Poland is one of the few NATO states that meets the 2% GDP spending pledge on defence and, by doing so, has become a country that from Washington’s perspective is a predictable and reliable ally. It is also safe to assume the Polish government is looking to bypass Brussels to establish an even stronger relationship with the United States. So far, it’s not working.
The Obama administration’s recent comments have angered European politicians from London to Warsaw. It all began from the possibility, now confirmed, of Obama’s visit to the UK in April. This first stop on Obama’s trip will see a U.S. president advising UK voters to remain in the EU, which of course sent pro-Brexit campaigners on a tirade of abuse against him. During a recent debate, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage, called Obama the “most anti-British president America has ever had.”
The second comment that aroused anger was from a senior official of the Obama administration expressing “concern” in regards to the current Polish constitutional crisis. Whilst extending an olive branch at the same time, the official was quoted, by POLITICO, to say that “The new Polish government is still fairly young and finding its way forward, so we want to see how they respond to the report of the Venice Commission.”
The leader of the ruling party (PiS), Jarosław Kaczyński, had already dismissed a leaked copy of the draft report from the Venice Commission’s as “legally absurd.”
While Washington speaks of concerns, the Polish Defence Minister, Antoni Macierewicz, said, “People who built their democracy in the 18th century are telling us what democracy is? Our nation, had structures of representative democracy in the 13th and 14th centuries and was the source of democracy in Europe,” according to NaTemat.pl
One would think that a government so keen on having NATO bases within its territory, in order to deter any possible actions by Russia, would have chosen a different, softer tone towards a founding member that funds almost a quarter of the alliance.
At a recent panel, organized by the German Marshall Fund (GMF) office in Warsaw, Visegrad Insight had a chance to raise the issue of the Polish government’s use of antagonistic rhetoric. The head of the Russian department for the Centre of European Studies, Marek Menkiszak, made clear that while they have a policy of not commenting on domestic politics, that “We have a serious political crisis; a serious political division within Polish society. It, obviously, negatively influences our security in broader terms…but it’s up to your partners to comment on it.”
When Derek Chollet, Counsellor and Senior Advisor for Security and Defence for GMF, was asked the same question, he made clear that he has been working for the current U.S. administration for over a year, and that “Certainly what is happening in Poland is getting a lot of attention in the U.S., but I would say that one of the great areas of bipartisan consensus in America is the importance of our relationship with Poland.”
He then went on to say that the U.S. is no stranger to political turbulence, probably referring to the recent passing of one of the U.S. Supreme Court Justices, and the fact that the opposition party wants the seat to remain empty until Obama’s term is over.
The most senior figure in the room, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Defence, Michael Carpenter, echoed Chollet’s comments, “Whatever conversation that’s taking place between Warsaw and Washington might be the source of a lot of attention, but it won’t impact our security relationship which is robust and proceeding very well.”
Too much on the plate
Amid a series of issues to contend with including Montenegro’s accession to the alliance, NATO’s intervention in the Aegean Sea in order to help curve the flow of refugees, fears of the Syrian war spilling over into Turkey and a possible rebuffed Russian aggression in Ukraine after the partial pull-out from Syria, NATO could have too much to chew on to worry about a single member’s domestic politics.
Except that Poland is not just any NATO member. It is a country with a modernising army committed to further military spending, while others are only slowing down or making cuts. It is the country that will be hosting the NATO summit. It is the country that when everybody else was talking about a “reset” of Russia-NATO relations, called Moscow’s bluff by foreseeing further Russian expansion.
Hopefully the alliance will be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.
Santiago de la Presilla is a Warsaw-based journalist and communications advisor. He writes mostly about European politics, the Ukraine crisis and foreign policy.
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