Meet the future European military superpower: Poland – POLITICO

Meet the future European military superpower: Poland – POLITICO
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When a stray missile landed in a Polish border town last week, killing two people, some European leaders were as worried about the reaction of Poland’s right-wing government as they were about the possibility that Russia ordered the strike.

Poland’s longstanding distrust of anything Russian and the current government’s deep antipathy towards Moscow have raised concerns from Brussels to Berlin that Warsaw might be doing something reckless.

Instead of losing its temper, however, Warsaw was stoic, placing its armed forces on high alert, while keeping its powder dry until it was known what had happened. (The conclusion is that it was an air defense missile fired by Ukraine to protect itself from a Russian attack that went astray.)

This calm is born of a simple reality that for years has overtaken most of Europe: Poland has what is arguably the best army in Europe. And it will only get stronger.

Poland’s paranoia about Russia prompted it to avoid the The spirit of the times in much of Europe that conventional warfare was a thing of the past. Instead, it is building what is now well on its way to becoming the EU’s heaviest ground forces.

“The Polish army must be so powerful that it doesn’t have to fight because of its strength alone,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on the eve of Poland’s Independence Day.

It’s a change that resonated with Poland’s indispensable ally.

‘Poland has become our most important partner in continental Europe,’ senior US military Europe official says, citing crucial role Poland has played in supporting Ukraine and strengthening defenses of NATO in the Baltic countries.

While Germany, traditionally America’s main ally in the region, remains a pivot as a logistical hub, Berlin’s endless debates over how to resurrect its military and lack of strategic culture have hampered its effectiveness as a partner, the official said.

While Germany continues to debate the details of what it calls the “Zeitenwende,” or strategic shift triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Poland is already making substantial investments.

Warsaw has announced that it will raise its defense spending target from 2.4% of gross domestic product to 5%. Meanwhile, Germany, which spent about 1.5% of its GDP on defense last year, wonders if it can maintain NATO’s 2% target after exhausting a fund of defense investment of 100 billion euros which it approved earlier this year.

Masovian muscle

Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak promised in July that his country would have “the strongest land forces in Europe”. It’s gone well.

Poland already has more tanks and howitzers than Germany and is on track to have a much larger army, with a target of 300,000 troops by 2035, compared to Germany’s current 170,000.

Today, the Polish army has around 150,000 men, 30,000 of whom belong to a new territorial defense force created in 2017. They are weekend soldiers who undergo 16 days of training followed by refresher courses. They were first seen as a joke, but Ukraine’s success in using mobile militias equipped with anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles now makes the idea much more sensible.

“Today those doubts have disappeared,” Błaszczak said at a recent swearing-in ceremony for the new territorial troops.

Unlike Germany, which is struggling to attract new troops, Poland’s recruiting campaign is attracting attention.

“Poles have a much more positive attitude towards their army than Germany because they had to fight for their freedom,” said Gustav Gressel, a former Austrian military officer and security expert now at the European Relations Council. foreign. “In military circles, no one questions the quality of the Polish army.”

Whether Poland’s military power will translate into political influence in Europe is another question, however.

So far, that hasn’t happened, largely because the centrist forces dominating the EU distrust the Polish government, which is controlled by the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party.

The ongoing standoff between Warsaw and Brussels over what the EU sees as the government’s disregard for democratic standards and the rule of law has damaged the country’s reputation across the bloc.

“Poland weighs politically because of its internal conflicts,” Gressel said, pointing to the infighting that exists even within the PiS over the direction of the country and how far to go in compromising with Europe.

However, the only thing Polish political parties can agree on is the need to strengthen the army.

While worries about Russia have spurred this push, Warsaw is also worried about Washington’s reliability. Unlike most of the rest of the EU, however, their concern is not that Donald Trump will return as president, but that he will not. Despite deepening cooperation between the U.S. and Polish militaries to help Ukraine, Poland’s current leadership remains suspicious of President Joe Biden, who as a candidate has called the country’s government a “totalitarian”.

Made in Korea

Even though Washington has welcomed Poland’s defense spending pledges, there are also questions about whether Warsaw will really follow, as well as frustration that the country is turning to South Korea for some of its biggest purchases. .

Poland signed a 23 billion złoty (4.9 billion euro) contract this spring for 250 Abrams tanks from the United States – a quick replacement for the 240 Soviet-era tanks sent to Ukraine. Its air force is equipped with American F-16s and in 2020 Warsaw signed a $4.6 billion contract for 32 F-35 fighters. But its recent military spending has focused on Korea, where it signed a series of deals to buy tanks, planes and other weapons.

So far, Poland has ordered between $10 billion and $12 billion worth of weapons from Korea, said Mariusz Cielma, editor and analyst at Nowa Technika Wojskowa, a technology news and analysis site. military.

The deals include 180 K2 Black Panther tanks, 200 K9 Thunder howitzers, 48 ​​FA-50 light attack aircraft and 218 K239 Chunmoo rocket launchers.

It is only the equipment used.

Poland’s appetite for new weapons is even greater.

Complementing the immediate supplies, the Koreans are expected to supply a total of 1,000 K2 tanks and 600 K9 howitzers by the mid to late 2020s.

“No Western country wants to increase its army so much and so quickly. Whoever gets the arms contracts from Poland, they will get decades of benefits because you have to maintain and repair the equipment,” Cielma said.

Korea’s appeal is that its military equipment is generally less expensive than American and European alternatives, and it can produce it to tight deadlines. The purchases are, of course, a nod to French President Emmanuel Macron’s dreams of “strategic autonomy” in which he imagines a Europe capable of defending itself with local (most likely French) weapons.

But Polish leaders have made no secret that European pressure on Poland over its controversial judicial reforms and other issues has also played a role in decisions to go shopping in Seoul.

“We are ready to buy weapons from other EU countries, but they have to stop their war against Poland,” PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński said earlier this month. “We are ready to distribute offers and money, but not when we are told that there is no rule of law in Poland.”

Warsaw ordered Italian Leonardo helicopters for 8 billion złoty, but the agreement stipulated that the helicopters would be manufactured in Poland.

While no one questions the ambition of Poland’s spending spree, some question its feasibility and the political motives behind the push. By 2035, the country aims to spend 524 billion złoty on the army.

“Okay, we need tanks and howitzers, but do we need so many from a strategic and operational point of view? It is not clear why the ministry suddenly announced all these agreements,” said the retired army general Stanisław Koziej, former head of Poland’s National Security Office, a presidential office.

Given how important security is to the Polish electorate, many suspect the PiS is making military investments ahead of next year’s national elections as the party loses ground in opinion polls.

If there is a change of government, the new cabinet will have to ask tough questions about Poland’s ability to fund such a huge military expansion, Koziej said. While Poland’s economy has been robust in recent years, the level of planned military spending is unprecedented and is sure to strain the country’s budget.

“There must be a balance between military spending and the overall economic development of the country,” Koziej said. “Whatever the plans, they better go through an analysis of what will be the strategic conditions for Poland’s security after the war in Ukraine.”

Germany, meanwhile, seems to welcome Poland’s military buildup despite the rocky bilateral relations between the two countries and the troubled history between the two. Berlin sees Poland as a buffer separating it from Russia’s sphere of influence. The more tanks and troops Poland has, the safer Germany will be.

“I feel like the Germans are seeing the next hammock,” Gressel said, referring to Berlin’s reputation for sitting back and relaxing while allies, especially the United States, do the heavy lifting. defense work.

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