Poland and the NATO Summit: Meeting our security challenges

Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski's speech delivered at the Wrocław Global Forum.

Let me thank the organisers for having me at Wrocław Global Forum. I am attending this event for the very first time. Wrocław Global Forum has established itself as Europe’s leading venue for discussing global developments. Wrocław is not only the European Capital of Culture today, but for these two days has become the capital of transatlantic politics as well. I am particularly satisfied that the Polish Institute of International Affairs, a think-tank closely affiliated with the MFA, is a co-organiser of this event. I am also happy that we have our American friends from Atlantic Council on board, as this bolsters the transatlantic link which is one of the foundations of the Polish foreign policy.

The organizers rightly note that the Wrocław Global Forum is an important distributor of ideas –  in times of crises, we are in need of bold, stimulating, and novel thinking. In the current geopolitical setting, we should ask tough questions and be ready to give straightforward and realistic answers.

On my short flight from Warsaw this morning, I had browsed the program, trying to find out what the leading idea, the leitmotif of this year’s Forum is. I was not surprised by the one word which dominates the agenda. And this is NATO. NATO is the key word. NATO is the leitmotif today. Challenges emanating from our Eastern, and Southern neighbourhood directly threaten our security, stability and prosperity. And NATO should have an adequate response to counter these challenges.

Ahead of the July Warsaw NATO summit, let me share with you the Polish take on the challenges that we are facing. The Polish perspective on how the alliance should adapt to the current security environment. And try to answer what is really at stake. Let me structure my talk into three Cs – the context, the content and the consequences of the upcoming Summit.

Let me start with the context.

Today, our neighbourhood is a challenge.

And there are two primary sources of insecurity that we are facing.

Practically all of Europe’s Southern neighbourhood has become an area of growing turmoil and multiple threats both for the region itself and, ever more directly, for Europe. Conflicts have spread from North Africa’s shores at the Mediterranean to the Sahel and even to sub-Sahara Africa. The Middle East area of instability has been extended even further to the East, encompassing Afghanistan and North-West Pakistan. Turkey, an important member of the transatlantic community, is directly exposed to risks generated by the Syrian war, where local, regional and global actors are involved. Continuing and widespread violence is disrupting the existing state structures. As a result  we have today on our Southern doorstep a growing number of failed or near-failed states, with non-state actors, such as Daesh and multiple other terrorist organizations controlling vast territories. Conflicts produce tremendous humanitarian consequences and generate a huge migration pressure on Europe. Considerable numbers of foreign fighters who join the ranks of Daesh increase the probability of ever grater spill-over of violence. Terrorists attacks perpetrated in Europe have shown that no country should feel immune to risks that emanate from the South and  pose a long-term threat to the well-being of the Europeans. Failed states also provide transit routes for criminal networks, trafficking not only people but also drugs and weapons. Our Southern neighbourhood has thus become a source of instability. Instability which is a concern for the whole transatlantic community.

On the Eastern flank, we have Russia with its aggressive and revisionist posture. Russia, which undermines the sovereignty of states. Russia, which poses a threat to the West as a whole, as it does not only challenge the territorial integrity, but also the political unity of the transatlantic community. Russia which challenges the order based on international principles which have guided international politics since the end of the Cold War or even before. Zero-sum game and military force have become keywords in Russia’s foreign policy lexicon. What we see today is in fact Russia returning to a cold-war mentality.

Many times we have been hearing that this policy is a reaction to the West’s aggressive policy infringing on Russia’s core, strategic interests. That Russia is simply responding to NATO’s Eastern expansion. Let me debunk this myth. For years, Russia has been treated as an equal partner. NATO has been trying to accommodate Russia’s concerns, among others by setting up the NATO-Russia Council, which was supposed to bring in new quality into our relations. The discussion around Ukraine’s and Georgia’s NATO membership perspective was to a large extent shaped by Russia’s concerns.

What has Russia offered us in return? Let set the facts straight. 2007  - Munich Security Conference. President Putin’s speech which thrilled many, and should already then be a wake-up call for all of us. 2008  - Russian military intervention in Georgia. 2009 - Zapad military exercise, with a scenario envisaging a NATO attack on Belarus. An 80% increase in military spending since 2007. Russian National Security Strategy - all in all a depressing read. I could probably spare all my time telling you about Russia’s conduct, which, euphemistically speaking, is not a friendly one. This is Russia of today. Yet we do acknowledge the need for keeping channels of communication with our Eastern neighbour open. Dialogue, though, should not be seen as a policy in itself. And dialogue should be pursued based a sound assessment of Russia’s posture. Otherwise, we could end up in a divisive discussion. We cannot allow that to happen.

Against this backdrop, we have our expectations towards the summit. Hence, the content.

I mentioned two major flashpoints. It is no secret that the perception of threats and their hierarchy differs among NATO member states. This should not come as a surprise for an Alliance of 28 states, with different historical experiences, geographies, very often different geopolitics. But in order to deliver NATO has to manage situation on both flanks: Eastern and Southern. We simply must match appropriate defence and deterrence measures with the character of threats. Yet one thing is clear for us - nobody should question the principle according to which all member states across the entire territory of the alliance should be given an equal security status.

Just a few days ago, I was happy to hear NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg praise Poland for its contribution to the transatlantic security. He said that Poland has “evolved from a new ally into a leading ally”. Indeed, Poland has demonstrated its credibility as a reliable member of NATO and the Western community – we have brought our military spending to 2 percent of GDP – not many other NATO members fulfil this pledge. Yet, the division between the “old” and the “new” members states, after nearly 20 years, still stands I am afraid. We are well aware of the fact that our own military capabilities will not be enough to counter external threats, and that is why we would like to see NATO beef up its physical presence on the Eastern flank, providing real security guarantees to all its members. Only a substantial investment in infrastructure, the stationing of NATO troops on the ground can give Poland and its neighbours the security we need, and thus level the unequal status. That is why our primary objective is to have a multinational, forward presence of allied forces in Poland and the Baltic states. Let me be clear: NATO “should go in area or will be in trouble”, to quote one American expert.

Today, NATO’s key word should be deterrence, seen not as offensive measure, but rather as the most effective – and in fact the only - instrument of peace-building. We do not want to wage war against anyone. But to avoid a war scenario we must show that we are very well prepared and determined to defend our territory and values we share. Appeasement never works if it is not shored up by military strength – this has been, as we all perfectly now, proven by history.

Much has been decided and done already, but a lot more is needed. The Warsaw Summit will be a watershed in NATO’s post-cold war history. But it is just the beginning. We need a permanent strategic adaptation of the Alliance.

There are some other points on Warsaw Summit’s agenda. Enlargement process is not finished yet. We welcome the decision on Montenegro’s accession. But it is not the last candidate lining up for membership. We have Macedonia, Bosnia & Hercegovina and Georgia. We cannot allow any third country to have a say on the future of the Alliance.

Stability and security of the West is not possible without a peaceful, stable and secure neighbourhood. That is why it is crucial that we deepen our partnership with like-minded countries, in frame of the cooperative security approach. Our closest partners Finland and Sweden deserve special attention. Strengthening the resilience of Ukraine and Georgia to internal and external threats should also be among our objectives. We also have to deepen our cooperation with Jordan.

Finally, the consequences.

What is at stake at the Warsaw Summit? Very briefly – it is the preservation of the Alliance’s unity. Unity, which is vital to maintaining a credible defence and deterrence posture.

Thus, we cannot let differences prevail over common purpose. The principle of “28 for 28” should become NATO’s axiom. The presence of troops from different NATO countries should become a symbol of the Alliance’s determination to defend the Eastern flank. A symbol of a renewed solidarity. A symbol of the West’s strength.

It should also be a symbol of the West’s ability to adjust itself to dynamically changing circumstances, both political and military. Throughout its history the alliance proved to have a robust but also a flexible institutional structure. Underpinned by common values of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law it has always been able to effectively address challenges at hand. Despite differences regarding particular courses of action, which are natural in any organization with so many member states, its ability to act remained strong and its mission coherent. It allowed NATO to dramatically expand the area of transatlantic stability. Not by force, but by the power of its democratic vision and its power to attract new members. It became a synonym of a safe harbour.  

In the current demanding geopolitical situation and rising instability it is crucial that NATO maintains the reputation of its power. We must carefully analyse todays political environment and find the right answers. If in conducting our deliberations we are guided by common purpose – which is to provide security for our democracies – I strongly believe we will be able to come up with effective responses, but also send the right signal to the outside world. If, on the other hand, we allow short-term interests to get in the way, if we show doubt and disunity, we will not only deteriorate the long-term security of all the allies, but also encourage those who wish to perceive NATO as an enemy to continue their disruptive policies unabated.

Thank you!