Poland’s defense could help sustain its European relationship

Poland’s defense could help sustain its European relationship

The chilling of NATO-Russian relations in the Baltics, Poland and Eurasia is no secret. Both Russia and NATO have stepped up defense on their borders due to perceived threats. NATO has felt especially threatened in the wake of events in Crimea and Russia’s deployment of nuclear-capable missiles to Kaliningrad. The latest in a series of European responses, however, is a stepping up of missile defense in Poland.

Poland has announced its request to purchase multiple Patriot missile defense systems from USA’s Raytheon. The country’s continued openness to Western defense could help navigate its recent economic shrink and nationalist shift away from EU norms.

Poland would become the 6th NATO country to utilize Patriot, and would be the Easternmost European installment, setting a new precedent for the evolving defense race. The installment of these systems, which serve as a deterrent against both nuclear and conventional airborne attacks, is likely a response to Russia’s placement of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles in Kaliningrad as well as increased presence of Russian S300 and S400 defense systems along its border.

This escalation in both defensive and offensive missile capabilities is a balancing act of deterrence. As a part of this deterrence scenario, each party must take care to defend itself whilst respecting the mutual deterrence aspect of their nuclear arsenals. Step-ups in missile defense capabilities must be carefully calculated so as to not overstep the bounds of deterrence. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg came out immediately to clarify that these defense systems will not interfere with Russia’s deterrence.

Poland, who has long been a rising European star, has seen recent complications in its relationship with Europe, but has continued to increase its NATO commitment in the face of Russian activity. The recent election of the Law and Justice Party reflected a nationalist shift in Poland’s attitude, unwelcomed by the European Union. However, this nationalist shift is unlikely to divert the country from securing its increasingly tense Russian border.

Therefore, what Europe (consisting of both NATO and the EU) and the US are experiencing is an open window to preserve one of its most strategic allies who has caused some anxiety in recent years. As the global shift in nationalism spread across Europe and the globe, Europe began to wonder whether Poland would continue down its path of friendship, or seek to leave the European community. With such tensions further rising, however, Poland has once again shown that it will continue to uphold its defense through support from the U.S. and NATO.

It is vital for NATO to maintain a healthy relationship with Poland, who has been one of the most stunning economic and political successes of former Soviet nations. It saw a GDP increase from $171b in 2000 to $544b in 2014 (with a recent drop to $474b), and was one of the only countries to more or less dodge the economic recession of 2008-2009. Furthermore, it has proven a dependable and marvelous ally in NATO defense.

With such tensions on the NATO-Russian border, it will be important to watch Europe’s dealing with Poland. Though the country’s economy has shown signs of wavering and its current administration is not ideal from a Western perspective, it continues to hold one of the best hopes for post-Soviet development. In pursuing a higher level of defense for itself through the Patriot systems, it is further securing Europe as a whole.

If Poland’s government proceeds to alienate itself from the European Union, European continuity may be left in the hands of NATO and defense planning. Though ideally the relationship would continue on terms of economics and governance, Europe and the US will need to leverage whatever hand they have to retain this crucial friend. Regardless of future developments in the Polish government, missile defense and NATO partnership will remain a cornerstone of Polish integration with Europe.

Categories: Europe, Security

About Author

Jonathan Hoogendoorn

Jonathan is a Massachusetts-based geopolitical analyst with an M.S. in International Relations and Diplomacy from Northeastern University. He works at a global analytics firm as well as Wikistrat, focusing on the Russian-European relationship, industry/political dynamics, and diplomatic relations. Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @jonathanhoog