What kind of USA does Poland need?
Even though pre-election debates focussed on domestic issues, they revealed global challenges facing the United States. These challenges have implications for Poland’s security.
That’s because we have become a front-line country not only of NATO, but of Western democracy as a whole, which means that every US administration must take us into account.
While the US will never regard us with indifference, we should not overestimate our importance either. What we have are foundations on which to build our position as the lynchpin of the American ‘first line of defence’ in Europe.
Geopolitical realities of the new president are radically different from what Barack Obama found after his first victory. To stick only to things that concern Poland, Obama’s declarations about getting rid of the world’s nuclear arms stockpiles or the famous reset in relations with Russia now sound like wild talk. There is much to suggest that current trends will persist through the whole presidential term, and even beyond. The president must confront them, whether he wants it or not.
Instead of Obama’s world, the new White House resident is facing the beginnings of a new Cold War with Moscow, the forcible change of borders in Europe (Crimea), the modernization of nuclear arsenals, and the war in Syria with a Russian hand in it. In addition, the EU is shaken to the foundations, while America’s number one strategic partner, the UK, is about to leave the Union. The United States will have to find answers to these challenges. Even the US president, no doubt the most powerful person on the globe, is not powerful enough to change world trends; the most he can do is try to steer them.
Despite seeming changes of direction, the long-term course of US policy is characterized by stability. The new president is going to pursue it as well. That’s because American policy reflects the fundamental US security interest, and is a manifestation of collective wisdom rather than decisions taken by successive presidents.
Washington’s general strategy has the primary objective of ensuring that the country survives, and its territory is safe. Promoting democratic values and the free market takes only second place.
Poland joined civilized nations two decades ago. It is time for Washington to recognize Poland as a lasting element of its security system. Such a position offers much stronger guarantees than invoking common values. That’s because values sometimes need to be put on hold in the name of a higher cause, while security will always remain the paramount interest. For the sake of its security, the United States was ready to join in two world wars, and devote hundreds of thousands of its citizens’ lives. It is doubtful whether it would have done the same to defend democracy somewhere in the world.
The cornerstones of American security doctrine are control over the north Atlantic and the north Pacific, or maritime access routes to the United States; preventing any power from gaining a foothold in the Americas; and preventing any power from dominating Eurasia. What this means in practice is the need to keep a protective barrier on the Pacific on the one hand, and have friendly allied states across the Atlantic on the other hand. Within such a framework, the United States is safe from any threat of a land invasion or an attack from the sea.
So where is Poland’s place in the US security system? It’s on the approaches to Europe. We can transform our geopolitical location from a curse into an asset. Like it or not, Poland will remain a frontline country when it comes to the Russian threat. What is at stake is to get the new US administration to treat us as its first-line security defence. So far we have rather played the role of an eastern bridgehead, with the line of defence proper running through Germany and Benelux. Causing such a shift in the way Poland is perceived is the primary task of our authorities in relations with the new president. Time will show whether he adopts this viewpoint. But the task itself is not hopeless, as Poland fits the bill perfectly. And it would play this role brilliantly, enhancing US security and, most importantly, its own security.
Andrzej Talaga is the Vice president of the Warsaw Enterprise Institute, advisor to armaments companies.