Poland Embraces EU Defense

Poland has just announced its policy priorities for its EU presidency in 2011. And topping the list is EU defense, followed by energy security. Jean Quatremer claims it comes in response to the U.S. reversal on the missile defense system, and characterizes it as a “véritable révolution.” The former is certainly possible, even likely. I’m less convinced by the latter.

As Laura Chappell pointed out in her excellent WPR Strategic Posture Review for Poland, EU defense has occupied an increasingly prominent position in Poland’s national security calculations. The reason being, Poland prefers being actively involved in any security architecture that it depends on as an insurance policy against Russian influence. NATO, which for Poland means America, was its preference, since trust has not come easily with regard to Germany. But that has changed considerably in recent years, as illustrated most recently by Poland contributing one of the three battalions deployed by the EUFOR Chad mission last year.

Meanwhile, as Chappell also underlined, Poland has been disappointed by the reception, role and recognition given by the U.S. to its deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. (President George W. Bush’s 2004 presidential debate highlight notwithstanding.) So as Quatremer says, the missile defense decision was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back, not the whole story. Keep that in mind when the Polish turn toward Europe is raised as a “cost” of he Obama administration’s decision.

I think the Poles will continue to hedge their bets on both sides of this equation for the foreseeable future. But it is a significant development in the EU defense project, since the Eastern Europeans have been Britain’s major allies in keeping EU defense on the slow track. That could be a loss for NATO to the extent that the alliance continues to harbor ambitions for out-of-area deployments post-Afghanistan. I find the latter unlikely, though, which means that the argument for EU defense and NATO being complimentary, as opposed to competitive, is bound to grow even stronger.