NATO does not cast words into the wind

"The actions undertaken by Polish diplomacy are precisely aimed keeping Poland as a constant oasis of peace and security within these troubled waters. For that we need solid support in the strong North Atlantic Alliance," says Polish FM Witold Waszczykowski in an exclusive interview with Poland.pl.

Poland.pl: The NATO Secretary General’s visit to Warsaw, like that of US President Donald Trump, is once again focusing the attention of many political commentators on Poland. What are Poland’s expectations with regard to Jens Stoltenberg's visit?

Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski: We expect a frank talk about the security of the Alliance and Europe. It is directed towards seeking answers to the question of how to work to restore fundamental principles to international relations, such as: respect for treaties, sovereignty and territorial integrity, the rejection of military force in solving disputes, the protection of civilian lives. Unfortunately, today we are witnessing a blatant and widespread violation of these principles by Russia, Syria as well as terrorists who are setting their goals higher. The NATO Secretary General's visit coincides with ZAPAD's Russian-Belarusian military exercise, whose nature, scale, and insufficient degree of transparency indicate hostile intentions. In addition, they destabilise the security of Europe, which is still dazed following Russian aggression against Ukraine and Russian military support for Bashar Assad’s genocidal policies in Syria. But I can assure you that, despite propaganda efforts by the Russians, ZAPAD does not distract us from the actions carried out by Russia’s military and special services in other regions, for example in the Balkans, Middle East and North Africa, aimed at forcing the West to accept Russia’s vision of the world in the form of a concert of world powers.

How should Poland and NATO respond to the ZAPAD 2017 joint military manoeuvres by Russia and Belarus?

The "Zapad-2017" manoeuvres will be the largest exercise in our region since 1991, and many of their components are a source of concern. Unfortunately Russia does not ease these concerns, shirking its transparency obligations under OSCE rules. As a member of NATO, we expect a firm but balanced response, which will avoid escalation but also demonstrate unshakeable Alliance solidarity. We call on Russia to show transparency as demonstrated by Poland and other NATO countries during their exercises. After the manoeuvres are concluded, we will make it clear within the NATO forum that we would like concrete conclusions for NATO defence plans to be drawn from the course and scenarios of the Russian exercises.

In your February expose you stressed the need for the full implementation of the decisions made at the Warsaw NATO Summit. Are we satisfied with the level of implementation of the summit’s decisions at this point in time?

The most visible result of the decisions made in Warsaw is the presence of Allied troops in Poland and the Baltic States. The process of implementing the decisions made in Warsaw is progressing smoothly. The message this sends is clear: the Alliance does not cast words into the wind and all the decisions are being adopted in a consistent manner. That does not mean that there is nothing left to do. The priority for Poland is to strengthen the effectiveness of the Alliance’s collective defence and this is something that we will strive towards in the lead up to the NATO summit in 2018. We will continue to watch over the work in progress, such as the reforms of NATO's command structure and Alliance reinforcement forces. These are important elements of collective defence capabilities, which are the subject of intense work in the NATO forum. They must be completed before the next NATO summit in 2018, in order to focus on setting ambitious goals for the coming years. The security environment is constantly evolving and the North Atlantic Alliance has to change with it too.

During J. Stoltenberg’s visit there is also taking place a meeting between the foreign ministers of Poland, Romania and Turkey. What is the cooperation of these three countries like in terms of security within the NATO framework?

Consultations between the three countries have taken place at various levels for several years now. Poland, Turkey and Romania are all "flank" member states of the Alliance with significant defence potential and armed conflicts directly on their borders. We play an important role in our regions. Together we engage in Alliance activities responding to today's threats. Poland deployed a military contingent to Romania. Romanian soldiers participate in the NATO combat group in Poland. All three of our countries are committed to the Alliance’s efforts in the fight against terrorism. The three of us sit at the table with specific knowledge and sensitivity. Our talks are not just exchanges of opinions and mutual understanding; we are working together on solutions that will make NATO even more efficient and guarantee our security. The issues we talk about form the core of NATO’s defence policy. The meeting of Polish, Turkish and Romanian foreign ministers with the NATO Secretary General in Warsaw shows that for the three capitals the NATO Headquarters in Brussels constitutes the foundation of security policy. We are counting on the further development of our cooperation, especially in the context of preparations for next year's NATO summit.

What support does Poland give to aspiring countries such as Georgia and Ukraine?

Poland supports the pro-NATO aspirations of Ukraine and Georgia both politically in the North Atlantic Alliance and through practical military cooperation. Poland's primary goal in relation to Georgia and Ukraine is to strengthen their resilience potential to external threats. As a result of strong support from Poland at the NATO summit in Warsaw, a package of NATO assistance for Ukraine was adopted. We support the Ukrainian army through training and financially by means of NATO trust funds. We provide the Ukrainian army with material aid. Together with the United States and Canada, we train Ukrainian soldiers in Jaworow near Lviv. Polish and Ukrainian soldiers work together on a daily basis within the framework of the Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian brigade, which should ultimately be better integrated into NATO operations. We also co-operate with the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the format of the EU’s Visegrad Battlegroup. Together with colleagues from NATO countries, Polish officers and diplomats work in NATO offices in Kiev and Tbilisi, supporting the implementation of military reforms, particularly in the area of ​​logistics – in Ukraine – and special forces and military police – in Georgia. In addition, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has started work on the NATO-Ukraine Platform for Combating Hybrid Warfare, established at the NATO summit in Warsaw. This autumn Warsaw will host the first seminar devoted to the Ukrainian experience of hybrid warfare. And yesterday, as Ukraine celebrated its Independence Day, Polish troops took part in a military parade in Kyiv which was also a sign of our support.

For some time now Poland has become more involved in regional projects such as the Visegrad Group, but also the newly formed Three Seas Initiative. Does this signify that the priorities of Polish security policy are changing, or rather the opposite - that regional projects strengthen global projects undertaken by the North Atlantic Alliance and the European Union?

There is no contradiction in engaging in regional projects, participation in European integration and the global policy of the North Atlantic Alliance. All regional initiatives and forums for cooperation with our participation - such as the Visegrad Group, "Bucharest 9" or, recently, the "Three Seas" – have the character of interstate consultations. We are not creating new international organisations. We are the last country to want the fragmentation of the EU and NATO. We meet with our regional partners in order to figure out how to make the EU more effective and NATO stronger. As with our neighbours in the bloc, we have lively discussions on settlement issues; we, alongside our partners in our part of Europe, talk on a regular basis about how best to address challenges related to security, infrastructure and the economy.

The strengthening of the cooperation of the states of our region has gained significance in connection with the return of the great-power ambitions of Russia, our biggest neighbour. We sometimes have differences in opinion in terms of how we perceive the challenges coming from Moscow. But there is a shared desire for a common discussion on how best to respond to these threats. The history of Europe has fused together the fate of the states lying between the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea. There are matters - even infrastructure, which is to be served by the Three Seas Initiative – that we can only effectively deal with together. I would like to stress at the same time: historical prisms should not be applied to contemporary realities. The aim of Poland is the economic and political security of the region within strong Euro-Atlantic structures, rather than alternative, "Jagiellonian" integration models, as some people believe.

What determines the state of relations between Poland and Russia the most? On what issues can Poland cooperate with Russia?

It is impossible to return to business as usual with Russia violating the fundamental principles of international law. The on-going Russian aggression in Ukraine, including the occupation of the Crimea, defines not only Poland’s relations with Russia, but also those of the entire Western community with Russia. We are not opposed to dialogue and do not exclude a priori limited cooperation on international issues. Poland’s non-permanent membership of the UNSC in 2018-2019 presents an opportunity; there are issues pertaining to the global agenda where the positions of Poland and Russia may turn out to be convergent (for example non-proliferation issues). It also in our mutual interest to have successful discussions on European security, which has been on-going since the beginning of 2017 in the OSCE. We would like to talk with Russia about reducing the risk of military incidents and the mechanisms that can be used for this purpose.

Today's international order is increasingly unrestrained, the bipolar system has become a multipolar one, social tensions and terrorism are increasing, migration waves continue... What role does Poland play in this context?

The actions undertaken by Polish diplomacy are precisely aimed keeping Poland as a constant oasis of peace and security within these troubled waters. For that we need solid support in the strong North Atlantic Alliance. To that end, I invited the NATO Secretary General and ministers of key NATO “flank” countries to Poland. Our role in NATO is to promote realistic assessments of threats and their sources. Developing a common perception of threats is a prerequisite for agreeing on the best methods to tackle them. Judging by the results of the Warsaw summit, I think we are fulfilling our mission successfully. One has to note that in order to be heard, one also needs to listen carefully to other allies and their security concerns. That is why we are actively and practically engaged in the activities of the Global Coalition against the Islamic State, as well as operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo. Sensitivity to the fears held by other allies and Alliance solidarity are the cornerstones of common and effective action for security and stability.



Poland and NATO

Poland is one of five NATO member states that meet the requirement of spending  2% of GDP on defence.

The Alliance enjoys wide support in Poland. According to the latest PEW Research poll, support for NATO in Poland is one of the highest among all member countries – 79%.

Last year, on 8-9 July, Poland hosted landmark NATO Summit in Warsaw. During the Summit, leaders decided to strengthen the Alliance’s military presence in the east, with four multinational battalions in Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. They also agreed to develop a tailored forward presence in the south-eastern part of the Alliance. Poland supports both of these initiatives by contributing troops to Latvia and Romania. The eastern flank is also supported by the presence of US soldiers as part of operation Atlantic Resolve.

Poland participates in NATO Baltic Air Policing mission over the territory of the Baltic States as well as in other NATO’s missions overseas such as in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

Poland has for years acted as an informal representative of NATO in the Alliance’s partner countries. Polish embassies currently serve as NATO contact points, raising awareness about the role and policies of the alliance in Sweden and Moldova.