GEOMETR.IT politico.eu/ 17.03.2016
The escalating conflict between Poland’s right-wing government and the country’s top constitutional court is starting to taint its crucial security relationship with the United States.
So far, Warsaw hasn’t responded to the increasingly insistent signals coming out of Washington.
• Daniel Fried, a former U.S. ambassador to Poland and now coordinator of sanctions policy, dropped in to the Polish capital in January, meeting with foreign ministry officials as well as seeing Kaczyński, according to a source familiar with the meeting. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was also in Warsaw last month.
• In addition, three senior senators — John McCain, Richard Durbin and Benjamin Cardin — wrote to Prime Minister Beata Szydło in February. Calling themselves “friends of Poland,” they warned that the fight with the Constitutional Tribunal, as well as a law allowing greater government control of the public media “could serve to diminish democratic norms in Poland.”
• Witold Waszczykowski, the foreign minister, responded that the senators’ letter was based on “misinformation” about the situation in Poland and had been inspired by “people who wish Poland ill.”
• Antoni Macierewicz, the defense minister, was even more dismissive of the United States when speaking Saturday at a security conference commemorating Poland’s 1999 accession to NATO: “People who were only building their country in the 18th century are telling us what democracy is — a nation that already had structures of representative democracy in the 13th and 14th centuries.”
Warsaw looks to NATO
The diplomatic ill-temper comes at a time when Poland wants to push through an agreement at the July NATO summit to permanently station alliance forces on its territory. That’s something other NATO allies like Germany and France are reluctant to accept out of fear of Russia’s reaction.
“We demand equal treatment through gaining not only political but also military guarantees before any threat that could face us,” Waszczykowski said Saturday at the security conference.
That’s going to be a tough sell for the U.S. administration at a time when Poland is seen as straying from the normal rules of democratic states.
Despite efforts on the Polish side, the U.S. has not said if there will be a one-on-one meeting between Duda and Obama.
• The administration is “trying to send very clear messages privately and trying to publicly note it, but not go too heavy-handed on it,” said Heather Conley, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Conley served as deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs under George W. Bush.
• While Conley believes the situation won’t affect the NATO summit agenda, she said that if the situation in Poland worsens, the White House will have to decide whether to scale back its bilateral engagement with Poland at the summit and “limit some of the exposure and not give the Polish government a lot of meeting time bilaterally.”
That’s already happening with the nuclear security summit in Washington on March 31. Polish President Andrzej Duda is attending, but despite efforts on the Polish side, the U.S. has not said if there will be a one-on-one meeting between him and Obama.
The danger for Warsaw is that its increasingly awkward government could find itself sidelined, and any future NATO bases in the region could go to less controversial allies like Estonia or Latvia, warned Paweł Kowal, a deputy foreign minster during Law and Justice’s previous stint in power from 2005 to 2007 who broke with the party in 2011.
“It could turn out that additional defense measures do come to the region, but that they don’t come to Poland,” he said, adding that the risks for Poland of being internationally isolated are very large. “Polish history is really pretty definite. We’re either in some sort of a union, or else Russian troops are stationed in Poland.”
Jan Cienski reported from Warsaw and Joseph Schatz and Benjamin Oreskes from Washington.