Poland is getting nervous. Since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 (and subsequent civil war in Ukraine), Warsaw has been increasingly worried about a threat from its east. At the same time, relations with Poland’s western neighbours have been strained by questions over rule of law and civil rights in the country, with critics arguing that the Polish government is undermining democracy. Caught between the two, Poland has been reaching out to the US as its traditional security ally (offering to host American troops at a permanent base, named “Fort Trump” in an effort to charm the temperamental US President).

Is Poland just being paranoid? The recent high-profile exposure of Russian intelligence agents operating in the UK and the Netherlands has got everybody checking for spies under the bed. Yet is Russia really a threat to Poland’s territorial integrity? Unlike Ukraine (or the Baltic states), Poland has no significant Russian minority. Poland is a NATO Member State and can (presumably) rely on protection from its nuclear-armed neighbours. Does it really need, on top of all that, a permanent Fort Trump to protect it from Moscow?

Our sister think tank, Friends of Europe, has been publishing a series of reports looking at today’s security challenges from the perspective of different European nations. The reports on GermanyFrance, and the UK have already been published, and on 24-25 October 2018 an Executive Summary and Recommendations on Poland will be released as part of the Warsaw Security Forum. The full Poland report will be available as of January 2019. 

What do our readers think? We had a comment from Zsolt arguing that European countries such as Poland should stop being paranoid about the threat from Russia. He says: “First of all, nobody is threatening Europe. Secondly, Europe sure as hell has enough [military power] to take care of itself…”

To get a response, we took Zsolt’s comment to Radosław Sikorski, former Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs (2007-2014) and currently a Senior Fellow at Harvard’s Center for European Studies. How would he react?

To get another perspective, we also put Zsolt’s comment to Katarzyna Pisarska, Program Director of the Warsaw Security Forum and Founder & Director of the European Academy of Diplomacy. What would she say?

I would say that, unfortunately, that assumption is false for the simple reason that, on a daily basis, two to four Ukrainian soldiers die in a war conflict in Donbass. The last four years have shown that Russia is willing and will use military force in order to reach its geopolitical goals. But today I would also say that war is no longer a typical military exercise. We are talking today about wars that are hybrid wars, that have a number of elements including cyber warfare, including psychological warfare – the Skripal case is a very good case of that – trying to threaten society showing power in order for the society to back off. So, in that sense, the last four years have proven that Russia has been aggressive, not only in terms of military, but also willing and able, and capable, of influencing our democratic processes, meddling in elections, supporting anti-democratic and illiberal parties and movements as well. So, to underestimate Russia also means to underestimate the huge pressures and threats that the liberal order is currently under.

Next up, we had a comment from Yordan arguing that Germany needs to take a bigger role in Europe’s defence. Obviously, Poland has a long and bitter history with its Western neighbour when it comes to military might. However, in 2011, Radosław Sikorski said he feared German power less than he feared German inactivity. Does it extend into the military sphere? How would he respond?

Finally, how would Katarzyna Pisarska respond to the same question? Given that Europe’s traditional defence partner, the United States, seems to be pulling back from a global leadership role, will Europe need to do more to look after its own defence? Will that mean a bigger role for Germany? And what should Poland think about that?

Well, I think there is a very strong argument there. I would argue that this is not exclusive. The fact that we continue to have a strong trans-Atlantic link with the United States does not mean that we should not have our own capacities, in synergy within NATO, but also with the engagement of the European Union in the area of defence. First, our societies are expecting the EU to boost its security abilities and security is the number one concern of European citizens. Second of all, that is our obligation: most of EU members are also NATO members and have, for years, had the obligation to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defence matters. Unfortunately, only four countries today – including Poland – do meet that requirement.

If we’re serious about security, we also have to be serious in spending in our security. As I see it, the United States will remain an indispensable partner in trying to deal with the challenges of the global world. Europe has to be very smart about it: it has to meet its obligations; it has to learn; but it also needs to foster that relationship regardless of who is currently at the White House.

When it comes to Germany I think, yes, there is a huge potential when it comes to German security engagement. We all know, of course, the historical background. In Poland that historical background is known the most. But, even here, our politicians, including our current government, do argue that Germany should start spending 2% of GDP for its defence, but also for a common European defence. So there is not as much controversy around the topic outside of Germany, probably the biggest problem is within Germany to convince German citizens that security requires expenditure and that Germany has an obligation to ramp up costs and presence in this area. There are many challenges, starting from the Middle East to terrorism to the need to deter today the Russian federation.

Is Poland right to be paranoid about a threat from Russia? Should Poland support a stronger role for Germany in European defence? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: (c) BigStock – De Visu


42 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    EU Reform- Proactive

    Not sure, but the Poles would know better.

    Could there be a “conspiracy” motive why the EUI/DE/EU is using “psychological terms” to label one Member (Poland) “paranoid” in order to undermine the legitimacy of other views and to implicitly position the EU’s own view as the only legitimate one= being skeptic of US/NATO and marketing a future EU Army at every opportune moment instead?

    Have we entered the politics of paranoia & pronoia and left the peaceful Economic Union behind?

  2. avatar
    Walerian

    Were Georgia or Ukraine right to feel paranoid about a threat from Russia?

    • avatar
      Jan

      Walerian – Neither Georgia nor Ukraine were member of the EU and NATO.

    • avatar
      Walerian

      Have you ever heard about “Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances” ?

  3. avatar
    Roger

    Would be unnatural if they weren’t, history and geography has told the Russian that the North European Plains is the corridor into their heartlands and so every country located there has to be theirs or denied the (potential) enemy.

    Sad thing that their paranoia about being invaded causes others to be paranoid about being invaded in an preemptiv strike

  4. avatar
    Παυλος

    Given to the history of the region who can blame them for doing so?

  5. avatar
    Arnout

    Sometimes I really think the articles on here are quite simplistic.

    How can one even open up this debate when we have russian aggression..

    • avatar
      Theodoros

      Russians fear one thing more than any other. An invasion from the European Northern plain. Its from where they have been invaded time after time. So they want to make sure they have a buffer zone between countries like Germany and them. What the west has done over the last decade or so, is trying to get Poland, Ukraine and other east European states under their allegiance. For the Russians this is red flag, and that’s why you see them being so aggressive.

    • avatar
      Arnout

      Theodoros – yea we should give in to a dictator whom didnt shy away from Georgia.

      I am sorry, but its rather clear why we wish to defend ourselves against russia. And we do need that buffer.

      Russias willingness to stay or become a world power under a dictator is why we see defensiveness from the west. And rightfully so.

  6. avatar
    Olivier

    Thé first agression came from USA when they installéd missiles in poland and when they proposéd Ukraine to get into Nato

    • avatar
      Alex

      How is that aggression? Both these countries can do whatever they like.

    • avatar
      Παυλος

      Alex I think what Olivier wants to say is that in a way those actions triggered the Russians into a pre-securing measures

    • avatar
      Olivier

      Exactly what i mean

    • avatar
      Olivier

      Usa IS our worst Friend…and Russia our best ennemy

    • avatar
      jthk

      Fully agreed. Ukraine has lost the Crimea it is because its political parties have internationalized its national government and politics by taking side between two great military powers. Why can’t the Polish learn from Ukrainian experience? This is irresponsible. By taking over outdated battle ships and weapons of the US, Polish would expose themselves to even more dangerous position of a preemptive attack.

  7. avatar
    Bódis

    Poland has every right to be “paranoid” about oppression by both Russia and Germany

    • avatar
      dave

      Russia poses as much of a threat to Poland as the military-industrial complex wants it to. Same as the US and Russia.

  8. avatar
    Børge

    Perhaps, but even Poland should look more closely into whether Russia really is guilty in everything it is accused of. Poland and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe might even start wondering why e.g. Denmark spent much money on electronic warfare but none on landbased SAM’s, meaning why Denmark is said to defend itself against disinformation but not airstrikes from Russia.

  9. avatar
    Alfredo

    For a long time now. Since they asked NATO for the application of Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty.

  10. avatar
    Luis

    All Europe should be paranoid about Russia’s attacks on our democracies.

  11. avatar
    Christos

    Nope. I understand totally their fears, but things have changed and continue to change in Europe. With this mentality we should fear Germany as well for ever! Why spend millions in weapons to protect ourselves from a neighboring country, instead of trying a different approach. Greece spends billions to protect itself from a NATO ally, Turkey. Do we really need to be constantly preparing ourselves for war, instead of building new types of relationships with neighboring countries?

    • avatar
      Arthur

      Hmm, I have a somewhat different opinion to yours, so I’d like to discuss it with you, if you don’t mind.

      First of all, the Germany and Turkey/Greece comparisons are irrelevant. If I were to use your logic, I could say that since North-Korea is a threat to South-Korea, everybody should arm themselves to the teeth. I might not be worried about San Marino invading the Vatican by airdrop, but I am worried about a current nuclear power (Russia) currently waging a war against a country that gave up its nuclear weapons (Ukraine) under the explicit condition that there would exactly be no such war. The situations are different. Let’s keep the discussion to the context.

      The context is as follows: Russia has invaded 2 countries in the 10 years and has carved out territories from both of them. These are two literal invasions of countries by other countries in the 21st century, which we all thought we had left to the past. Clearly, there is something to be said about physical defense, especially if one is from a neighboring country (especially if NATO commitments are seen to be wavering). Maintaining armies near Russia is, therefore, a basic requirement for maintaining the international law and territorial integrity. Sure, one might feel somewhat meh about the mere existence of countries and also their borders (I sure do), but they are a necessary tool and the international order would collapse if countries started losing chunks of their territory here and there. Such places do not function socially or economically, and are, therefore, miserable places to live.

      So much for the physical army part of your point. You should tell me what you think. I’ll get to the “new types of relationships with neighboring countries” that you mentioned afterwards.

      As a humanist (and having read “Factfulness” and “Enlightenment Now!”), I believe we, the humanity, can ultimately get along and make it. That does not mean the way to get there is for some part of humanity (the EU) to give up trying to fight for human rights, democracy, and free markets (in the sense of free from corrupt rent seekers. Also note that a country like e.g. Denmark, is more capitalist than the US according to the Economic Freedom Index.) Putin and his gang of thieves stands to gain a lot if democracy is undermined – it would legitimize his hold on power, it would enable him and his cronies to exploit his people more, it would enable him and his cronies to more easily enjoy the fruits of their corruption, etc.. And they seem to be putting a lot of effort into undermining democracies (as proved by the disinformation campaigns, the hacks, the cyber attacks). So there are a lot of negative things in our current relationship with Putin&Thieves™. We could have a better relationship, but for that they need to change their behavior. Until then, targeted sanctions are a decent option (among other things).

      As for the rest of the people of Russia, one cannot really hold them accountable since Russia has become so corrupted by Putin&Thieves™ that it is now considered an authoritarian regime. So relationships with them are welcome, which is why the sanctions do not target them. If you have any ideas on how to create such relationships, that’s great.

      What do you think of my opinion on this matter?

  12. avatar
    Colin

    Poland is not paranoid.
    Poland has a very good understanding about Putin, Russia and it’s policies.

  13. avatar
    Christos

    Arthur the Greece/Turkey example is very relevant when applied in greater scale like Europe vs Russia. I don’t believe as humans that we have to spend way too much money to sell or manufacture weapons just to enrich a handful of nations, notably USA, UK, France etc…. How long will we be at each other’s throats with Russia? Shouldn’t the Cold War have ended already? And I blame both sides the Russians and the Westerners! Perhaps if we change our stance towards Russia as a country, maybe they will change theirs too towards us. I won’t disagree about what you say about Putin, he will one day die or be forced to leave but who succeeds him will be of our doing too. He is very popular in Russia among the country’s youth and the more we attack a whole country for its leadership the more he uses this to appear as the protector of the country, thus we strengthen their support around him. Sanctions and counter sanctions only harm the relations between the two sides and this will have to stop at some stage! I’m not willing to pay for missiles for all eternity I’d prefer to invest my money in other spheres like innovation. Greece is one of the few countries that are paying up the fair share of their NATO membership and unless others start pulling their weight in this outdated alliance I’m not willing to pay for more missiles to make the US richer while the Greeks poor! End this hostility with Russia and vice versa. They should try to come closer to Europe and the West!!

  14. avatar
    Róbert

    “Si vis pacem, para bellum”. By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

  15. avatar
    Jorge

    Of course it is. Geopolitical realities don’t change just because we’re supposed to be all friends now. Actually, the question should be: is Poland acting sensibly in being cautious about something which has happened lots of times in its history?

  16. avatar
    Alex

    It’s not beeing paranoid.It’s beeing realistic based on the information we got from ballingcat last week.

  17. avatar
    António

    People are geting crazy…. In every thing….but I guess the mutual assured destruction still stands.
    The ilusion it doesn t by some of the military and political authorities is what should worrie us all.

  18. avatar
    Silvano

    I understand the concerns, weather they are “Paranoia” or not, I’m not sure !! What I’am sure conversely, is that we all seem to be short of memory !! I do remember that during the re-unification of Germany, President Bush assured Russia and Yeltsin-Gorbachev, that: “…They will not dance over the “Berlin Wall” !!!”, meaning an implicit acknowledge of the need for Russia of a “Buffer Zone”, and that this statement was witnessed by Mitterrand, Thatcher, and Kohl !! With the encapsulation of the States of the so called “Buffer Zone” into NATO, it appears to me that the “Western World” did not stay on his word !!

  19. avatar
    Virsta

    should it? just another question…

  20. avatar
    Lukas

    Are they paranoid? Who says it? Just a normal reaction to current climate. Only a madman could call it “paranoid”… biased title, much?

  21. avatar
    catherine benning

    Is Poland right to be paranoid about a threat from Russia?

    Who says Russia is a threat to Poland? And why is that rumour being spread?

    I suspect this fear is being propagated in Poland because the West want to stop their refusal of millions of migrants. The trade off being, we will send in thousands of our military to line your borders to protect you, but, you cannot refuse to be multicultural on a grand scale, if you choose to accept our largesse of protection. Another protectionist racket to enable one country to take over another.

    After they have set up bases and the military personnel avidly spending their money within that society, demands start to be made in earnest. First a migrant quota, then an education quota on what and when they should fill their kids with propaganda. Next the way they run their life and religion. Same sex marriage and the requirements of adoption. The full take over of politically correct Western liability, all because the ‘Poles’ will be fearful of losing their defence personnel and the money generated. As maybe Russia will want to attack.

    It’s a psychological scam. I don’t think Russia want to spend their money on this kind of wasteful enterprise. They appear more frugal in their spending habits than that.

    • avatar
      jthk

      Agreed. Foreign policy and security issue are not concern of the general public. Daily concerns of civilian are very much focusing on material needs of themselves as well as their family. However, trade war is different because trade is an economic function of civilians. The government has the responsibility to inform the people and transparent in convey information on the development so that business can plan early how to react. Very often, the government has to use contingency policy to protect the business.

  22. avatar
    jthk

    The America and Europe are not particularly protecting the rule of law and human right in view of Trump’s current withdrawal from international organization and breaking promised of international treaties. Furthermore, Trump refuses to sanction Saudi Arabia for the suspected murder of a columnist without strong evidence, however, US and Europe rush to sanction Russia on a suspected murder with chemical weapon in the UK.

  23. avatar
    jthk

    Poland’s current policy is irresponsible because it endanger life of its nationals by taking side during great military power confrontation. Similarly, EU NATO membership can be considered to have giving support to Trump’s irrational and irresponsible foreign relationship, such as the current US withdrawal from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty. I suppose Europe people would not want to become the battle ground of the Third World War, which unavoidably would be a nuclear war. It is the duty and responsibility of European leaders to consider whether Trump’s American priority should be achieved by sacrificing European interest and lives of soldiers and civilians.

  24. avatar
    jthk

    If we can analyse the Crimean issue more rationally, we can see that the Ukrainian people had driven away their democratically elected pro-Russian president is the underlying cause. If Ukrainian political parties cannot function independently without inviting foreign intervention of their domestic politics, which means Ukrainian democracy is premature. According to Samuel Huntington’s “The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century”, a sense of belonging to the nation is very important for democracy to function and consolidate. So, it is very important if the Polish and Ukrainian people can love their own country and fellow nationals, they would not invite foreign intervention. Foreign intervention in domestic politics is a suicidal action for a new nation.

  25. avatar
    jthk

    Of course, everyone has their own right to be paranoid about a threat, however, if Poland’s paranoid has led to more confrontation between EU and Russia by paying for the US to install more missiles and military base in Europe, Poland should not misuse this right for it is threatening security of the whole European continent, particularly when Poland is a EU and NATO member, EU would unavoidably be drawn into military conflict with Russia. Poland’s paranoid might have actually opened the green light for the US to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. This is time for EU to speed up its withdrawal from the NATO and establish its own defense force. This is the only way to prevent EU from being drawn into war and even a nuclear war. It is quite sure without support of EU in the NATO, the US might be more willing to negotiate and seek support from EU. I think withdrawal from NATO membership might be the only way to stop the US from withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and force the US to return to the negotiation table for the Iran Nuclear Deal.

  26. avatar
    Bonnie Lowe

    In the past Poland has been used as a political pawn by other European nations, so any paranoia on their part could be justified. The whole Putin/Trump thing is nothing more than a political pissing match! Puffed chests and inflated egos… we get it; you’re men, full members of the boys club, get over it, its boring! No one in the west is going to war, People don’t want it, politics don’t want it and the banks don’t want it! Let Russia and America have their war of words so they can show their own populism how tough they are but leave real war for the animals that haven’t figured out that war benefits no one and that real history always judges the aggressor as little more than an animal with a bad attitude

    • avatar
      dave

      Dear Bonnie: I think Poland is paranoid. Why do I know this.? I believe Poland fell as a nation (in the 19th century)because of internal squabbles more than anything else.. They can’t get along with anyone. Ditto the Ukrainians.

  27. avatar
    David Boguszewski

    yes. Why? Eastern Europeans love to squabble. Poles are no exception. I know this. (snicker) OK if they want to call themselves “central” so be it.

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