Sunday, 14 June 2009

Poles Resent Lack of Progress on Missile Defence, Welcome New NATO Unit

Poland had a mixed time at NATO this week. The Poles, having resisted Bush administration efforts to deploy missile defence interceptors for a year, jumped enthusiastically into an agreement when Russia moved military forces into Georgia last Summer.

The Poles had calculated that they needed to attract military infrastructure from the US and from NATO into Poland, to be sure that the Alliance’s Article V guarantee would be effective against a resurgent Russia. Unfortunately for them, they had failed to allow for the election of President Obama (somewhat short-sighted in September 2008), and for changes in policy resulting from that election.

And now, the Poles are resentful that the missile defence agreement signed with the Bush administration is in limbo, and that the Patriot batteries they had asked for as a quid pro quo have not been deployed. Polish spokesman Pawel Gras told Polish media on June 12 that We're still lacking an essential, clear response as to whether the U.S. will go ahead with the shield plan. It's a fundamental question to which we need a definite answer. On our side we've met the pledges in this deal. The land is ready and waiting.

Polish and US sources have told the media that US Defense Secretary Robert Gates told his Polish counterpart Bogdan Klich that the Patriot batteries would be deployed in Poland on a rotating basis only for training and exercise purposes, for which they need not be armed. The Polish government is most unhappy.

This is a clear concession to Russia, which has strongly opposed both the deployment of US missile defences in Eastern Europe, and the build-up of NATO military infrastructure close to its borders. Since NATO-Russia are on a calmer trajectory, there seems little point in antagonizing Moscow with an infrastructure build-up on the NATO side.

The Poles, however, are much happier with another development this week. Klich was able to announce that NATO has decided to form a new unit, the communications regiment. Under this decision the command of one of three battalions making up the regiment will have its headquarters in Bydgoszcz. This decision, combined with Thursday's decision to allocate fresh general's posts to Polish officers, including the post of deputy commander at the strategic command of transformation headquartered in Norfolk, points to Poland's growing importance in NATO. It is the result of our participation in NATO's foreign missions.

Polish concerns about full integration into NATO were clearly uppermost in Klich’s mind, as he told a press conference that "The more allied institutions are in Poland the greater our sense of security.” This is a clever political compromise, which helps Poland and does so without annoying Russia.

However, while the US Congress has prohibited development of the missile defence sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, the outcome of the Obama administration’s missile defence review may change things, although Congress and the administration agree that the system (which has never had a realistic test and has failed 50% of its simplified tests) must be proven to work before it can be deployed. Poland will continue to press Washington on this issue, but some in Warsaw are probably beginning to realize that jumping into an agreement with an unpopular President in the last weeks of his term in office wasn’t a sensible move. For now, the communications HQ will need to satisfy their desire for proof that NATO really wants them.

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