Sunday, June 29, 2008

Poland’s Strategic Interests and the “Coalition of the Willing” (Part 1)

(This is part one in a two part series focusing on the reasons behind Poland’s decision to join the United States in the liberation of Iraq. You can find part two here.)

Unlike the previous Gulf War, the United States mustered a smaller coalition of nations willing to engage in the liberation of Iraq prior to the invasion in 2003. Much has been made of the weaknesses in the international alliance, in so far as it did not include powers such as Germany and France, two pivotal players on the European mainland. Germany and France, for reasons cultural, strategic, and financial, where unwilling to work with the Bush administration’s stated goals for dealing with Saddam Hussein’s government in 2003, and this has plagued relations between the U.S. and its traditional allies in Europe since.

Yet, other European nations bucked the leadership coming from the old continental forces. A number of these “new” European states were formerly members of the communist Eastern-bloc, and sided with the American mission to topple Iraq’s totalitarian government and establish a democracy in its remains. One of the key nations in this union was Poland, lead by Aleksander Kwaśniewski’s government, which headed the nation between 1995 and 2005.

Poland’s justifications for standing with the United States, and not moving in tandem with Germany and France, were based on military, political, and economic concerns. Recent Polish history, including the years Poland spent under the control of the Soviet Union, also played a major part in their decision. Poland’s alliance with the United States during the second Iraq war was deeply unpopular with the Polish people, and come at a great risk to its leaders. They however found that their nation’s strategic and political interests were advanced through the mission, and Poland’s future prosperity was a major factor in their move towards war with Iraq. The alliance between the United States and Poland did not begin with the second Iraq war, although it did build increasingly close connections between the two countries. Sally McNamara wrote of the Polish-American alliance:

“Looking at War¬saw's overall contribution to America's foreign policy priorities since 9/11, (the American-Polish alliance) re¬flects the profoundly shared values and common interests that continue to bind the Polish–American relationship. Since its rapid democratization and ac¬cession to NATO—due in no small part to British– American leadership—Poland has helped to assume the burden of addressing the West's most pressing in¬ternational challenges.”

Poland’s involvement in America’s coalition however, should not be seen retrospectively as automatic; the Americans were still required to make the case for Poland’s involvement in the war based on that nation’s personal self interests. This case study will examine these interests, as well as specific aspects of Poland’s history and location that has lead them to work so closely with the United States. With Poland’s cooperation, the Bush administration was able to include an important and growing European nation in its “Coalition of the Willing,” and it is vital that we identify what the U.S. alliance was able to offer Poland by way of their national interests to have them join the alliance to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s government in 2003.

NATO and the European Union

In 1999, Poland official joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). To become fully integrated and participate completely in NATO’s international affairs, “the Polish government committed its military to root-and-branch modernization to create a more mobile, capable, and interoperable force.” In upgrading its military infrastructure, Poland angered its European allies by buying US-made F-16 jet fighters, instead of those produced by European rivals. This was applauded by American officials, allowing better coordination between the two nation’s militaries, but incensed European leaders like Jacques Chirac, who went as far as to threaten Poland’s acceptance into the European Union.

While Poland grew closer to the European Union, and looked to enter its ranks, they recognized that their security concerns where best advanced by building stronger ties with the United States, even while a majority of its foreign trade is with foreign nations in Europe. As President Kwasniewski emphasized, “even though not everyone in Europe approves of our engagement in Iraq, at least they look at us with respect. . . . As a result, today everyone in Europe has to take Poland into account.” In an essence, Poland has been pulled between two spheres of influence since the fall of communism: the European Union with its market incentives, and the United States with its security initiatives. Poland moreover recognizes that the Franco-German vision for the European Union does not meet its security concerns, as it would take away its military strength and sovereignty, and leave nothing tangible in its place. As Kwasniewski’s comments make clear, Poland’s involvement in Iraq is also meant to be a proof that Poland has come into its own, and should be taken seriously by European powers as a world leader and a force in the international realm, especially in an organization like NATO.

Security Concerns

After 9/11, Kwaśniewski felt that terrorism was a serious threat to his country, and did not consider Poland to be immune from the terror that Islamic extremists have wrought on America, and then later, in Madrid and London on Europe continent. Believing that the world would be safer without Saddam’s government, and its supposed weapons of mass destruction, Kwaśniewski committed his country to tackling the threats to its security by taking a strong, proactive response. Poland recognized that its close relationship with the United States prior to the Iraq War and the War on Terror made it a target to Islamic extremists. While Poland’s Muslim population was small compared to other nations in Europe, its leaders believed the threat posed radicals could also undermine their national security, and thus it was important to face them head on.

As of March 2008, the United States has continued to help Poland improve and upgrade its military capabilities, and is moving the country closer to joining the missile defense shield that will act as a buffer between the west and Russia and the Middle East. The Polish government’s commitment to the war in Iraq gave them political capital to demand Patriot anti-missile batteries from the American government, which the United States delivered. Poland’s increased strength is by no small measure a result of their strengthened bonds with the U.S. over Iraq.


Daniel Stark said...

Whenever anyone asks me about what countries have become great allies with the U.S. I always bring up Poland. It's great to read more on the relationship. Keep it up.

Dandy has a posse said...

Great work Dodds. Do you have plans to look at some of the other iraq war alliances?

Roland Dodds said...

I am glad you enjoyed it Daniel. I find the issues addressed in part 2 more interesting than the rather bland security concerns I addressed in this post.

Dandy: I would love to look at some of the other cases; I just need to find the time! I wanted to do a piece that wasn’t one sided in its view of the situation, and it took awhile to pull in all the converging factors.

NeoConstant said...

Would you like to cross-post any of your writing at NeoConstant. This is really great, a really great article...I'm heading back to read part II soon... Shoot me an email...


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