard is to have a full mobilization potential of up to 46 thousand troops. It’s not clear when that project will be fully implemented. How will its soldiers be enticed to join? No specifics so far, even though it’s clear that the offer would have to be attractive.
Graphic text: National guard is to consist of volunteers who would train at regular intervals and receive payment. Otherwise they would remain in civilian life. They could be used to respond to natural disasters or to suppress internal unrest.
Territorial defense component: more numerous but with less frequent training and less well armed, with only small arms, mortars, and grenade launchers.
Mobile components: less numerous but better trained and equipped, including Spike anti-tank and Grom anti-air missiles, T-72M tanks and BMP-1 IFVs.
The mobile component is to be used to reinforce the professional regular army, while the territorial defense will be tasked with ensuring order in its area of responsibility and defending its territory against covert operators, better known as “little green men.”
An unusual aspect of the MON concept is raising the National Guard to the level of a separate branch of forces, on a par with Land Forces, Air Force, Navy, and Special Forces. This would greatly increase the guard’s importance and rank within the military hierarchy. A similar approach was adopted in Venezuela, where the National Guard was strengthened in order to create a force loyal to the socialists. It was supposed to keep in check the armed forces which were prone to rebel. It was used against the opposition and was hit by US sanctions.
Importing from abroad
When creating its own concept, MON reached not for the Venezuelan example but rather the US one. US National Guard is the model formation of this kind, which would be advisable to match in order to increase the military’s fighting power. US guardsmen represent a powerful force which could on its own deal effectively with many national armies. During the last wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, National Guard units represented half of all US forces sent to battle.
Following the US example would require lots of money and effort. USNG is 460 thousand troops strong and costs $35 billion dollars a year. It is also deeply rooted in US culture and tradition, and its membership carries considerable prestige. Service also brings a packet of financial benefits, which attracts recruits.
There are few inspirations in Europe. Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, and Ukraine all have national guards. These are recent, post-1991 creations. Other European armies usually rely on organizations based on reservists. Outside of Europe, guards are maintained by several countries, but with a different mission. They are supposed to function as an organization loyal to the government, capable of preventing coups. They do not follow the US model.
Supporting the regular army
Since MON plans to establish the guard as the fifth branch of armed forces and Poland is a unitary, not federal, state where the regional authorities have less power than US governors, Poland’s national guard will likely remain under central government’s control. Ultimately Warsaw will decide on whether to mobilize the guard, send them to war, preserve order inside the country, or to deal with natural disasters.
We can expect that the guard will not be sent abroad, on missions like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. This would be controversial, since the guard are supposed to protect the country itself and not fight threats beyond its borders. Also, the awareness that one will not be sent on a dangerous mission to, for example, Syria, will increase the guard’s attractiveness.
Poland’s guard will have little chance of success against, for example, powerful Russian mechanized divisions or Afghan guerrillas, but will relieve the professional army from missions which don’t require heavy firepower. They can man quiet sectors of the front or defend important sites behind the lines, such as bridges, which could be attacked by enemy light units.
National Guard will also be a good way to utilize the potential of the grass-roots paramilitary organizations which began to appear in Poland after the war in Ukraine broke out. MON will surely encourage its members to join guard structures.
J.Hawk’s Comment: Considering the politics of the PiS government, the objective is almost certainly ensuring domestic order, rather than keeping out foreign invaders. Furthermore, it could be a force that drags Poland into a war against its eastern neighbors. The Polish paramilitary organizations referenced in the article have a strictly nationalist, right-wing political orientation, with many of its members motivated by the idea of re-creating a Polish Commonwealth within its 17th Century borders and who view Ukraine’s gradual collapse as an opportunity to exploit. They are Poland’s equivalent of Ukraine’s Right Sector, even if the author of the article does not want to recognize the similarities.