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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » July 13, 2016
Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation
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Poland, Germany and European Security and Defense Policy
July 13, 2016   
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The June 17, 1991 Treaty of Good Neighborly Relations and Friendly Cooperation between the Republic of Poland and the Federal Republic of Germany contained provisions that addressed security policy. In Article 6 of the treaty, the two countries specified their common security policy goals, defining them in terms of efforts to strengthen stability and increase security in Europe.

Today a key goal for Poland and Germany is to strengthen the political role of Europe as an international player in EU foreign, security and defense policies. Changes in the international European security system have forced Poland and Germany to reevaluate the methods they have used in their international activities.

After the political transformation of 1989 and 1990, Polish governments were generally supportive of the idea of developing Europe’s common foreign policy and of the plan to establish a European rapid reaction force. However, Poland was unable to directly influence the development of European security policy. Moreover, the emerging European Security and Defense Policy did not offer realistic security guarantees for Warsaw and was not seen as an alternative to NATO. Poland was looking for firm security guarantees in its foreign policy, and such guarantees could only be provided by the Atlantic Alliance. In the initial period after the fall of communism, Polish governments had a relatively low level of trust in their partners in Europe amid fears of an increased strength of a reunited Germany, Poland’s big neighbor to the west. That early period was also marked by an increased fear of renationalization in German foreign policy and worries over the imperialistic aspirations of Russia, Poland’s giant neighbor to the east, under Moscow’s “near abroad” doctrine. The choice of the NATO option propounded by the United States caused Poland to be skeptical of attempts to strengthen the second pillar of the EU (security). The authorities in Warsaw believed that building an independent European security policy would distance Western Europe from Transatlantic security structures and could consequently weaken NATO. All Polish governments after the fall of communism sought to secure an additional strengthening of national security in case the United States reduced its involvement in Europe’s security.

As a member of NATO and the European Union, Poland continues to focus on fixed security guarantees from the alliance in the form of allied deterrence and developing EU civilian and military capabilities complementary with regard to NATO. Warsaw began to take an active part in building the European Rapid Reaction Force, also known as the Battlegroups, and it also took part in EU civilian and military operations.

When the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party was in power in Poland from 2005 to 2007, Polish-German relations worsened, which had a direct effect on cooperation with Germany as part of EU foreign and security policy. In this area, Germany turned out to be an unreliable partner for its eastern neighbor because it preferred to develop cooperation with Russia at the expense of Poland’s security interests. Germany chose to pursue close energy cooperation with Russia, based on the construction of the Nord Stream I gas pipeline bypassing Poland. Another sign of diverging interests in European foreign and security policy was that Poland and Germany had completely different views on the process of ultimate integration within the European Union, in terms of whether the bloc should be a union of nation states (as Poland would have it) or a political union (as Germany suggested). This was accompanied by different perceptions of the history of both countries and their divergent historical narratives. Warsaw accused Germany of hegemonic inclinations in European policy and underscored its own policy of putting an end to an era of “servility” in Polish-German relations.

At the same time, Poland was confronted with a new situation in Europe that confirmed its worries about a lack of solidarity on the part of Germany in common security policy and clearly showed that Poland had a limited influence on German foreign and security policies. This new situation also testified to the political cynicism of Poland’s western neighbor. Poland was especially concerned about energy policy and a common European policy vis-à-vis Russia. In March 2006, at an EU economic summit, a Polish government led by Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz came up with a proposal to create what it termed an “Energy NATO.” This was followed by an initiative by the government of Jarosław Kaczyński to create a 100,000-strong European army linked to NATO. The army was to be responsible to the president of the European Commission, while EU operational units were to be subordinated to NATO’s headquarters. Both proposals were rejected.

When the centrist Civic Platform (PO) and the rural-based Polish People’s Party (PSL) were in power from 2007 to 2015, Polish-German relations warmed up. However, the level of mutual trust was still limited, especially in European and security policies. This was due to Germany’s policy toward Russia on issues such as the construction of gas pipelines, energy security and a German-Russian raw material alliance as well as the establishment of an “anti-missile shield.” There were continued differences on European policy, especially with regard to the vision of reforms in Europe.

During that period, Poland highlighted challenges to international security that were the consequence of Russian policies. This involved energy security and the diversification of energy sources, in addition to the Polish-Swedish Eastern Partnership initiative, the development of the EU’s rapid reaction force, civilian and military cooperation, and the implications of the Georgian crisis. Poland worked to update and adapt the 2003 European Security Strategy to new challenges, taking into account dramatic changes in the political situation in Europe and in its immediate neighborhood in the wake of destabilization in North Africa, a conflict in the Middle East, an unresolved crisis in the Caucasus, and political instability in Eastern Europe. The authorities in Warsaw believed that the strategy should also take into account the increased qualitative contribution of the European Union to the construction of a new international order.

At the same time, steps were taken to enhance European cooperation in the arms industry and to promptly implement the “pooling and sharing” initiative based on the joint use of military capabilities. Poland was also pushing for work to improve the EU’s crisis management structures and to boost the operational capabilities of the Battlegroups and ensure their practical use on the battlefield.

Efforts to secure German support for Poland’s position were unsuccessful as Germany was skeptical about intense EU military operations outside EU territory. The decisions of the European Council’s June 25-26, 2015 summit were limited to conclusions about continuing the process of strategic reflection with a view to preparing an EU global strategy on foreign and security policy in close cooperation with member states. This project, being prepared by Poland, Sweden, Spain, and Italy, provides for the development of a common security architecture for Europe.

Today Germany’s security interests in the broad sense are primarily defined by Euro-Atlantic geopolitical security guarantees provided by the United States and by geo-economic energy and raw material security offered by Russia. The limits of cooperation in this area are not clearly defined and depend on how the international situation develops. The dependence of the German economy on the supply of energy and raw materials from Russia remains a constant element of Moscow’s neo-imperialistic policy despite a fundamental geopolitical change in Europe whereby a neo-imperialistic Russia is challenging the foundations of the postwar international order.

The annexation of Crimea by Russia and the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine—with the political and military conflict with Russia over its continued logistic and military support for the separatists in eastern Ukraine, combined with Moscow’s failure to abide by the provisions of the Minsk II agreement and the specter of an economic and financial collapse of Ukraine—result in a permanent threat and a lower level of security in Eastern and Central Europe, including in Poland.

The aggressive policies of Putin’s Russia have forced Warsaw to initiate the process of strengthening its security and national defense system. In this context, the decisions of NATO’s July summit in Warsaw will be of fundamental importance to rebuilding trust between countries when it comes to guaranteeing collective security to member states in the eastern part of the EU and NATO. Today Germany is increasingly seeking to accept greater responsibility and step up its international involvement regardless of the interests and expectations of countries in its immediate environment. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the ongoing conflict in Syria threaten the political and economic interests of the European Union. This is accompanied by the continued destabilization of the Arab world and African nations, a situation that has produced a refugee crisis and destabilized EU member states.

The current German government’s misguided and politically naive immigration policy is being imposed on other EU member states including Poland, as a result of which these countries find themselves under economic pressure. Poland should work to increase its role in the EU’s political and economic structures in order to advance its security interests. In addition to close ties with the United States, Poland needs deeper cooperation with Germany as part of the EU’s eastern and neighborhood policies in line with the fundamental strategic goal of Polish and German foreign and security policies. For this reason, both countries should become one of the fundamental pillars of political and military integration in the EU, and they should also work to hammer out a common strategy regarding the common foreign and security policy, the common security and defense policy, and the European neighborhood policy.

Prof. Krzysztof Miszczak

The author is director and a member of the board of the Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation. He is also chairman of the board at the Foundation for Polish-German Reconciliation.
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