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Polish foreign policy to be reviewed

Published on March 18, 2011 by: in: Politics

It should be considered if the government’s policy is efficient in realizing Polish interests in the European Union. It is a truism to state that the policy of the Civic Platform is more efficient than the one of the Law and Justice. Changes in the international policy and economic situation cause however that the policy simply more efficient than the one led by the former Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga is not enough.


In the face of enormous changes in the global international relations and the consequences of the financial crisis Poland needs a review of its foreign policy. Thesis I would like to defend in this article assumes that Poland should opt for a close alliance with Berlin directed at the reforms and strengthening the European Union, at the same time redefining understanding of our interests in the European Union. A strong position of Poland as an ally of Germany and a reformer of the Union will ensure more security in a situation when the United States unfortunately are retreating from an active policy in the region of Central Europe. I am making this statement being fully aware of differences in perception of the principles of shaping the European Union’s Eastern policy among the Polish and German elites.

The US ceases to be a guarantee of security in the Central Europe

Polish security since the year 1989 has been built on the basis of belief in the power of the United States of America. Over the years we have been pursuing a policy directed at joining the military structures of the West, which was crowned with Poland joining the NATO in the year 1999. It seemed that Bronisław Geremek by signing the act of joining the NATO provided us with a long-standing security. Nothing surprising, popular theories about “the end of the history”, eternal Pax Americana seemed to be a certainty for the majority of analysts. It should be underlined that in the 90s such a policy seemed to be correct and de facto there was not any real alternative. Democratic Central Europe was both within the range and in the best interests of the power of the United States. Washington as a guarantee of a democracy and a free market was a perfect patron and ally for Poland. Today we would still like to pursue a foreign policy based on the American hegemony. The problem is that in the year 2011 considering ensuring the stabilization in our region only through the engagement of the US is a wishful thinking.

World Trade Center’s terrorist attacks from 2001 were a first sign of global changes in the balance of power. Today, after 10 years, it can be surely stated that such a change indeed happened. The United States of America are not an only global power. Unsuccessful interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan and above all a financial crisis resulted in the US not having a potential to ensure a global peace anymore. Revolutions in the Arabic countries ruled by the pro-American satraps: fall of Ben Ali or Mubarak in the sphere of vital American interests are a perfect example of the end of a certain age. The US remaining in an enormous debt will be forced to retreat from an active policy in subsequent regions of the world. Obama gives clear signs and it seems that they are in line with current potential possibilities of the US. Securing the region of Central-Eastern Europe against a potential Russian expansion is not on the list of Washington’s priorities. Obama needs Russia as an ally. For bleeding American economy the Arabic world still remains a priority. There is an oil, the rise in prices of it can lead America to the bankruptcy. It is this region, not Russia, where the most unstable cultural element is, namely Islam, which America will try to control. On the list of American priorities there will be also China as the main banker of the US and other countries from the BRIC group, which the US need to keep the global peace. Washington will not have protection of the Central Europe against dependence from Moscow on its list of the main aims. In 2008 Putin tested American intentions through engagement in the conflict in Georgia. He received a clear answer: the US, when it comes to a real action, demonstrated desinteressment concerning the post-Soviet zone. Political changes in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych coming to power – these events were in line with this process. Poland became a border country between two zones of influence. We came back to a situation which Józef Piłsudski tried to avoid in the interwar period. This situation does not mean that we should give up pro-American policy. But pursuing a security policy based on Washington (as the Law and Justice wanted) is a dangerous illusion nowadays.

Eastern policy

New situation defining security in Central Europe forces Poland to think over its policy towards Russia once again. Aleksander Plahr, one of the young leaders of political life in Germany, in an article Powrót gepolityki published in ‘Liberte!’ explains  German elites’ way of thinking concerning Russia, post-Soviet area and Poland. Germany wants to do business with Russia and does not see any real threat coming from it. For this price they are ready to accept the post-Soviet area remaining within the zone of Russian influence. They treat Poland as an integral part of the Western world and NATO. It seems that since 2007 Polish diplomacy concerning Eastern policy has been acting in the spirit of German thinking. Is it correct?

I think that there are no illusions concerning intentions of Moscow’s policy under Vladimir Putin. Right-wing Polish politicians are rightly pointing out a threat coming from Russia. Putin is rebuilding step by step Russian influence in Central Europe and is successful. Russia will consequently solicit its interests in this region the more, the weaker the American engagement is. Unfortunately the politicians of the Law and Justice having defined correctly the Russian threat, could not answer with a rational foreign policy. Public ‘waving a saber’ against Russia with parallel worsening of Polish relations with Berlin and Brussels was an idle politics, diminishing de facto Polish position and our security. It was and still is in the Russian interest that Poland showed itself as a country of irrational Russophobes, who would not be taken seriously either in Brussels or Berlin. This is why policy pursued by brothers Kaczyński was in line with the aims of Putin and limited our possibilities of influencing the European Union’s policy.

What did the Civic Platform change? Many aspects of a change in Polish foreign policy introduced by the Tusk’s government are assessed positively. A change in the language of a diplomacy should be underlined indeed. Poland started to be treated more seriously. It counts. The question remains if the positive assessment does not result to a big extent from a cultural and esthetic contrast with the former government and our neigbours’ longing for a ‘normal’ Warsaw, instead of achievements? Tusk’s government changed rhetoric towards Russia, which was exceptionally valuable and took the arguments away from Putin. Polish policy towards Russia should be full of friendly gestures but it should not influence realization of the Polish interests. Here however the Tusk’s government can be accused of mistakes and negligence in line with way of thinking about post-Soviet area among American and German elites. The first and the main accusation is giving up the realization of Polish Eastern policy drawn by Jerzy Giedroyc, namely consequent supporting our Eastern neighbours in their European aspirations. Polish raison d’etat is not to be a border state where “the Western world and democracy” end. Poland should pursue such policy as far as it is possible. Numerous arguments can be mentioned to explain this twist: weakness and inefficient governance of pro-Western forces in Ukraine or unfavourable attitude towards the Polish minority in Lithuania. It seems that facing these current problems Polish government forgot about principles of the Polish foreign policy, immersing itself into insignificant from the strategic point of view conflicts. Vilnius surely should treat our minority better but our stand on this issue should not influence negatively general relations with Lithuania. We should be also more sensitive towards our neighbour’s feelings. Everyone who visited Vilnius knows how much Poland and Poles influenced this city. Building our relations with Lithuania we should emphatically remember about our feelings towards rights of ‘expelled’ Germans and their postulates concerning so-called recovered territories. It is worth pointing out an analogy between feelings of Poles when the Federation of the Expelled reminds about German heritage of Wrocław or Gdańsk and the feelings of the Lithuanians when Poles mention Polish heritage in Vilnius. The situation with Ukraine is more difficult than the one with Lithuania. Ukraine is a real player in the Central Europe and it is unfortunately Ukraine that stopped the ‘march to the West’. It did it at its own request. It does not mean however that Poland should turn its back on Ukraine as the policy of Sikorski can be seen. We need a strategic plan of real activities of Polish diplomacy, economic activities which in a long run will increase the chances for the pro-Western discourse in Kiev. We need ideas how to involve German capital in Ukraine so that Kiev becomes a more serious partner for Berlin. Sikorski instead of acting in favour of after all democratic Ukraine, tried to talk with Aleksander Lukashenko. Attempt at warming the relations with Belarus ended in spectacular failure in shape of massive detentions and persecutions of the opposition by Lukashenko on the occasion of presidential elections. Rationally speaking, Poland got caught in the game of dictator from Minsk who tries to find a balance between Russia and the West, surely using Poland as an argument in talks with Russia.

It seems that the Tusk’s government failed to prevent one more negative process in the Eastern policy (the question is if it had any chance to do so?). After the Smolensk crash the Civic Platform failed to oppose the discourse imposed by the Law and Justice about Russia. As a result in the social perception there is a Russophobic Law and Justice and pro-Russian Platform. The Civic Platform did not manage to create its image of a neutral party. Tusk finally decided to use his authority in this discussion suggesting that Russia should be trusted. It seems that he gave in a friendly rhetoric of Putin and Medvedev forgetting that Russia realizes its interests independently from their empty gestures (history, immediate arrival of Putin to Smolensk) to which Poland adds an absolutely irrational meaning. As a result the report of IAC (The Interstate Aviation Committee) was used against the Civic Platform and in favour of the Law and Justice. Report which was in the media, strengthened and increased a wave of Russophobic, often idiotic commentaries concerning Russia, very much in the line of interests of Russia and the Law and Justice. It obviously weakened the position of Poland in the European Union as an expert on Russian issues, as well as Tusk himself. The Civic Platform did not try to read Russian interests. The Russian interest is Poland arguing with Berlin and Brussels, namely government of the Law and Justice.

To conclude it should be underlined that because of various factors Polish stand on the ‘Eastern front’ is much weaker than it seemed in the year 2004. It does not mean however that the principles of our policy in this region should be abandoned. The question is if we can do anything to create even stronger links with Berlin, to take steps which would on one hand increase our security against Russia (Warsaw as the main Berlin’s ally is an argument for Moscow) and on the other hand would give us a bargaining chip which we could use to engage Germany more into the Ukrainian issues.

How to define interests?

Building Polish position in the European Union is  a key to our security. This key can be found nowadays above all in Brussels and Berlin, not in weaker and distant Washington (even though the alliance should be of course kept). It seems that the Tusk’s government understood it right from the beginning. It should be considered however if the policy of the government is efficient in realizing Polish interests in the European Union. It is a truism to state that the policy of the Civic Platform is more efficient than the one of the Law and Justice. Changes in the international policy and economic situation cause however that the policy simply more efficient than the one led by the former Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga is not enough. It is worth considering if the government defines Polish interests correctly facing such violent changes? Does the Ministry of Foreign Affairs review our strategic interests in a longer run? Does fighting for a bigger Union’s budget, which in theory lies within Polish interest because it finances the structural funds for our country, make sense in a wider context? Strong European Union which can safely go though an enormous financial crisis, in which Poland will play one of the leading roles, is after all a strategic aim of Poland. Potential disintegration of the euro zone, resulting from the finances blown out of proportions among the Union’s members, can have severe consequences, both economic and political. It can divert the integration trends in Europe, which will weaken position and international security of Poland. Shouldn’t Warsaw, bearing in mind the economic efficiency of the Union in a longer run, together with the United Kingdom and Germany be among countries taking care of savings budget states and call for freezing the budget of the Union? Fighting for the budget today we spoil the relations with important partners, fighting for means for realizing short-term and often not well thought over investments. Instead of staying in the trenches of traditional perception of Polish interest, wouldn’t it be better to think about serious reductions of the Common Agricultural Policy and general review of the Union’s policy? It might be in line with interest of more competitive Polish farmers and nowadays it costs the Union enormous amounts of money. Shouldn’t it be considered if all the Union’s money received by Poland are rationally spent? Moreover will we be able to keep some of these new investments when the money from the EU stop flowing? These are crucial dilemmas, which in majority lie also in the German interests. In Poland these issues are not touched on by any political party in accordance with the assumption that we are in the European Union to get as much money as possible. It is a policy of a beggar, not a leader. It has to be ended, we should start looking at what lies in a strategic interest of the European Union, meaning also in a strategic interest of Poland. Passiveness of the Tusk’s government which boils down to assuring Europe at the press conferences that Polish economy is in a great shape, facing the crisis can have disastrous consequences for us. The idea to organize key meetings of the leaders of 17 governments of the euro zone without Poland was announced at the beginning of February. Fundamental steps which governments are supposed to take in order to save the euro zone will be discussed at these meetings. These decisions will be crucial for the whole European Union! First, it means that Poland will have limited possibility of influencing basic economic actions in Europe. Secondly it means that Berlin came to the conclusion that having Poland on its board while fighting to save European finances is not in its interest. It is a very important signal indicating that the direction of Polish foreign policy aiming at rapprochement with Berlin, for which the government of the Civic Platform rightly opted, unfortunately did not bring any effects desirable and important for the Polish interest.

In spite of all Berlin

Why is it like that? Is seems that Poland too rarely tries to find common and real interests with its partners in the Union, above all with Germany. Behind rightful rhetoric there is not enough real action. Poland in its politics is a hostage of dominating etatist thinking, in which pluses and minuses of the European Union are perceived in the categories of the financing institution. This etatist thinking does not let Donald Tusk reach the same conclusions as David Cameron reached concerning the internal policy. British Prime Minister understands that the idea of welfare state facing the financial crisis has to be modified. Validity and efficiency of many politics coming from the redistribution have to be reviewed and some of them unfortunately have to be closed. It is also understood by Angela Merkel. The question remains about the scale of these actions. Poland does not participate in this debate. The Tusk’s government tries to solve current budget problems at the cost of future generations, liquidating part of the pension reform from 1999? At the same time German Chancellor Angela Merkel claims that the EU should aim at unification and rising the pension age. Polish government remains silent.

Berlin does not see in Poland an ally in fight against states’ debts and for the reduction of the Union’s budget, namely in the most important issue for Germany and for Europe. The question today is if we will be among the leaders of the European Union promoting and implementing changes or we will introduce them as stragglers, dreaming about joining the club of countries making decisions about the economic way of the Union. Poland should become an ally for Angela Merkel and make a step forward, suggesting whole package of changes concerning functioning of the European Union, which in a longer run will provide more rapid economic growth and stable finances. Poland should together with Germany start introducing rules which will severely punish countries too much in debt. Such an active policy can be kind of escape forward. Close Polish-German cooperation can result in establishing completely new leadership in the European Union, in which the role of Poland might be definitely bigger. It can also permanently link Polish interests to German ones. It would give more space for talks on the strategic safety of the country, for involving Germany more in the Ukrainian issue because Berlin would know that it needs Poland for reforms in the European Union. Example? Mobilizing Germany to force Gazprom to dig the pipes of the Nordsream at a depth that would not block a port in Świnoujście for big ships. What is more, it may be a historic contribution of Poland to essential reforms of the mechanisms of financing the European Union and this will translate into more dynamic economic development of the Union and of Poland in the future.

Very close relations with Berlin can be kind of a prosthesis of security in times of weakening global position of the United States and may drag Germany away from the cooperation with Russia. It can cause that the Polish voice on the Eastern policy will be better heard in Berlin. Obviously we will not turn German policy by 180 degrees, Europe has to do business with Russia. But in diplomacy seemingly small decisions and details might have a huge importance in the future, which will dissuade Russia from certain activities and will give at least a gleam of hope for Ukraine to get back to the way ‘towards the West’.

Translation: Martyna Bojarska

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About Błażej Lenkowski

Graduate of International Relations at The Faculty of International and Political Science Studies of the University of Lodz; president of Industrial Foundation the publisher of Liberte!; entrepreneur.

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