Poland's moderate center-right government of Civic Platform has suffered a series of setbacks in its international policy recently. The major security project of the missile defense base and the subsequent opportunity to establish a strategic partnership with the US, inherited from the atlanticist orientated Law and Justice Party, is now under serious review in Washington. Media reports suggest that the shield will never come to Poland as Obama’s team attempts to be careful in its relations with Moscow and becomes less convinced about the reliability of the technology. Commentators who were previously enthusiastic about the election of Obama just a few months ago are now describing Poland-US relations as being at their lowest point since 1989. This comes as a great disappointment to many observers but has been predicted for some time by cool-headed skeptics.
Further souring Atlantic relations is the all too difficult deployment of Polish troops in Afghanistan. Stretched over their capacity and suffering from a lack of strategic airlift or attack helicopters the Polish contingent is taking the toll of a war that wasn’t meant to be. This grave situation has already forced the resignation of the land forces commander after he publicly criticized the Ministry of Defense for its slow deployment of reinforcements and failure to properly supply the troops. During this time the public feeling is that those troops have paid the price in blood. The realities of the ISAF mission have once again shocked the public as it has emerged that the 10th Polish victim, a platoon commander in the rank of captain, bled to death whilst waiting for close air support (CAS) and search and rescue (SAR) helicopters. The Defense Minister has survived so far but the damage done to the perception of Poland’s major foreign policy deployment is beyond repair.
As if this was not enough, the long awaited improvement in relations with Russia has failed to become a reality. On the eve of a rare visit from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who will take part in the 70th anniversary of World War II, Russian state media have aired a series of films depicting Poland as Hitler’s ally who secretly fought again Soviet Russia alongside the Third Reich. Although Warsaw reacted calmly the climate for reconciliation has now been spoiled. However, Poland’s efforts to build a coalition of countries who defy Russian energy dominance in Europe has brought modest results Just days ago Warsaw’s energy independence goals suffered a blow when the issue of the Lithuanian power plant Ignalia failed to be taken seriously internationally. In addition to this a 20 year billion dollar energy deal with Qatar has been marred by the failure of ill designed negotiations with investors to buy the Polish shipyards.
It is becoming increasingly clear that Poland took the wrong path by trying to strengthen its international position by acting single handedly in the transatlantic field outside of the EU framework on energy policy. A remnant of the radical government of Jarosław Kaczyński, largely upheld by Donald Tusk, has proved costly and inefficient. With less than two year left until Poland’s turn as the EU’s Presidency it is time to focus once again on the European agenda and pursue international policy goals through EU channels, not diverting around or against them. Poland’s greatest success in the international scene so far has been the naming of Jerzy Buzek as the President of the European Parliament with the support of the largest political group in the European Parliament and the largest EU country in Germany. This should be a clear signal to re-direct Poland’s foreign policy before it ends up in chaos.
Marek Swierczynski is a journalist with a special interest in defense and security matters and a member of the Polish Euro-Atlantic Society.
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