Nuclear Weapons

Missile Defense in Poland: Not a Done Deal

03.26.08 | 5 min read | Text by Ivan Oelrich

[NOTE: The Federation of American Scientists is delighted to have a Scoville Fellow this year, Ms. Katarzyna (Kasia) Bzdak. Kasia reads the Polish language press and, in particular, follows the ongoing political debate about the US missile defense deployment in Poland. This is her second blog entry on the subject; the first was written before the last Polish elections. The following is her report on the missile defense decision as seen from the Polish side.]

In recent weeks, Polish-US missile defense negotiations have seemingly progressed after a lull following elections in Poland last October. The Polish election changed the style and substance of the debates significantly, as the administration of staunchly pro-American Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski was ousted by the Civic Platform (PO), headed by current Prime Minister Donald Tusk. While Kaczynski supported the deployment of US missile defense components (10 interceptor missiles) on Polish soil without reservation throughout the campaign, Tusk promised to toughen negotiations with the United States, work to gain concessions for continued Polish support of US military operations and foreign policy, and improve relations with Russia, which is viscerally opposed to the deployment.

In the most recent round of negotiations on the future of the interceptor deployment, beginning in January, the Tusk administration stuck to its campaign promises and focused its efforts on attaining concessions from the US in the military realm. According to a number of Polish sources, the ruling coalition in Poland and most Polish experts agree that the deployment of interceptors to Poland will reduce Polish security. The Polish negotiating team has thus pursued a policy of linkage in negotiations, stressing that Poland will not accept missile defense components without concomitant upgrades to Polish security. The Polish government has consistently argued that it needs a military upgrade, particularly in anti-aircraft capabilities, to counteract the Russian threat to target Poland with nuclear forces if the interceptors are deployed.

In response to these concerns, Warsaw has reportedly sought two major concessions in recent negotiations: bilateral aid in military modernization (including an antiballistic/antiaircraft missile system) and a US security guarantee akin to the agreements the US has with Israel or Turkey. In a January visit to Washington, Radoslaw Sikorski, the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, managed to successfully link missile defense negotiations to US aid in Polish military modernization, something the US consistently refused during previous rounds of negotiations. Prime Minister Donald Tusk made a follow-up trip in early March, which led to an ostensible breakthrough in negotiations: President Bush made a public commitment to develop a substantive plan to modernize Polish forces before the end of his term in office. Although the specifics of this modernization plan remain unclear, several Polish media sources have reported that the government wants an upgrade to its anti-aircraft capacities. Polish negotiators have pinpointed 17 specific areas of the military that the US could modernize and have specifically requested the deployment of either THAAD or PATRIOT antiballistic and antiaircraft missiles.

Despite these recent developments, the interceptor deployment is not a done deal. A number of significant obstacles may very well impede US-Polish negotiations. First and perhaps most critically, is the fact that the majority of the Polish public is opposed to missile defense, and that even supporters of the deployment may be unsatisfied with the nebulous offer the US has put on the table. According to recent polling conducted by the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita, 55% of Poles oppose the deployment of interceptors in Poland altogether. Furthermore, it is widely believed that Poland has taken too soft a line during negotiations, and received little for its consistent support of US foreign and defense policy.

The Polish public continues to associate the Polish position on missile defense with visa waivers and other US concessions. Three-quarters of Poles consider the visa issue vis-à-vis the US as “important” or “very important,” and about 1 out of 3 respondents think that lifting visa restrictions is the most important concession Polish negotiators should strive for in the missile defense negotiations. In comparison, less than one in five Poles thought long-term military aid should be the key goal for negotiators. This is significant because Prime Minister Tusk recently stated that he is not going to broach the visa issue yet again with the United States during missile defense negotiations. Thus, the tenuous agreement on modernization may prove to be domestically unpopular, and may curtail the administration’s ability to see it through (particularly since the Polish parliament would likely have to vote on all or at least part of an eventual agreement).

Also, the Tusk administration has maintained, fitting with their strategy of linkage in negotiations, that it will not accept any deal that undermines Polish security in the aggregate. Therefore, the devil may be in the details, and the specifics of the modernization plan may very well make or break the deployment deal, particularly given public opposition to the plan. If Polish negotiators feel that the US is not willing to invest enough into Poland’s anti-aircraft capabilities, or is unable to appease Russia and prevent her from targeting Poland with nuclear weapons, they may very well opt out of the deal. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice indicated in March that the US needs three months to even develop a modernization plan, so these details (and the Polish response) are forthcoming.

Another issue of significance is that Polish negotiators have not hedged against the election of a Democrat to office in the Fall. Although President Bush has promised to come up with a modernization plan before the end of his tenure, any agreements he makes are contingent on the approval of his successor. The Polish negotiating team has not consulted with either of the Democratic candidates for office, who are certain to be less enthusiastic about the deployment. Some commentators have even suggested that this omission may be purposeful, i.e., that the Polish negotiating team wants to strengthen its image as a staunch US ally through amicable talks while stalling any real progress on the plan as it waits out the end of Bush’s tenure.

In sum, while negotiations have seemingly progressed, the future of the missile defense component deployment in Poland remains uncertain. Political realities in Poland and strategic calculations are certain to influence the Tusk administration’s position, and the coming US election will also be critical. It remains to be seen what will develop, but what is certain is that the United States will have to pay a steep price for Polish acquiescence.