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The Warsaw Voice » National Voice » April 25, 2013
America in Poland
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Still Committed
April 25, 2013   
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In an era of changing threats, the United States is still committed to Europe, while in terms of bilateral business between Poland and America, there is huge potential for improvement, Stephen Mull, the U.S. ambassador to Warsaw, tells the Voice’s Andrzej Jonas.

Since the collapse of communism, Poland has looked to the United States as the main guarantor of its security. With America now preoccupied with problems in other parts of the world, how strong are ties between Poland and the U.S.?
The ties are very strong and, in fact, getting stronger. Militarily, even though there have been some cutbacks, there are more American troops in Europe than in any other place in the world. With one exception—the United States, of course. After that, the largest concentration of U.S. military power is in Europe. Not as an occupier, but as a partner for Europe’s security. Even as we are cutting back in places like Germany, in Poland we’re actually establishing a larger military presence. In November, we opened an air force detachment in Łask airbase [in central Poland.] It is small, only 10 people, but these 10 people will be coordinating joint exercises between the United States and Poland four times a year.

In 2018, we will open a new, much bigger base in northern Poland, in Redzikowo, as part of the NATO missile defense system for Europe. That will bring about 100 American naval personnel, based in Poland, to establish that system.

Militarily, the United States is going to participate in NATO’s Steadfast Jazz exercise in November. I think all of this is a sign that our military relationship is as strong as ever.

So Poland can still count on Article 5— an attack on one NATO member will be regarded as an attack on all members?
Article 5 is like a religion, it’s absolutely sacred, and the United States is very serious about it. Everybody is talking about China, Brazil, South Africa and all of these growing economies, but if you look at the trading relationship between the United States and the EU, it amounts to more than one-third of all of the trade in the world.

The GDP of the United States and Europe together accounts for one half of all of the wealth in the world. We are starting a new free trade initiative that President Barack Obama announced back in February. It will make this already very profitable trading zone even more unified in the standards that apply to trade. So this is a very strong relationship that I think is going to get stronger. A lot of economists I have talked to believe that after we conclude this agreement, if we are successful, we will improve economic growth in Europe and the United States by as much as 1 percentage point every year.

On the diplomatic front, the United States does not have any closer friends in the world than our European friends.
Sometimes there are disagreements, all friends disagree on something or other, but no one agrees more or cooperates more in the world today than the United States and Europe.

In view of the problems with North Korea, is the United States still fully committed to building a missile defense system in Europe?
Absolutely, because the NATO shield for all of Europe—and the United States—is going to be built primarily to defend against the threat of missiles from the Middle East, mostly Iran, and not so much North Korea.

The threat from North Korea is quite serious now and we are making adjustments to our own National Missile Defense System to deal with that.

But in terms of the system in Poland, a new base will be opened in 2018—there is money in the American budget for it. In the five months since I’ve been here, we’ve had three visits from teams that are going to prepare the site in northern Poland. I am completely convinced that it will open on time.

What about Polish-American trade relations? Should there be more business between the two countries?
Since the end of communism, the United States has consistently been one of the top foreign investors in Poland and the value of U.S. investment here is about $20 billion, depending on how you count it. The American companies that I meet in my travels around Poland are very excited about doing business here, as it’s the only economy in Europe to have grown every year since the end of communism. There is a lot of excitement in the American business community about that.

But am I satisfied? No, I’m not, I think things could be even better. One of the funny statistics for me is that Poland recently moved into 20th position—as the 20th largest economy in the world. But Poland is only number 55 in terms of our trading partners, so why is the 20th largest economy in the world only number 55 in terms of how we trade with each other? I think we need to do better to bring those numbers closer together.

There are a couple of promising things. Poland is one of a few countries in Europe that consistently spends a good amount of money on its own defense. It is guaranteed in the constitution that the Polish government has to spend 1.95 percent of GDP on it. The United States strongly welcomes that and very strongly supports it and very strongly wants to participate in that program. There are many American defense manufacturers who are coming quite regularly to Poland.

Shale gas changed the American economy. Do you think it could transform the Polish economy?
We love shale gas in the United States. It’s laid out a way for us to become energy independent in less than 10 years. It has a very exciting strategic dimension, because the more diversified supplies of gas are, the cheaper the gas will be. Strategically, it is a good thing for all of us economically. I’m not a geologist so I am hesitant to predict things, but I do know that while Exxon Mobil left last year, the rest of the American companies which are here are staying and seem to be very excited about the possibilities that they have here. ConocoPhillips is here, Chevron is here, as is Marathon Oil. They are communicating with the government, which is introducing new amendments to the law on how this shale gas will be regulated.

Is there room for more scientific corporation between Poland and America?
Absolutely. In the United States, we have already hosted dozens of Polish scientists, business people and government executives to study shale gas, how you regulate it, how you develop it, the technology, science, the economics of that. We are going to continue the program. Later this year, we’re bringing a group of academics from the University of West Virginia who are coming here to share their expertise on shale gas with their Polish academic counterparts. I think it’s a very exciting part of our relationship.

Do you encourage Polish entrepreneurs who want to do business in America?
We very much want Polish entrepreneurs to invest in the United States and, in fact, we have growing Polish investment in the United States. Somebody told me in Washington that 10,000 Americans owe their jobs to Polish investment. That’s a very good thing. I would like to promote more of that.

Does a Polish company that wants to break into the U.S. market need to find an American partner?
Just as in Poland it works better if you have a Polish partner, it helps to have an American partner in the United States.

But one of the issues that we need to address to make that happen more efficiently is the visa question. It is one of the reasons why President Obama supports including Poland in the visa waiver program. Because, by making it easier to travel to the United States, not only will it be easier for investors to get to the United States and invest there, but it will also be easier for Polish tourists to come and spend their zlotys.

Does that mean Poles will soon be able to travel to the U.S. without visas?
I am optimistic, but to do this, we have to do it in one of two ways. Poland either has to qualify according to the current standards, which it falls a little short of, or we change the standards so that Poland can participate. A number of Poland’s friends in our Congress have introduced legislation that they are working very hard to pass.

Do you think they will succeed by the end of this year?
It could happen, but whether it will happen I can’t predict. I know a lot of people are working hard on it and so I’m optimistic.
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