As part of American Purpose’s “Taking Exception” series, Eugeniusz Smolar offers a response to the May 31st article by Dr. Paweł Markiewicz, “The Enemy Next Door.”
From 2015, when the Law and Justice Party (PiS) took power in Poland, it has been undermining the legal, institutional, and political basis of liberal democracy and has strained relations with our closest allies, the United States and the European Union. Ever since then, the state capture has progressed unabated.
Painting a rosy picture of Poland’s ambitions and influence in the world in his May 31st article, Dr. Paweł Markiewicz skipped over the deep crisis in Polish relations with key U.S. allies—members of the European Union—with a great majority of the EU member states having been antagonized by the Polish government’s anti-European and anti-German policies, which PiS has pursued under the banner of sovereignty. As a consequence, the current government’s ability to influence joint, often crucial decisions in Europe, has seriously weakened.
The Poles en masse have acted admirably in supporting heroic Ukrainians in their struggle against the Russian military invasion. Markiewicz rightly underlines that such a stance of the government and society at large be met with recognition in Europe and around the world.
Poland and the greater region have certainly been in the spotlight, as aid to Ukraine has become part of the U.S., NATO, and EU strategy of containing Russia. That attention is also heightened, thanks to the global rivalry with China. However, an increase in anxiety, attention, and in deepening military cooperation does not translate into “moving [Poland] more squarely into Europe’s center of gravity.” The reason is the lack of trust between Poland and its European partners.
In spite of Germany’s far-reaching change in policy towards Russia and its radical boost in aid for Ukraine, Markiewicz echoes official propaganda in stating that “as neighbors and close economic partners, Poland awaits clear sign that Germany is putting the interest of Central European allies above its concern for Kremlin.” PiS party leader Jarosław Kaczynski frequently peddles such statements as: “We do not fit into the German-Russian plans to rule over Europe. An independent, economically, socially and militarily strong Poland is an obstacle for them. From a historical perspective, this is nothing new.”
The great majority of Poles, and not just the government, want Ukraine in NATO and in the EU. However, with autocracy at home and the “sovereignist” approach to European integration, the Polish government does Ukraine a disservice, since even a suspicion that Kyiv will follow in Poland’s footsteps will make the process of EU admission much more difficult.
The Polish government went on a spending spree last year, purchasing arms (mainly in the United States and in Korea), on an unprecedented scale. It increased the military budget to 4 percent of the GDP, and is planning to double the size of the Polish Army up to 300,000 personnel.
The Polish government seems not to count on an agreement with the EU anymore and aims at presenting the U.S. government with a transactional strategy that emulates Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: We will become a strong, regionally important military partner with a modernized land army only second to Turkey’s in Europe, and in exchange, you will accept our autocratic, illiberal policies at home.
There is no doubt that this stance won’t work with the European Union. Rather, it will lead to a weakening of the cohesion of the Western alliance.
Eugeniusz Smolar is a foreign and security policy analyst at the Centre for International Relations in Warsaw. He was a pro-democracy activist and political prisoner in Communist Poland, émigré, and director of the Polish Section of the BBC World Service in London.
Image: Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński speaks at the Polish Parliament. (Wikimedia Commons: Kancelaria Sejmu / Rafał Zambrzycki)
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