As Poland is more and more on the conservative side and becoming a tenacious partner in European discussions, it seems, however, that it is open to a deeper cooperation with the United States.
Since 2015 and the coming into power of the nationalist-conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS), Poland has taken a turn in its relations with the European Union. It has, indeed, been really hard for the new government to reconcile with some of EU core values such as openness and tolerance with the party’s own values of patriotism and a strong Catholic influence.
It seems hard to acknowledge that Poland has demonstrated a perfect behavior these past years. This resulted in the Commission threatening to trigger article 7 of the TEU following a breach on the rule of law by the Polish government few months ago after controversial judicial reforms. It also received a formal letter from the Commission this week. Moreover, the country is just turning in on itself with a group of other “bad kid” states that make the adoption of important measures even more complicated.
However, Poland has not always been a Eurosceptic country, before its accession to the EU, the general feeling within the population was that politicians in Brussels were less corrupted than Polish ones. Moreover, Poland benefited from large financial contributions. If the country is still benefiting form those investments, they are now brought to the EU for believed to be for non-necessary things. The feeling has been reversed and as Poland is going deeper in conservatism, Poles feel like Brussels does not understand their reality.
And yet, although Poland is making the choice to relatively isolate itself from Western European countries, it is trying to expand its transatlantic relations. Hence, at the end of May, the Polish ministry for National Defense sent a proposal to the US government for a permanent military presence of the latter on the Polish territory.
The document states that since Poland’s accession to both NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004, it has proven to be largely engaged and interested in the defense of the European continent and has contributed in military operations abroad as, for instance, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, the Ministry declares that new military bases for the US soldiers would be constructed and Poland would be ready to cover up to $2 billion of the costs.
Poland also participates in missions, which aim at “promoting the rule of law, democratic governance and human rights”, some of those EU reproaches Poland for breaching them. And yet Poland shares “interest and values” with the United States that are to be protected by all means.
Poland seems to be engaged in a kind of double-speak where on the one hand it refuses any further EU integration for it wants to keep its national independence and sovereignty, to which, as regard to its history, Poland is very attached to. And on the other hand, it seems to agree and ask for permanent military presence.
When going back to the beginning of American-Polish relations, 1918 is a key date, Polish independence established the Second Polish Republic and allowed good relations to exist. Moreover it was back-upped by Woodrow Wilson’s thirteenth point calling for the importance of “political and economic independence and territorial integrity” for the reborn country.
Even though during WWII, the US government recognized the exiled Polish leaders, the relations were at their lowest during the Cold War when, this time, Poland was recognized as a communist state despite the exiled government. However even since the establishment of the Third Republic, Poland has had stable relations with the United States, better than some other European Countries.
Since Donald Trump was elected, only one formal meeting with President Duda was organised in July 2018. However, the Polish crowd was rather cheerful and seemed glad to receive the American President, which is in clear opposition with the other European nations. The document was released the same month Duda was refused a meeting with Trump during his trip to the US, did not change the will of the Polish government for a military presence.
Thus, the document rightly reminds that the “Polish society is very pro-American”, to be understood as opposed to Russia. This has always been true for Poland and is to a certain extend the sinew of war. The EU is dichotomised between a Western bloc that is mostly concerned about the migrant crisis and an Eastern bloc that fears Russia and cannot help but remember its history.
The concern over Russia, the tensions with the EU, and PiS being both strongly anti-Russian and not being a big Germany fan, leads Poland to offer foreign permanent military presence to the US. As a matter of fact, Poland already has foreign military presence on a rotational basis from NATO on its territory, the US already being the first contributor country in Poland.
If Poland is already allocating 2% of its GDP to defense as set in a NATO guideline and as reminded by President Trump, and already has NATO troops on its territory, does it need more military presence? Before the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and even though Russia had already taken actions on Georgia in 2008, NATO member states were not taking major steps for the defense of Eastern Europe.
Therefore Poland is taking the lead and is trying to find solutions for its own security although those decisions might cause several issues.
First, it could upset Russia to see US troops settling on a territory bordering with the European landlocked part of Russia.
Second, by doing so, Poland also risks to upset its European counterparts that are, taking into account the numerous disagreements with President Trump and the will of some countries to ease tense relations with President Putin, not willing to accept deeper US presence and not willing to risk a Russian intervention.
As the next NATO summit is to take place next week in Brussels, Poland might have to justify its position on openness towards the United States and decisions that could upset Russia.