“War should be the only study of a prince. He should consider peace only as a breathing-time, which gives him leisure to contrive, and furnishes as ability to execute, military plans.” The words of Niccolo Maciavelli, which seem in practice to have fallen out of favour, at least in what we might call the West, as peace is used as an excuse for cutting expenditure on defence, even beyond what many would consider prudent given the unpredictability in the world.

And thus to Warsaw for the four day Spring Session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, a body comprising 266 delegates from the 29 NATO member states, plus representatives from associate countries, and observers from other nations, which is focussed on issues such as NATO’s deterrence policy, ways of counteracting hybrid threats from Russia, and challenges related to energy security in Central and Eastern Europe.  The assembly was addressed on Sunday, its third day, by Polish defence minister Mariusz Błaszczak, who spoke about the role of parliaments in providing security for NATO member states, saying that they were the place where decisions on security budgets were taken. He also said that more efficient command structures within NATO are key to boosting the alliance’s capacity for deterrence and defence.

Błaszczak said he hoped that a July NATO summit in Brussels will contribute to greater deterrence and defence capabilities for the alliance. “To reach that end, we need a more effective NATO command structure, including the land command,” he said. According to him, NATO needs “more combat forces with a higher degree of readiness, which should be closely affiliated to commands.” “We must create more detailed defence plans, modify training and drills, so as to restore the military capacity for carrying out defence operations,” Błaszczak said.

Of course, what NATO really needs is for each member to commit to the recommended levels of defence expenditure of two per cent. of GDP, something which, apart from the US, only a handful of other members manage, including the UK and Poland. Without adequate budgets, the ability of NATO to live up to the rhetoric is limited, something not lost on potential foes. Of course, some might be slightly relived that Germany – one of the worst offenders in the budget stakes – had to use tanks with painted wooden barrels in an exercise, and only a handful of operationally ready fighter planes, but that’s hardly the point if one is being serious about defence.

Poland, of course, is serious. On the first day of the assembly, Polish foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz said efforts must be undertaken to boost NATO’s eastern flank. He added the effectiveness of the alliance reflected its capacity to adapt to new conditions. “At present, we must make sure that decisions on shoring up security on NATO’s eastern flank taken at summits in Newport and Warsaw are completely implemented and irreversible.”

For his part, addressing Monday’s plenary session, Poland’s president Andrzej Duda said that “ties between North America and Europe remain the key to ensuring the security of the Euro-Atlantic area.” “Today, perhaps even more than ever, we should strive to improve the political climate in transatlantic relations,” he added.

And he is, of course, quite correct. With the US president increasingly vocal about what is seen in the US as a failure by European NATO members to bear the burden of defence, combined with his America first policy, there is a risk of a lessening of the US military commitment to Europe, even if lip service is paid to NATO obligations. There is only one beneficiary from this tension, brother Putin, who must be congratulating himself that despite being outgunned militarily, economically, and demographically, he is still able to achieve his agenda with ease. Clearly, a man with a plan will always beat a man with a platitudinous tweet.

If diplomacy is war by other means, then gas pipelines are diplomacy by other means as the polish prime minster didn’t quite put it when addressing the assembly on Monday. For Mateusz Morawiecki the planned Nord Stream 2 subsea gas pipeline from Russia to Germany is “a new hybrid weapon” aimed at the European Union and NATO, which may “have far-reaching geopolitical consequences.” He described it (please see Neighbours) as a “poisoned pill of European security,” Poland’s PAP news agency reported, arguing that the existing Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline had enabled Russia to obtain funds that it later used to modernise its army.

Si vis pacem para bellum, as the adage has it. Perhaps Germany prefers si vis pacem para pacem, reckoning that if Russia is suppling it with gas, it’s unlikely to want war, but you can hardly blame Poland for taking a more cautious view.


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