A few months ago, certainly under the previous government of Jarosław Kaczyński, it seemed that Poland’s security and perhaps also independence was totally bound to the MD project. The initiative that gave the former prime minister advantage in his anti-Russia muscles-flexing is still popular in the PiS camp but the prevailing mood seems to be: no shield – no problem. The decisive shift came with the outcome of the last NATO summit. The Alliance endorsed the MD plans and included them in the larger ballistic defence structure it wants to create. Poland saw it was no longer a „lone warrior” teamed only with the Czech Republic, as the whole NATO stands firmly behind the idea. So there is no need any more to secure the deal at any price. And the way the US played their part in the negotiations was not helping too. The rumours about possible withdrawal of the offer for Poland and placing the interceptors elsewhere provoked nothing but a shrug of the shoulders in Warsaw and the move by president Bush to ask Congress for 20 mln USD in military assistance was bluntly ridiculled. Although never officially stated, Poland counts for reward funds larger by two orders of magnitude. A center-right international affairs commentator Zdzisław Najder wrote: „The Americans seem to pursue two goals now: to finish the talks as soon as possible and to offer as little as possible in return. But it was not Poland who started the negotiations and it was not Poland who strived for placing the missiles here. It is our task to talk, consider and ask for what we need. And even if the Americans will place the shield elsewhere, it would do no harm to Poland”.
The foreign ministry officials, conducting the negotiations, keep stony faces. But the mood in the corridors is gloom. Polish diplomats have learned a few lessons in recent years, and many of the headaches they’ve experienced, were US-caused. The most recent setback was a cold reception in Washington for Poland’s strategic energy plans to draw the US companies into construction of gas and oil pipelines from Central Asia to Central Europe. But earlier Poland wasn’t happy with the results of the offset the US company Lockheed Martin promised in reward for buying F-16 jets. Also the economic incentives declared by the US in return for sending Polish troops to Iraq proved to be a desert mirage. A hawkish approach towards negotiations is the trademark of the current foreign minister Radek Sikorski, who knows the US too well to believe the words only and wants to see the Pentagon sign on the dotted line before he agrees for anything. And he’s lately gained new allies.
The most striking departure from the pro-MD camp was by the former defence minister, Jerzy Szmajdziński, who once was accused of being George Bush’s poodle. He was in charge of the Ministry of National Defence when Poland was most active as the US premier supporter in Europe and the one who unquestionably accepted an ad hoc alliance for what was merely a unilateral use of force. It was Mr Szmajdziński who twice sent Polish troops to war – in late 2001 to Afghanistan and early 2003 to Iraq – in both cases quoting the alleged strategic alliance with the US. He was also the one who signed the deal with the US company Lockheed Martin to deliver 48 F-16’s for the Polish Air Force, a deal criticised for high costs, lack of training solutions and illusive offset guarantees. Whatever contributions Mr Szmajdziński made for the US, he had to swallow his pride when it emerged that the CIA-founded casus belli in case of Iraq was largery sexed-up and he has admitted he was wrong to promote the „coalition of the willing”. Now he goes as far as reversing the staunchly pro-American position of his political grouping. And this seems too common among the mainstream political spectrum, as it had always been among the public opinion.
Marek Swierczynski is a journalist with a special interest in defence and security matters and and a member of the Polish Euro-Atlantic Society.