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Security and Defence in the Polish Presidency

Submitted by on 15 Apr 2011 – 13:38

By Max Archer

High expectations have been placed on Poland’s turn at the rotating table of the EU presidency. Due to its size and increasing economic clout Poland is increasingly being viewed as fit to sit at the high table of European politics. Poland has stated an intention to make the relatively new post-Lisbon treaty area of EU defence policy one of the main priorities of its presidential tenure. Its actions during the presidency will be of great consequence, not only in terms of the short-term effects of Poland’s specific defence aims but in terms of their long term consequences in regard to the way in which they shape this burgeoning EU policy area as a whole.

The most important post-Lisbon defence consideration is how to balance NATO and the European Defence Agency. As part of the Common Security and Defence Policy, Defence is part of the jurisdiction of the Council of the European Union. Poland has already said that how the CSDP is co-ordinated with NATO is to be a concern of its presidency. Polish Minister for National Defence Bogden Klich has recently spoken of a need to tighten EU-NATO ties. This is important not only in that closer practical co-operation can ensue but in order that spending is not duplicated by member states. The tightening of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy and more effective ties with NATO will inevitably lead to both the implementation of permanent structured cooperation and a more comprehensive Pan-European defence policy.

Cohesion with NATO is a crucial post-Lisbon treaty issue.  Ashton has recently stated that ‘to keep momentum we need to give a fresh impetus to European Security and defence policy in full complementarity with NATO.’ In November 2010 the heads of NATO approved a new ‘Strategic Concept’ to guide the organisation for the next decade. Included in this was missile defence co-operation, both a commitment to joint action on nuclear threat reduction and a collaborative approach to missile defence stability in Europe. Poland is the perfect player to balance these NATO defence priorities with the EU’s defence policy. Nuclear collaboration has been important to Poland for some years now, after all, it was in Poland that the US chose to place its advanced missile shield in 2008.  Where this nuclear co-operation is most important is in regard to relations with Russia. Although Russia was extremely displeased with the placement of missiles in Poland by the US, Russo-Polish relations have undergone something of a renaissance in the past year. Indeed, Prime Minister Donald Tusk has recently said that when Poland holds a meeting on defence with the Visegrad group during the presidency it will be ‘completely appropriate’ for Russia to attend. President Medvedev has similarly urged joint action on nuclear threat reduction. Poland is therefore positioning itself in the role of an arbiter of multilateral defence co-operation. The presidency is a chance for Poland to increase co-operation between NATO and to involve Russia in debates as important as missile co-operation.

For several years now Poland has favoured the EU community method over bilateralism in regard to defence co-operation. Its membership of the Weimar Triangle with France and Germany and the Visegrad group with the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Hungary is a testament to this commitment to community co-operation. Both of these groups have stated their intention to create common battlegroups by 2013 and 2015 respectively. Rather than representing a pre-1914 tangle of alliances and defence commitments, a commitment to defence co-operation is indicative of Poland’s desire to create an inclusive, multi-lateral community defence policy.

In terms of specific defence priorities, Bogden Klich has said that primary priorities include the improvement of strategic transport, satellite reconnaissance and improved means to deal with Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s). Adding to this, Polish Foreign affairs minister Radoslaw Sikorski has highlighted the importance of civilian-military planning and the revitalising of battlegroups as well as the development of a white paper on defence. Perhaps the most revelatory of suggestions from Poland has been the idea to create a European civil-military headquarters. If implemented, this would further consolidate common defence policy in the EU. In any case, such a development would allow EU defence responses to be faster and more centralised, chiming with a recent statement by High Representative Baroness Ashton saying that a review of crisis management is vital.

Other defence priorities include Energy security and Cyber Terrorism. The former will be addressed through improving ties with the Eastern Partnership nations. Furthering ties with the Ukraine and Georgia will help secure the huge amounts of natural gas and oil that flow through and from these countries to Europe. Although Poland has not named any specific initiatives to ensure energy security, it is expected that it will focus on this issue through its efforts to advance the Eastern partnership. Cyber terrorism remains uncharted territory for most defence bodies; however, Poland has stated an intention to push this concern towards the top of their defence priority list for its presidency.