Poland Updates Its Security Strategy

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 17 Issue: 76

Polish President Andrzej Duda (center) (Source: Army.mil)

On May 12, 2020, President Andrzej Duda approved the new Security Strategy of the Republic of Poland (“Strategia Bezpieczeństwa Narodowego”—SBN) (Bbn.gov.pl, May 12), which replaces long-outdated version from 2014 (Bbn.gov.pl, November 5, 2014). The SBN is the country’s most important strategic document regarding security and defense policy, establishing a framework for further legal acts as well as providing crucial dimensions for state security. The updated SBN reflects not only the government’s acknowledgement of the changes in the international and domestic security environment, which have been occurring for the last several years, but also the different approach to defense and security matters by the current ruling elites in Warsaw compared to their predecessors.

The 2020 SBN identifies Poland’s strategic interests and main vectors of engagement as perceived by the current government. Both the security strategy document itself and the authorities’ concrete activities over the past several years suggest a strategic continuation of Poland’s security policy—though, by other means. The multidimensional challenges posed by the “neo-imperial” Russian Federation, including kinetic and non-kinetic warfare, are the centerpiece of the current SBN, although it notably uses harsher rhetoric than SBN 2014 (SBN 2020, Bbn.gov.pl, p. 6).

The eastern dimension remains the focal point of Poland’s security policy. The document declares continual support for Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova as well as toward these countries’ Euro-Atlantic aspirations (SBN 2020, p. 25)—in line with the Giedroyc–Mieroszewski doctrine, developed during the 1970s by Jerzy Giedroyc and Juliusz Mieroszewski, which has guided Polish regional policy since the fall of Communism.

Aware of its limited military capabilities as a middle-tier power, Poland seeks to ensure its security through the strengthening of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). As such, SBN 2020 defines Warsaw’s main objectives as bolstering the North Atlantic Alliance’s collective defense mission, enhancing interoperability and deterrence on NATO’s “Eastern Flank” as well as boosting the abilities for independent action by the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). What is new in the strategic document’s latest iteration is the statement that Poland wants to be actively engaged in “shaping the policy of nuclear deterrence of NATO” (SBN 2020, p. 23–24).

Bearing in mind the Alliance’s nuclear deficit when it comes to deterrence strategy along the Eastern Flank as well as Russian willingness to demonstrate its nuclear capacities (see EDM, October 212329, November 7, 2019), the passage on nuclear policy in SBN 2020 may signal Poland’s openness to starting discussions about eventual participation in the NATO nuclear sharing program. Indeed, further such indications emerged soon after the SBN’s publication (Euractiv, May 20), initiated by a tweet from the United States’ ambassador to Poland, Georgette Mosbacher (Twitter.com/USAmbPoland, May 15). Namely, the US diplomat chided calls within the German Bundestag to withdraw Berlin from the nuclear sharing arrangement. She even suggested Poland might “house the capabilities” on its territory. One could interpret such remarks as testing the reaction of both allies and adversaries.

The new SBN also emphasizes the geopolitical importance of Finland and Sweden for the Baltic region and the necessity for NATO’s continued cooperation with them (SBN 2020, p. 24). Both Nordic states are crucial partners in enhancing Poland’s security due to their largely identical threat perceptions as Warsaw’s, geostrategic importance and increased cooperation with the Alliance. Moreover, according to the SBN, Poland favors progressive enlargement of both NATO and the European Union, in line with its strategic objective of keeping former Soviet republics out of Russia’s orbit.

Even though the EU is featured as the second outer pillar of Poland’s security, the SBN emphasizes its rather supplementary character. The document’s call for “pragmatic engagement” in developing the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) (SBN 2020, p. 24) and reference to “divergent approaches concerning its further development” within the organization (SBN 2020, p. 7) may suggest some skepticism of the Polish authorities toward the EU and its cohesion. That does not come as a shock, since the Brussels-Warsaw relationship remains tense, and Poland perceives the US rather than EU as its strategic partner and security guarantor. Nonetheless, the authors of the SBN emphasize that specific foreign and defense policies of the EU, including Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), Eastern Partnership and enlargement policy, should be used “in conformity with Polish interests” (SBN 2020, p. 24).

Surprisingly, economic sanctions imposed on Russia and the necessity of their prolongation are mentioned only indirectly. Instead, the new SBN raises the significance of European transportation infrastructure for rapid military deployment. Thus, the Polish authorities can be expected to take up the agenda of establishing a “military Schengen” in Europe since Warsaw has some tough experience with military mobility via Germany (Defence24.pl, April 28, 2016).

After the elections in Poland in 2015, the state shifted in its foreign and security policy. The so-called “strategic partnership” (SBN 2020, p. 10) with the US was at the core of this revision. Simultaneously, the role of Western European allies in ensuring Poland’s security was marginalized with the cancelling of the French Caracal helicopters deal (Defence24.com, October 5, 2016) and the suspension of Weimar Triangle (Germany-France-Poland) meetings (Pism.pl, February 7, 2020) as its most prominent examples. This uni-vector policy of turning to the US as the only guarantor of Poland’s security is increasingly criticized in Poland since it reduces Warsaw’s negotiating power and increases defense costs (US weapons tend to be more expensive, for instance). Nonetheless, the continuous development of Polish-US cooperation is one of the most important elements of the SBN. It is worth noting that the partnership is multidimensional, covering military, technological, trade and energy sectors, as expressed in the SBN. Even though President Duda devoted significant attention to the military element of bilateral cooperation (Bbn.gov.pl, May 12), technology and energy are also of great importance. Specific paragraphs in SBN 2020 refer to 5G technology, Earth observation satellite systems, and the liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Świnoujście.

Some attention in the SBN is also devoted to regional cooperation platforms, such as the Bucharest Nine (B9), the Visegrad Group (V4) and the Three Seas Initiative (3SI). All have been the centerpiece of Polish diplomatic efforts for years, and clearly, Warsaw will seek to maintain and intensify these efforts. Notably, while the 3SI is declared to be purely an infrastructural and economic project, it has some significant implications for the military, namely by easing mobility alongside the north-south axis of the Eastern Flank. It is noteworthy that the Central Eastern European region attracts competing attention from the US (Atlanticcouncil.org, February 15), China (China-ceec.org, accessed May 29) and—traditionally—Russia. This fact, however, is left unsaid in the SBN.