The 2016 Warsaw NATO Summit: Poland’s hopes, or wishful thinking

Kazimierz Popławski.

PHOTO: Erakogu

When during the 2014 Newport Summit NATO’s decision-makers pointed at Warsaw as a destination for the next big gathering, it clearly confirmed the direction of NATO’s developments. The decision gave hope for bigger presence or even permanent bases of NATO on Polish soil. With political changes and difficult to understand moves of the new government in Warsaw, Polish voice at the Summit might lose its strength, and hopes might turn into wishful thinking.

Despite sharp differences between biggest Polish political parties, they found common ground when discussing the goals of the Warsaw NATO Summit. Despite political change last autumn, the goals remain the same: the most important is permanent presence of NATO’s troops and defensive military equipment on Polish soil.

Last August, Tomasz Siemioniak (opposition Civic Platform), the former minister of defence said that «Poland’s goal for the Warsaw NATO Summit is permanent presence of the Alliance in our country», and added that «we want this Summit to be the most important since the end of the Cold War». Behind the mentioned «presence» are troops, but also military equipment and investments in the defensive infrastructure.

At the beginning of this year, president Andrzej Duda (before taking office member of the Law and Justice; PiS) listed three goals, or rather characteristics, of the upcoming Summit: universal, so it should touch upon issues important to the South as well as Central Europe; future-oriented, so there should be made decisions that will adjust and prepare  the Alliance for the future challenges; decisive, so there should be made clear decisions on reinforcement and deterrence, in other words – organizing permanent bases in the so-called Eastern Flank and moving there defensive military equipment.

Last weeks, the Prime Minister Beata Szydło (PiS), who actually might lose her post by July, voiced similar statements. «We expect a decision that will change security status of the region. Even though we belong to the same institution, there are two different security statuses within it. Better in the Western Europe, different security status in the place that is called Eastern Flank. There are no NATO forces, military defence installations (…) We expect that the [Warsaw] NATO Summit will take care of it and change it,» said Szydło in April.

Window of opportunity

Russia’s attack on Ukraine that led to de facto annexation of Crimea, deadly war in Donbas and a new frozen conflict, had significant influence on choosing Warsaw over any Western city for the upcoming NATO summit. The dramatic events in Ukraine increased anxiety in the Central European countries, including Poland that borders both – the victim and the perpetrator. The aggressive actions of Russia were the main argument in favor of bigger presence of NATO in the Central Europe.

When the dust of explosions settled and the whizz of shells quieten in Donbas down, Poland lost strong argument, and its success depend now mostly on its own efforts. Since the political change (including the crisis over Constitutional Tribunal) in Poland might be difficult to understand in Berlin, London or Washington, it might be much easier to the Western partners to say no to Warsaw’s demands.

That turn seems to be taken by the government into account, and from time to time one may read between the lines of Prime Minister Szydło, minister of Foreign Affairs Witold Waszczykowski (PiS; might lose his post by July) or President Duda’s statements lowered expectations towards upcoming NATO summit.

Prime Minister Szydło said couple of days ago that «it’s confirmed that the permanent presence of NATO forces on Polish territory will be realized». Day or two before her statement, during the Globsec conference in Bratislava, Slovakia, Alexander Vershbow, Deputy Secretary-General of the NATO, said that there will be no permanent bases in Poland, but permanent rotational presence of NATO troops in the so-called Eastern Flank.