Poland is increasing its


defense budget "Not


to be nice to someone"

Ambassador Bogusław Winid

Poland's under-secretary of state for security policy talks with Richard Longworth about his country's lasting commitment to the efforts in Afghanistan as well his views on the future of NATO expansion and increases in Poland's defense spending.

03.29.12

Overview

Q:

Richard Longworth

Poland and Germany decided not to go into the military operation in Libya. Can you tell me why?

A:

Ambassador Winid

Poland and several other countries. Priority for us was the operation in Afghanistan, and we decided to concentrate all our forces in Afghanistan. But we participated in a limited way in Libya. We sent extra officers to a NATO command post in Italy. We doubled our crew in the [Airborne Warning and Control System] operation. Foreign Minister Sikorski was also the first to visit Libya after the operation on behalf of the European Union. And we have established several programs for exchanging views on how to move from a totalitarian system to democracy. So the picture is much more complex than, you know, the participation of one or two F-16s.

Q:

Richard Longworth

Well, let me ask this. I think the argument can be made that Poland, along with Germany, are the two countries that benefited most from being NATO members. Belonging to this Western bloc is very important to your foreign policy.

A:

Ambassador Winid

It’s absolutely of crucial importance. But we treat our obligation to NATO very seriously. We are definitely not in the "free rider" category, as we are increasing our defense budget. We have almost 2,600 troops in Afghanistan right now. And we are not hiding in a kind of strange place. We are on the frontlines in Ghazni province—one of the most contested provinces in Afghanistan.

Q:

Richard Longworth

I think everybody recognizes Poland’s contribution to Afghanistan. But I don’t think NATO’s operation there has achieved what it set out to do. From your experience in Afghanistan, what have you learned about intervention, about nation building, about the quality of American leadership?

A:

Ambassador Winid

First, about how we see our participation in Afghanistan: we are not withdrawing troops right now. We concentrate all our operations in the province of Ghazni, which is south of Kabul, north of Kandahar. And, as I mentioned, we have 2,600 in country, and we will keep this number probably 'til October of this year. We are just rotating our troops in Afghanistan, every six months.

So the next rotation is exactly the same as the current one. Probably we will go down to 1,800 from November of this year, for another year. And of course we will be analyzing the situation there, together with our NATO and ISAF colleagues. So eventually we will decrease to roughly 1,000 in 2014. But this number is based on the readiness of Afghan forces to take over responsibilities in the province of Ghazni.

We have three Afghan battalions under our training. We hope that in a year these three battalions will be fully operational and able to conduct all kinds of missions. Also, we are training Afghan police, and there are different kinds of Afghan police. We have involvement with all of them, from the local police to a kind of state police, narcotic police, riot police. There are several units of Afghan police. So we look at it as a very complex issue.

 And also we are developing civilian assistance. We are doing this together with American PRT (Physical Readiness Training). And we are basically spending thirty-four million Polish zloty, which is roughly ten or twelve million U.S. dollars, on the civilian projects. We have chosen some areas as priority areas. For example, one such priority is building the capacity of the Afghan civil administration, so we are bringing them to Poland and organizing for them some training concerning the local self-government level. This would be equivalent to your county, for example. So they spend, let’s say, three weeks somewhere in Polish countryside, analyzing how we work. I understand it’s very difficult to transmit the experience, but this is just to show them how the system works.

Q:

Richard Longworth

But it’s been a long, painful process for everybody involved. If we had to do it over again, would there have been better ways of handling it all?

A:

Ambassador Winid

Probably. We are learning from our failures. Some of the assistance programs were not the best. Also, there is a big question about security, of the civil contractors or civil experts who are training civilian Afghans because, unfortunately, Ghazni province is not the most peaceful. All trainers must be protected; we cannot leave these very brave young men and women alone in the province. So this is quite complicated.

We have right now very good relations with the governor [in Ghazni province]. There’s a new governor who was nominated about a year ago by President Karzai, and he has taken a lot of initiative. We have also very good relations with the local Afghan administration [and] with the Afghan police officers. The cooperation is going very well.

Yet Ghazni province is very mixed, very ethnically diverse. Just like Afghanistan is very diverse, Ghazni’s also mixed, but the difference is that most provinces of Afghanistan are homogenous within themselves. I mean: if this is Pashtun, this is Pashtun. In Ghazni, we have all of them.

And then we have districts which are populated by Hazaras, we have Tajiks, and roughly 45 percent of Pashtun. So this province is atypical. Unfortunately, we have this legacy of tribal wars, because in some cases some different tribes were fighting for ages, for land and for water.

So we are trying to present them with new opportunities to negotiate, to share, and to build joint projects, projects which were introduced by you and by us.

Q:

Richard Longworth

Can a Western nation like Poland go in and, in a decade, overcome, as you say, these centuries of hostility between tribes? You’re battling history.

A:

Ambassador Winid

Well, we have to be realistic about our expectations. But we believe in human nature. Usually people are good, preferring to live peacefully, building their peaceful future and not fighting. Of course, there are corruptors who prefer otherwise, but this is somehow universal. The problem we have is that Afghanistan is facing right now thirty or forty years of civil war. There are basically two generations raised in this kind of strange, abnormal environment. It is important to build normal conditions so we can somehow overcome this legacy of civil war through influencing the mentality of the people. This very, very tough, but we hope for the best.

Q:

Richard Longworth

Let me ask about your big neighbor to the east: Russia. Can Russia ever become a full member of NATO? And if not, what’s the best relationship we can hope with Russia, which is on the eastern fringe of Europe? Can we bring them closer, or do we have to keep them at arm’s length?

A:

Ambassador Winid

As far as I know, the Russians are not interested in joining NATO. So this is a question for them. It is in our own interest to have as good of a relationship as possible between NATO and Russia. But this should be based on terms of trust, reciprocity, and also some shared values such as democracy and rule of law, which are basic fundamentals.

There are some positive signals and some programs that are going quite well. And there are others that we understand why there are problems, like, for example, missile defense, or why our Russian colleagues continue to build military capabilities in Kaliningrad Oblast, which there is no need whatsoever. So the picture is mixed. Actually, we are probably waiting right now to see what will be the new Russian policy toward NATO after their recent elections. But this will take some time.

Q:

Richard Longworth

I once heard Minister Sikorski—before he became foreign minister—say something I will always remember. He said that Russia corrupts any organization that it joins. And I was wondering, as Poles, you’ve had considerable experience belonging to organizations with Russia. Should Russia be allowed to join as full members in Western organizations like the World Trade Organization?

A:

Ambassador Winid

I have had the honor of working with Radek Sikorski for many years. I was his deputy also in the Ministry of Defense. I don’t remember this particular statement. But with regard to WTO, if there’s agreement and if conditions are met, that is for the benefit of all. And especially for Poland: normal, healthy trade relations with Russia are of extreme importance, because we are exporting a lot of goods. Russia was traditionally our big market. So we would like to develop trade without any artificial barriers. And this is why we believe that WTO rules and regulations are good and will contribute to the development of trade.

Q:

Richard Longworth

On NATO expansion, as I recall—and I don’t know if this is still the case—Poland was at one time leading the forces for bringing Ukraine into NATO. Is that still the case?

A:

Ambassador Winid

This was an important factor of our foreign policy. We are supporting both Ukraine and Georgia. But as you know, each and every nation must decide on its own. If Ukrainians are not interested anymore, this is their choice. It is as simple as that. And with Georgia, we are still supporting them. We understand the proper conditions that must be met. But we believe that there is a way, on the NATO side, for us to develop good relations, cooperation, and partnership programs with Georgians. This is not something that will happen overnight, of course. There is still legitimate homework for us to do.

Q:

Richard Longworth

Should Russian sensibilities be taken into consideration here? They were angry enough when NATO expanded to the borders of the former Soviet Union. If NATO expanded into Ukraine or Georgia, the reaction in Moscow would be fierce. To what degree should we take that into consideration?

A:

Ambassador Winid

Yours is a very hypothetical question, because no one is discussing any surprises or major changes. And it’s a long process, as I said. Additionally, if the process will be open and transparent, there will be no surprises. I think we can work out the details. I remember the debate in Europe and here in the United States in the 1990s when we were joining NATO, as well as some very strange comments that this would be the end of the world—a new Cold War, or some other kind of tragedy. And nothing materialized. But we did benefit from membership in NATO, and I think we contribute to NATO and to development of NATO-Russian relations.

Q:

Richard Longworth

The big international issue right now is Iran and nuclear weapons— basically, whether we should take military action against Iran. What is Poland’s position? Do you favor some sort of military action soon? Or should diplomacy be allowed to take its course?

A:

Ambassador Winid

We believe that diplomacy should take its course. And this is extremely complicated issue. We hope that, through different channels, some compromise will be reached.

Q:

Richard Longworth

One of the big issues here, I think, is going to be defense spending, burden sharing, Smart Defense—call it what you like. But a lot of it comes from Secretary Gates’ statement that, unless Europeans increase their defense spending, Americans may tend to lose interest in NATO. As a member of NATO, what steps is Poland taking to meet these concerns?

A:

Ambassador Winid

Well, we are increasing our defense budget for our own security and not to be nice to someone. Our defense budget is rising because we have in our legislation the provision that 1.95 percent of the GDP will be spent on defense. In the last three years, we have almost a 7 percent increase—from roughly twenty-five billion to right now twenty-nine billion zlotys.

We are spending this on the procurement of new technology and new capabilities. When we joined NATO, there was this idea that everybody will spend 2 percent of GDP on defense and 20 percent of this will go for modernization. We take this obligation very seriously, as you see. [In late March 2012] there was an announcement of a big new procurement for military helicopters, for example.

The problem we have is that a large portion of our budget goes toward Afghanistan, which cost us a lot of resources. This is also a heavy burden for modernization, because some of the resources we have to spend on Afghanistan come from modernization. Most modern equipment that we acquire immediately goes to Afghanistan, and unfortunately, not everything is coming back.