Polish President Andrzej Duda’s first term is about to end. According to our constitutional system, the President is the Commander-in-Chief who – in accordance with the government – is also in charge of foreign policy, particularly national security. This is the perfect time to go over his achievements and upcoming challenges.
In 2015, President Duda faced chaos as far as Poland’s security policy was concerned. It was illustrated by the divisions within the V4 over the refugee crisis. More importantly, the ruling coalition, led by the Civic Platform, was helpless in the face of Russia’s aggression on Ukraine. The erroneous notion prevailed that being an EU and a NATO member state as well as following the mainstream was good enough. France and Germany, the champions of the so-called European strategic autonomy, were allowed to take over conflict resolution. To this day, they have not been able to deliver.
At that time, a symbolic allied forces presence was established, and Poland’s training grounds were visited. Those stopovers were not made part of our defence framework though. In 2014, NATO agreed to create the five thousand strong Very High Readiness Joint Task Force. The so-called “spearhead” follow on force was to come to the rescue in the event of an armed conflict. In 2015, it became clear that Russia’s A2AD would be able to successfully hold it back. Therefore, President Duda, along with Prime Minister Szydlo’s government were able to convince our allies to deploy NATO troops in Poland at the 2016 NATO summit in Warsaw. Poland is finally benefiting from a meaningful allied forces’ presence. A new US anti-missile defence system is under construction. In 2016, our political security guarantees were upgraded and the presence of our allies on Polish soil has been expanding ever since.
Throughout his first term, President Duda has viewed Poland’s security in a broader context. Our military security was complemented by energy security. The LNG terminal in the city of Swinoujscie and gas deals signed with Washington are prime examples of this two-pronged approach.
Another additional supplement to our security framework was successful regional integration. The Visegrad Group was rebuilt, and an even broader platform created. The Three Seas Initiative (3SI) brings together 12 countries to work together and has already captured US President Donald Trump’s attention. More recently, Germany joined 3SI with observer status.
President Duda’s first term will also be remembered for the World Youth Day with Pope Francis and millions of pilgrims. Another success worth noting is Poland’s unprecedented victory in the UN, where 190 states supported our two-year Security Council membership.
His second term will begin in rough circumstances, the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on social and economic activity is the immediate and obvious challenge. A great number of the President’s activities will depend on the government’s actions.
On the other hand, the result of our recent presidential election guarantees smooth cooperation between our head of state and the cabinet which will be an advantage in Poland’s battle against the expected economic recession.
Due to our geopolitical position and Europe’s attitude, we cannot expect an eastward expansion of the European institutions. For decades, we will remain a frontier state of an unstable neighbourhood. The issue of maintaining Poland’s security will continue to be the focal point of our foreign policy.
Time and again, I will bring up my country’s tragic past and argue that our national security cannot be taken for granted. With this in mind, maintaining a strong transatlantic relationship and solid ties with the United States is absolutely essential. That is not to say that there can be no alternative for Poland. The issue is that Europe is not giving us one. What it has been trying to fool us with are illusions and military solutions that lack credibility.
It is safe to assume that President Duda will continue to encourage NATO and the US to further expand their military presence in Poland. In addition to rapid response forces, we should also be hosting far-range reconnaissance capabilities to keep tabs on our eastern neighbours. Furthermore, we need to be able to swiftly accommodate significant follow on forces in Poland. The Central Communication/Transport Port megaproject (CPK) will not be limited to servicing business and civilian enterprises. It will also be part of Poland’s security architecture.
This being his final presidential term obviously allows more room for bold initiatives, in cooperation with the government, of course. Here lies a potential challenge for the President – establishing a clear division of competence in foreign policy. Our Constitution gives the head of state prerogatives in this area and the President can initiate and make security policy. Following the Lisbon Treaty, the Prime Minister became responsible for European affairs. The question that is still left unanswered is the role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The upcoming three years will be election-free and this encourages creativity. We can no longer afford makeshift solutions. What we need is a professional Foreign Office, able to be ambitious and to face external challenges.
Thanks to his first term, President Duda has the benefit of experience and the ability to act independently on the international stage. Poland’s advantage is its stability and prosperity. It is time to set course to a more ambitious foreign policy.
We should expand our regional cooperation, maybe even consider merging 3SI with the Eastern Partnership. Technological collaboration with the United States and the United Kingdom would be highly beneficial in this. Elements of military cooperation could also be part of the framework.
Our policy toward the East also requires a clean-up. Unlike the Civic Platform, I have no illusions about Russia. It would not hurt to revisit more obscure issues such as our relations with Belarus. I attempted to make progress here in 2016 during my term as Foreign Minister.
Reaching a little farther, there is the question of the Middle East and Africa. The EU is trying to make inroads there and to establish partnerships. In practice, it is solely through a rivalry with China, which has been elbowing its way through the region. Poland has a significant diplomatic presence in Africa and enjoys a good reputation in the continent as we have never been a colonial empire. We should take advantage of our character and of our potential for export.
Finally, there is Asia. Despite Europe’s worsening view of China due to the coronavirus pandemic, China will not fade into oblivion. However, we should shift our focus to Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and last but not least – Taiwan. That tiny island is a technological giant and it would be advisable to broaden our cooperation.
These are just a few examples. There is, of course, much more the President can do in the next five years to better our nation and leave a positive legacy behind.