Foreign policy and defense
Poland is a nation in Eastern Europe. Its capital city is Warsaw. Poland’s geographical location between the major powers Germany and Russia / Soviet Union has characterized the country’s history into modern times. After World War II, Poland came under Soviet influence, but since 1989 Polish foreign policy in Warsaw is determined. Poland became a member of the NATO defense alliance in 1999 and in the EU in 2004. Since a Polish government change to the right in 2015, the country’s previously good relations with the EU have been significantly strained. At the same time, relations with Russia have become chilly since the Russian annexation of Ukrainian Crimea in March 2014.
With the fall of communism and the dismantling of Soviet influence over central and eastern Europe, Poland’s external and internal conditions changed radically. The country gained new neighbors along all borders: the reunited Germany instead of East Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia instead of Czechoslovakia as well as Lithuania, Belarus (Belarus), Ukraine and a bit of Russia, the Kaliningrade Exhibition, instead of the Soviet Union. For the first time in several centuries, Poland no longer had any external enemies. The last Soviet / Russian troops left the country in 1992.
- Countryaah: Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Poland for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
Relations with Russia
By joining NATO, Poland achieved a long-term security policy goal: to become part of the West. Initially, Russia opposed NATO’s eastward expansion, but after a 1997 agreement between NATO and Russia on close cooperation in the framework of a newly formed joint council, Moscow rejected its objections. From 2004, the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are also NATO members. However, Russia opposes Georgian and Ukrainian membership in the defense alliance. Since Poland actively supports the two countries’ quest for NATO membership, a conflict has arisen with the Russian line.
Another conflict with Russia has been about launching ramps that the Bush administration in the United States planned to build on Polish land. The rockets would, according to the Americans, protect the United States from long-range robots that may be fired from countries such as Iran or North Korea. Moscow opposed the system, convinced that it would pose a threat to Russia. In response, Moscow planned to deploy short-range rockets in Kaliningrad, a few kilometers from the Polish border, with a range that also covers a large part of Sweden.
Poland expressed sharp criticism of Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and the Russian involvement in the ensuing fighting in eastern Ukraine. Poland advocated even tougher sanctions on Russia than those imposed by the EU after the annexation. As a result, Moscow banned imports of certain Polish agricultural products.
The death of President Lech Kaczyński in an air crash in Russian Smolensk in 2010 led to an unexpected approach between Poland and Russia. After the fatal accident, the Russian authorities acknowledged the Soviet Union’s guilt in the massacre of thousands of Polish officers in Katyn outside Smolensk, and they opened secret historical archives. At the end of the year, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited Poland. The well-known Polish director Andrzej Wajda’s film about the massacre was shown on Russian TV and Wajda was decorated with a Russian medal.
Following the change of government in 2015, Poland directed harsh criticism of the Russian investigation into the crash. In 2016, the conservative Polish government appointed a new investigation. The PiS government, with a brother to the former President Lech Kaczyński killed in the crash in a leading role, had long questioned that the accident would have been due to the mistakes of the pilots and Russian air traffic controllers in connection with bad weather. According to PiS, the then government and Russian authorities may have been behind a plot. In 2019, a joint Polish-Russian investigation was launched.
The conversation tone between Warsaw and Moscow was then toxic again, with war on Poland’s role in the Second World War.
Relations with Israel are sometimes characterized by mutual bitterness that is based on the fact that Nazi extermination camps were largely located on Polish soil. On the Polish side, accusations of widespread Judeo hatred in Poland have been wounded.
Germany and the EU
In addition to the United States, Germany is Poland’s most important political ally. After Germany’s reunification in 1990, it was crucial for Poland to have its western border finally recognized by a binding international treaty. Since the border agreement was adopted by the parliaments of both countries, an agreement on friendly neighbors was also concluded in 1991. However, relations with Berlin were strained when Poland, as of the turn of the year 2015, adopted a series of laws that Germany, as well as most EU countries, considered to threaten Polish legal security and democracy. Poland has also opposed the German-supported quota system for distributing refugees between EU countries.
The support among the Poles for the country’s membership in the EU was long and great. The proportion of EU supporters grew from the referendum in 2003, when more than three-quarters of voters voted for membership, to the mid-2010s. Prime Minister Donald Tusk (2007-2014) pursued an active EU policy and later became President of the European Council, the EU’s “President”.
The Conservative government of 2015 has implemented a much more EU-skeptical policy. A number of laws have been adopted that have received heavy criticism from the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. The laws concern the position of the Polish Constitutional Court as well as the independence of the state-owned media, as well as the conditions for the work of the police and intelligence services. The EU has accused the laws of restricting the rule of law in Poland and threatening democracy. Poland’s relations with the Union and most of its member states were deteriorated by this. Poland was also on edge with the EU in terms of the distribution of refugees who came to Europe from mainly the Middle East in 2015, when Warsaw was unwilling to receive the quota of around 10,000 people allocated to it.
In June 2016, the EU handed a formal warning to the Polish government. So far, the European Commission had never gone before a Member State. In December 2017, the European Commission activated Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty against Poland, which meant that a sanctioning process was initiated and that the country could eventually lose its voting rights in the Union’s decision-making institutions. It was the first time Article 7 was activated against a Member State. Despite recent years’ development, the EU is still a key source of both financial and security policy support for Poland.
There is a developed political cooperation between the Central European countries. Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary meet within the so-called Visegrad Group, which also has a joint rapid response force (Visegrad EU Battlegroup). The meetings between the Polish, German and French heads of state and government as well as the foreign and defense ministers are frequent, not least in the so-called Weimar Triangle.
US with allies
In September 2009, US President Barack Obama announced in September 2009 that Bush’s plans for a robotic shield would be demolished in favor of a more mobile land and water robot defense. Poland accepted the new program, albeit with some reluctance. Following the Russian annexation of Crimea in the spring of 2014, Obama launched a new security plan for Europe with the aim of assuring his European allies of continued military support. The plan was to set up a fund that would be used to deploy more US soldiers and more military equipment in Europe to strengthen NATO’s border with Russia.
The United Kingdom was for a long time Poland’s close ally in the EU when it came to defense issues and the free market. But relations became tougher as Poland led the fight for growing EU funds, while the British wanted to reduce the EU budget. The British decision to leave the EU raised concerns in Poland about losing an ally within the Union, not least in the demand for continued harsh sanctions on Russia.
Poland had previously sever relations with France, when it was feared that then-President Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to create an elite club of euro countries that would put Poland outside. Both François Hollande and Emmanuel Macron have tried to preserve relations, and French companies are among those who have invested the most in Poland.
Agreements on good neighborly relations were signed in the early 1990s with Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania. However, as part of the EU adjustment, Poland introduced a visa requirement for Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians in 2003. During the eurozone economic crisis in the early 2010s, the country took a stance that was close to German, with demands for tough austerity for indebted countries such as Greece.
Poland places great importance on stability and favorable development in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Poles are particularly anxious that Ukraine maintains its independence and strengthens its ties with Europe. Poland actively supported the democracy movement, the “orange revolution”, in the conflict over the 2004 presidential elections in Ukraine.
Since 2008, Poland and Sweden have been cooperating in the so-called Eastern Partnership, an EU project in support of the EU’s eastern neighbors, not least Ukraine and Georgia. Sweden supports the development of closer relations between the EU and countries in the former Soviet sphere of interest, such as Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova.
Relations with Lithuania have historically been complicated. Poland has, among other things, accused Lithuania of discriminating against its Polish minority, which officially was not allowed to write their names with Polish spelling. Until the mid-2010s, Lithuania in turn accused Poland of improving relations with Russia at Lithuania’s expense. This criticism ended when both countries’ relations with Moscow deteriorated significantly from the spring of 2014.
In connection with Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the Polish government decided in the long term to shift the focus of its military defense to its eastern border. Parliament also decided, over a ten-year period, to invest € 33.6 billion on strengthening the defense, including by installing a new robotic defense and strengthening the air defense. Through the investment, Poland reaches NATO’s recommendation that two percent of GDP should be spent on defense.
In September 2014, Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania signed an agreement to build a joint brigade to strengthen and modernize the Ukrainian defense. The brigade has its headquarters in Lublin in eastern Poland.
In June 2016, the government decided in 2017 to expand the armed forces from 100,000 men to 150,000 due to the troubled international situation. Of the new 50,000 soldiers, 35,000 would be part of a semi-military force with the task of preventing Russian infiltration in the eastern provinces. In November the same year, the government announced that a new home defense would be tasked with protecting the border with Russia. Its task will primarily be to fight back on the form of hybrid war that Russia has begun to apply in Ukraine, which is based more on disinformation, rumor dissemination and support for fellow runners than on open warfare. The force is said to consist of 53,000 men, most of them volunteers.
Poland joined behind the US war in Iraq in 2003, despite the country’s European partners Germany and France taking a different stance. Poland saw it as a necessity in the fight against terrorism, dictatorship and oppression, while at the same time meeting its ally the United States. In 2008, the last Polish soldiers were taken home from Iraq. Instead, Poland sent reinforcements to the NATO-led ISA forces in Afghanistan, where they stopped in December 2014.
In 2016, the United States announced that 1,000 American soldiers and a number of tanks would be deployed in Poland as part of NATO’s strengthening of the Alliance’s eastern flank. A brigade headquarters would also be located in the country. Since NATO pledged not to have permanent bases in former members of the Warsaw Pact, the soldiers would be relocated according to a rotating schedule. In 2019, when relations between the United States and Russia deteriorated further, the United States had about 4,000 soldiers in Poland and stated that the number would grow.
Poland is also concerned by the terminated nuclear weapons agreement INF between the US and Russia in 2019. Following that development, Poland has announced new plans for upgrading, especially in the east (see Calendar). In early 2020, agreements were signed for the Polish purchase of 35 US fighter aircraft. The deal is valued at $ 4.6 billion.
At the end of 2017, Poland and the United Kingdom signed a new defense agreement to regulate bilateral defense cooperation following the British exit from the EU. The agreement contains agreements on joint exercises, exchange of notifications and more.
READING TIP: Law and justice – fate issue for Poland. World Policy Day Issues # 9 2018
FACTS – DEFENSE
Army: 61,200 male (2017)
The air Force: 18,700 people (2017)
The fleet: 7,400 men (2017)
Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 2.0 percent (2017)
Military spending’s share of the state budget: 4.6 percent (2017)