“The guns and the bombs, the rockets and the warships, are all symbols of human failure.” The words of US President Lyndon B. Johnson which, in an absolute sense are no doubt true. And although we live in more peaceful times than ever before – consider the time since the last major war in Europe – there are no grounds for complacency. It may be trite to quote the Latin adage si vis pacem, para bellum, but one failure of which the Polish government will not be accused is that of not modernising Poland’s armed forces.

Thus, on Sunday, Poland announced that it will buy mobile rocket launchers worth USD 414 million (EUR 365 million) from the United States. The 20 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers, made by Lockheed Martin, are capable of launching six guided rockets with a range of 70 kilometres, or a single missile with a range of 300 kilometres, and will “significantly increase the Polish army’s capacities,” defence minister Mariusz Blaszczak told journalists. The HIMARS system is already being used by 19 countries, has been deployed in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State group, and provides a precision attack ability even in poor weather when air attacks are hindered.

The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in November that the sale was aimed at strengthening security in the region and to help modernise Poland’s military. The prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, appearing with and the defence minister, hailed the deal as an important part of the efforts to upgrade Poland’s armed forces, which comes on top of other recent military purchases from the United States. Last month the Polish government signed a multi-million deal to buy the first batch of four US-designed, Polish-built Black Hawk helicopters, and in March last year signed what officials described as a historic deal to buy an American Patriot air defence system for USD 4.75 billion.

At the signing of the deal on Wednesday at the 1st Military Transport Air Base in Warsaw in the presence of Polish President Andrzej Duda and visiting US Vice President Mike Pence, Duda said that the deal marked the latest step in efforts to modernise Poland’s armed forces, adding that it would help increase security on the eastern borders of NATO.  Duda also said that the Polish-American intergovernmental deal boosted the strong partnership between the two countries. Mike Pence said that the HIMARS system would offer new opportunities for the Polish military in a dangerous world. He also thanked Poland for investing heavily in defence.

As well as improving the armed forces’ equipment this deal is also about Poland remaining close to the United States in an attempt to secure Poland’s longer- term strategic interests, including establishing a greater prominence for Poland on the world stage.  And this seems to be working.

Speaking at a joint news conference with the Polish President Andrzej Duda on Wednesday, Pence said that “in recent years, Poland has become one of our most crucial allies and a major player in world affairs.” He added that “Poland sent one of the largest contingents of troops to our allied operations in Iraq and was a valued member of our 79-partner-strong coalition to defeat ISIS”, and noted that Poland “is one of only eight NATO allies who currently meet the commitment to spend at least 2 per cent of your gross domestic product on defence.”

Turning to security in Europe, and something which is never far from Polish concerns. Pence said that “no threat looms larger in Poland than the spectre of aggression from your neighbour to the east.” The Vice President said that “the Polish people need no lecture on the dangers of an aggressive Russia”, adding: “And our neighbours to the east would do well not to underestimate the capabilities of our combined armed forces or to underestimate the indomitable will of the Polish people.”

Pence was beginning a three day visit to Poland for bilateral talks and to attend the “Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East” jointly hosted by the United States and Poland. Given the overtly anti-Iran stance taken at the conference by Israel and the US, and the EU opposition to US sanction against Iran, (please see US to EU in Warsaw – Abandon Iran nuclear deal) some may question the wisdom of the Polish government placing itself in the middle of a US EU foreign policy conflict.

Be that as it may, for Poland’s Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz, the conference will boost Poland’s prestige on the international stage and improve ties with the US, he said in an interview with public broadcaster TVP on Thursday. He said Poland was “undertaking efforts aimed at bringing the stands of the European Union and the United States on the Middle East closer together.” If Poland can achieve that, the conference will indeed have been a success.

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