Once upon a time a team of Twin Leaders ruled a troubled country in the heart of Europe – Leaders who have long dreamed about changing geopolitics and wanted their country to restore the might it posessed centuries ago – the might that was primarily used to fend off the Evil from the East. Luckily for them, the Great Leader in the West was in need. He asked for troops for his wars and a good word of praise, because evil tongues libelled him with mistrust. The Great Leader in the West mesmerized the Twins with a Vision: he promised to build a Fortress, manned by his best soldiers and armed with a miracle weapon that would incapacitate the Evil from the East, if they would only help him with his wars. They agreed on a plan…
But that was the end of the fairy tale. The Great Leader was soon gone and the promise he signed remained only on paper. The Twins were gone too, but the Vision was so captivating that nobody dared to deflate it. The country sent thousands of troops to wars, with a goal to make the Vision come true. Moreover, the tragic death of one of the Twins created a myth: the Evil from the East may have helped to down his plane, because he knew that the Vision, once it comes true, will practically disarm his missiles.
In every legend there is a grain of truth. In the aftermath of the Smolensk air disaster, the public debate in security and defense steered far away from strategic goals, as if the country's only objective was to find and punish those responsible for unprecedented crash that killed the president and 95 other people, most of them from elite circles. Most hotly debated international issues like Afghanistan, Libya, the Arab Spring and NATO were hardly mentioned in the mainstream media and by the political class, which in general terms divided into "traitors" and "patriots" – i.e. those who support the official explanation of the crash and those who believe Mr. Kaczynski's death was a result of international conspiracy and an attempt on his life. The once hugely important and broadly discussed transatlantic link and its most symbolic icon - the missile defence interceptors' base on Polish soil - was almost forgotten.
Sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan became a matter of routine for the Polish army and questioning these missions until the most recent election did not prove politically beneficial. If nobody questioned, nobody felt resposible for project management, relying on the counterpart’s word and publicly appealing to his reliability. Even as the outlook became gloom, the Vision once planted of US soldiers protecting a strategic US installation was still there as a reward for Poland’s military effort abroad and the ultimate goal. Obama’s reset of the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) and of his stance towards Russia did not do much in changing perceptions and it happened in a bad time. Soon after that everyone in Poland was much too busy with the crash to keep the eye on BMD developments.
And much passed unnoticed. Not the Czech Republic, but Turkey, will host the radar. Nor will the Aegis ships cruise in the Baltic on anti-missile missions. And the bulk of them will station in Spanish ports - a move that must have profoundly shaken those in Poland who stressed that the country’s troops did not abandon Iraq as hastily as the Spaniards did. "The American finger on the American trigger” will not move an inch from where it is now in Ramstein, Germany, and the first interceptors base on land is to be built in Romania, a long time rival of Poland in military cooperation with the US. None of these countries have heralded bold visions, and some of them were clearly putting their interests above the "strategic link" in the past. But it is they who are benefitting from the current BMD status. Poland is to benefit at the latest stage, due in 2018, well beyond the decision range of the current "Great Leader". That, again, creates a chance to revive the Vision – but frankly, no one seems keen on telling the old stories. Now there’s a new fairy-tale in the making: Poland needs a missile shield of its own… but there is doubt who will listen this time.
Geography has triumphed – Turkey proved to be located much closer to Iran and the Eastern Mediterranean provided much better location for the fleet of missile intercepting warships. Poland was left empty-handed, much to its own fault, as it chose day-dreaming over reality-making.
Marek Swierczynski is a journalist with a special interest in defense and security matters and a member of the Polish Euro-Atlantic Society.