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A change of priorities is crucial

Published on December 17, 2010 by: in: Politics

“Liberte!”: When should the withdrawal of the Polish army from Afghanistan happen and how do you imagine that? Should we just reduce the size of the contingent systematically or at the same time change its character and duties?



The chef of National Security Bureau, Stanisław Kozieł: Both policies mentioned by you should be realized. If we want to end our presence in Afghanistan as a combat mission by the end of 2012, we should start reducing it with the beginning of the next year. This year’s autumn change of the contingent will not change its size compared to the previous ones, while the next ones, which will be sent to Afghanistan from the spring of 2011 till the autumn of 2012 should be gradually reduced, if we want to achieve the goal. Withdrawal from the ISAF mission will take at least a dozen or so months due to the big size of the Polish contingent. At the same time, the character of our engagement should change. If we send fewer soldiers to Afghanistan, it is obvious that they cannot fulfil the same duties as those who serve today. Firstly, we should reduce the area of responsibility and transfer it to the allies, and finally resign from it completely. Secondly, we should shift from purely combat tasks to exclusively training ones. Currently, they are performed simultaneously with combat activity as well as civil aid – economic, humanitarian, etc. Taking into consideration these three spheres of activity, the combat area should be gradually reduced. We should focus on cooperation with the Afghan authorities in training and aid, according to our capabilities. Ideally, Polish-Afghan relations should base on economic and social cooperation that would bring profits for both sides. This is the objective we should seek gradually.

We are facing a very important decision as member of NATO and as a sovereign country. President Bronisław Komorowski supports the idea of defining an approximate date of withdrawal from Afghanistan, which is being drawn up by the government. It is a heated and topical problem and it is hard to predict decisions that are going to be made.

How do you assess the Polish doctrine concerning involvement in missions abroad? What kinds of operations should we focus on: UN humanitarian and peace missions, NATO combat activities or operations carried out by the European Union?

I believe that the Polish strategy of international engagement should be accommodated to our national interests. I think that we should consider our security while taking up the decision about sending our soldiers on a mission abroad. We should estimate the influence of potential operations on the security of our country – if it will increase or not. Missions that meet this condition should be given priority – regardless of whether they are conducted by NATO, UN, the European Union or ad hoc coalitions. So far, the engagement of Poland has been dependent on who is carrying out the mission: NATO has the priority, then the UE, and, at the end, UN. I reckon the profits for the sake of our country’s security are more important than the issue of who organizes the mission. It may happen that our participation in a stabilization programme under UN will be much more beneficial than in a NATO intervention.

I consider it a tactical mistake that Poland has withdrawn from UN missions in the Middle East. We had, we have now and we will have direct strategic and economic business in this part of the world. Throughout the years, we have managed to work out influence in several countries of the Middle East. They could be backed up by our military presence. Similarly, certain traditions – together with political and economic arguments – support keeping our engagement in this part of the world. The context of Afghanistan looks completely different, as we do not have any direct business there. However, we are the most active militarily in this country. I believe the current Polish operational strategy is inconsistent. It needs to be corrected.

There is a considerable group of scholars, politicians and journalists who claim that the Polish army has been treated by successive governments as a regular army not really serving our direct business. The media have shown many opinions which assessed the capability of the Polish Armed Forces to defend our frontiers critically. Do you think that if – hypothetically – our territory was invaded, would we be able to defend ourselves?

I think that we have disturbed our priorities concerning the development of the Armed Forces in terms of two issues: the ability of our army to defend our country and the realization of tasks performed for the sake of international peace, which is our responsibility as well. In my opinion, the priority should be given to tasks and needs related to Poland’s defence. According to them, we need to organize, equip and train the army. The mechanism of action in the case of missions abroad should look as follows: we build our armed forces with the idea of defending our frontiers and if some units happen to be useful in operations outside our country, we can take part in such operations. If not, there is nothing to be done. There is no point in creating an army specifically for missions abroad. I believe we have to articulate these priorities more clearly than before.

When it comes down to the capability of the Polish Armed Forces to repulse a potential attack, we should consider two different scenarios. I will limit myself to these two examples in order to show a sort of philosophy that gives priority to the actions that influence the security of our country directly. The first one assumes a big aggression that is geared towards our territory and could threaten the existence and sovereignty of the country. We have to notice the fact that NATO forces would support us in such a situation, since we belong to the Treaty. The threat of such an attack would not appear suddenly, without any sign. It would have to be preceded by a longer period of growing tension and an escalation of the crisis. Significant changes would have to happen in terms of political situation within our immediate neighbourhood, a potential aggressor would have to appear. NATO would have enough time to prepare itself, adapt to changing circumstances and deploy its military forces on the Polish territory. Considering the tasks related to defending the sovereignty and existence of Poland, we have to bear in mind that our country would not be left alone but would cooperate with a big allied group. If we were to repulse a strong aggression, we would not be able to overcome it. We would have to work out a strategy of fighting in dispersion and carrying out irregular operations. In case of so called “big war” we have to depend on cooperation with our allies. However, such a situation is highly improbable. Such great changes cannot occur during the next several or a dozen years. It is hard to imagine that one of the countries could invade Poland in that manner.

The second hypothetic scenario, which is more probable, assumes that regional tensions, conflicts, crises, threats or blackmails will happen. Small-scale operations: armed actions in the borderlands, “accidental” bombings, missile attacks or fair-sized sabotage operations belong to same scenario. Poland should be prepared to cope with such dangers on its own. It is hard to believe that NATO could come with help on time. It is hard to believe the Alliance will work out a joint and compromise solution concerning this sort of events soon. The Polish Army should be formed, equipped and trained in the first place to deal with unconventional, sporadic and incidental dangers that demand self-reliance. This means our armed forces ought to be able to respond to “surprises” and demonstrate great mobility. Priority should be hence given to rapid reaction force on helicopters, air force, air defence (including missile defence), airborne units, special forces or early reconnaissance units. Consequently, we will be able to response immediately – not necessarily engaging much force. This is the essential criterion for the construction of the Polish Armed Forces.

Historically speaking, a revision of events from the year 1920 is rather impossible

We cannot exclude this scenario, after all. It is much less likely. The dangers we had to face in the year 1920 are now distant; 90 years ago they were the brutal reality. Any possibility has to be considered when we think in terms of security and defence. Still, strategies of reactions to different sorts of threats should include all the situations. We ought to prepare ourselves to the most probable ones in the first place, then to these less probable, and finally the least likely scenarios – except for completely fantastic ones, which should not be considered practically (though it is worth thinking about them in spare time).

Bronisław Komorowski spoke about the necessity of transformation and modernization on the day he assumed command over the Polish Armed Forces. How do you perceive the process of professionalizing the Polish army?

Professionalization has already taken place formally. We have no longer conscription, but voluntary army. Every soldier that serves the Polish army is now professional. But if we want to talk about fully professional army – as a whole, in all dimensions, not only formally and individually, we have to take into consideration other elements that have not been entirely fulfilled yet. Professional soldiers need to be equipped with the best modern instruments. It is important, because there is little difference between a conscript with old and obsolete equipment and a volunteer – professional with exactly the same weaponry. We have to put stress on providing more up-to-date equipment if we want to describe our army as professional. Another point is training professional soldiers. Former conscripts used simple weaponry and performed the easiest tasks in the military system. Volunteers, however, should be trained not only to use the modern technologies and systems of weaponry, but also to function in the structure of professional army. To achieve this goal, they need more intensive, methodological and long-term training. Consequently, professionalization of personnel, technical modernization and a new efficient system of training are necessary if we want define the Polish Armed Forces as a fully professional army. This process cannot be accomplished in a short period of time. Looking at the other countries, we can say that such processes last several or more years. I believe that within next 10 years we will be able to achieve a level of professionalization that will allow us to call our army professional and say: now we are only improving it.

Do you support creating Territorial Defence forces following the example of American National Guard, Mr Minister?

We are dealing with quite a chaos concerning terminology in this subject. You have mentioned Territorial Defence, but notions such as territorial defence system, territorial defence forces, National Reserve Forces and National Guard are also used. Given the current circumstances, in the time of building a professional army with no threat from the outside, we do not need Territorial Defence forces. There is a need, however, of forming a network (system) of territorial security. It would embrace preparations in terms of broadly defined national security (military and civil, exterior and interior, national and local, etc.). Not only state institutions, but also ordinary people and local communities – civil part of the society, should be involved in creating this network. The idea of creating National Reserve Forces within the Polish Armed Forces is very well founded, but, as far as I am concerned, it could be realized in a better way. I think National Reserve Forces should constitute separate units in the army following the example of American National Guard. People who serve in these units normally work in civil structures and sometimes arrive at a unit for training. In case of emergency, they can be mobilized to perform an urgent task. Our National Reserve Forces, in turn, are being formed today as supplements to already existent units. Members of these formations are people who have postings in individual units. They do not make up a new quality.

Personally, I support creating National Reserve Forces as a link between operations forces and the civil sector. They could constitute a bond to build mentioned (network of) territorial security. I believe it is worth considering a correction to the currently implemented concept of National Reserve Forces. The idea is right but execution leaves a lot to be desired.

I reckon these forces could be used for example to struggle with a flood and other tasks connected with the physical security of citizens.

Of course – this would be emergency reaction force. It could be mobilized in case of military thread as well as civil danger in emergency situations that can arise from floods, fires or othrt natural disasters. In case of a war, National Security Forces would support the regular army units. Albeit they would have to constitute separate formations, which means a change of shape compared to the current.

Mr Minister, how real is forming a uniform European army that would consist of national contingents but would be commanded top-down within the all-European structures?

Currently, forming such an army is a clearly theoretical issue, because it can exist only if a close political union has crystallized. As long as something that could be vividly labelled as the United States of Europe does not come into existence, European armed forces will not exist. It is hard to imagine forming a military structure without political control and authority over it. Speaking about common army while discussing the present-day European Union is useless, it is a strictly theoretical speculation. Far-reaching integrating processes would have to take place, and, as we know, presently there is no will in the European Union to carry them out. The concept “Europe of Homelands” has a lot more supporters than the project of Europe-wide federation. As a result, European army cannot come into being for the very same reason as NATO army cannot exist. There is no uniform NATO army since it is an international organization and not any kind of political unity. The EU is the same when it comes down to security. Any decisions in the area of defence have to be reached according to the principle of compromise, in the same way as in NATO. Decisions in certain fields of the EU activity are reached as a result of majority and common voting. This formula concerns for example the monetary union. Decisions in the military area always have to be worked out through compromise.

It is impossible to create a uniform army within the European Union, since there is still no political governing body that could manage it. Policy must always precede military solutions, not the other way round.

Do you think that Europe should take steps in order to form the so called United States of Europe and consistent Europe-wide army?

I believe it is an optimal solution for future. If we manage to create the United States of Europe, our continent as a whole will achieve great profits in terms of security. What is more, I think it is inevitable in future. Profound political integration of Europe is necessary, because the world goes in this direction. Of course, local communities and traditions will not disappear. Fears of losing identity, which are present particularly in the East of Poland, have been overcome in some countries of Western Europe. Regardless of whether someone is tall or short, whether they come from one or another region, they enjoy the same rights as the rest of citizens. I think that convincing of the equality of all the members of the European community will wipe out the present fears for cultural identity, which result from immersing in the European community. Today, a considerable group of people treat integration and a loss of identity as one and thus they do not want to continue the process of federalization in Europe. As long as this fear is not overcome, we do not have any chance to create the United States of Europe and a common army, of course. Nonetheless, I believe this direction is inevitable and necessary, looking at the history of development of the civilization. Europe simply must integrate.

TŁUMACZENIE: MAREK PLINTA; marek.plinta@gmail.com

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