It has become a cliché, the verbal equivalent of the Twitter hashtag in place of action, but President Duda of Poland believes that NATO is now sending out a signal of “solidarity” in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine. Speaking in an interview before this weekend’s NATO summit in Warsaw, he said that the move to station multi-national NATO battalions in Poland and the Baltic states – long a Polish demand – provides a clear signal that NATO is resolute.
Duda told the PAP news agency that Russia should not be allowed to dictate to NATO states from a position of strength, and that the alliance should leave the door open for Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova to join, albeit over a long period. Duda believes that closing to door to NATO to these countries – and others – would send a very bad signal.
The President said that “The Warsaw summit is of breakthrough significance. Our message to NATO from the very beginning was clear: in the face of the changing situation in the security environment in our part of the world, in Central and Eastern Europe it is necessary to strengthen the presence and potential of NATO.”
Asked whether four battalions of a thousand soldiers each in Poland and the Baltic countries would be enough to deter Russia, Duda said: “It is above all a clear signal that the Alliance is tightly-knit, that the Alliance is effective, that the Alliance is able to make decisions and, above all, that it is cohesive, it is together, that it shows solidarity, that we are reacting to what is happening….One thing is the most important: that anyone who carries out an act of aggression on a country in which there are NATO troops will at the same time be carrying out an act of aggression on all countries.”
Of course solidarity, like much else, begins at home (literally in the case of Solidarity) and NATO is not simply about defending countries, but also the shared values of those countries. And it is those shared values that another international organisation of which Poland is a member, the European Union, believes are under threat.
The changes, including those to the state owned media, dramatically increased powers for the security services, and particularly those changing the operation of the Constitutional Tribunal, and the inconclusive discussions with the EU Commission, led last month to the Commission issuing a Rule of Law Opinion, the first step on a path which could lead to Poland being denied voting rights at the EU.
It is ironic – not that Law and Justice (PiS) appears to understand irony – that the while the PiS party leader Jarosław Kaczyński urges NATO to present a tough front to Russia, Poland’s own government becomes increasingly authoritarian. The leader’s suggestion that “Everyone who is against our changes in Poland is acting against Polish interests,” is not what one might expect from a true democrat and belongs more at the totalitarian end of the spectrum. Nor do Kaczyński’s calls for an absolute majority at the next election so to be able to change the constitution provide particular comfort. One does not really encourage allies to redouble their efforts to join you in the struggle against Russia by adopting an approach to politics which increasingly appear reminiscent of brother Putin’s
Yesterday’s forcing through the lower house of the Polish parliament of another law on the Constitutional Tribunal, while offering a limited toning down of the previous law to try to create a more favourable impression in time for the NATO summit beginning in Warsaw today, does little to address the problem of the struggle between the government and the Constitutional Tribunal.
Nobody denies PiS’s democratic mandate, nor the sovereignty of Poland, nor even the value of the wise counsel of the dear leader, but when you expect the support of the team, you need to respect the rules by which the team plays.
Bismark once famously dismissed the Balkans as “not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier.” A time when most NATO members appear to have lost the will to fight or to commit adequate sums to defence, when the German foreign minister dismisses the recent NATO exercises in the Baltic as sabre-rattling, and when the EU itself is determined to press ahead with the distraction of an EU army, is no time to be giving any excuse to opt out to those on whom you rely to help defend modern Pomerania (Pomorze in Poland).