Good Neighbours

“For it would have been better that man should have been born dumb, nay, void of all reason rather than that he should employ the gifts of Providence to the destruction of his neighbour.” And, if we accept these words of Roman rhetorician Quintilian, then Poland has had more than its fair share of dumb and unreasoning neighbours. Fortunately, the neighbourhood, on one side of the street at least, has been gentrified, with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski saying in a meeting with his German president Joachim Gauck to mark the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War that relations between the two countries have never been better.

The two presidents met to lay wreaths in Gdansk where the Nazi German invasion of Poland began in 1939. President Komorowski said that Polish-German relations had never been better, not only politically, but also psychologically and for Poles, “it is important that Chancellor Angela Merkel experienced life under a communist regime, and that President Joachim Gauck is an icon of resistance against communism,” which makes it easier to find elements of political brotherhood and closeness. For his part President. Gauck remarked that “it is unbelievable how close Poles and Germans have come to each other,” adding that “the word peace does not have to be an empty formula.”

But just how secure is Poland? President Komorowski in a later interview when asked whether Poland could be certain that its allies would defend the country case of war, replied that no one can give 100 percent certainty. Poland is working on this through the strengthening of the North Atlantic Alliance, and making Poland more firmly rooted in the integration of Europe. “The choice of the prime minister [Donald Tusk] as President of the European Council is proof of that,” Komorowski argued, stressing that during this week’s NATO summit in Wales, Poland would push to strengthen NATO’s eastern flank as the Ukrainian crisis continues.

In this regard it does appear that Poland’s voice is being heard. While Poland’s foreign minister Sikorski once more expressed his doubt in the effectiveness of sanctions, NATO’s secretary-general announced plans for a rapid response force of several thousand troops to protect eastern European members against potential Russian aggression. Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the force could be deployed on 48 hours’ notice with military equipment and supplies being repositioned in eastern member states to enable this quick deployment.

Of course, as I have written here before, what is important is demonstrating the capability and will to act, something which has been lacking – publicly at least – hitherto. And in the case of NATO and the EU is important that a unity of purpose is demonstrated. It seems odd that while Polish fruit and British JCB equipment, to name but two, are affected by sanctions causing great loss to those involved, the French seem to find it quite acceptable to supply two warships to Russia. Ironically, these warships will boost Russian capability in amphibious warfare, exactly the sort of capability one might find handy if seeking to create a coastal land corridor across Ukraine from Russia to the Crimea, for example.

Which brings us back to where it all started – Hitler’s demand for the infamous Danzig corridor. History may not repeat itself but it is certainly rhyming on this occasion, alas. Let’s hope – assuming it isn’t all over by the time he moves into his new job (at six times the salary, lots of benefits and no elections to face) on 1st December – that Donald Tusk is able to use his fluent German and good relationship with Chancellor Merkel to urge her to take a stricter line with Russia over Ukraine. In the EU, if not in NATO, Germany calls the shots and it would be ironic if Germany’s dependence on Russian gas were to lead (in deed if not in word) to a Merkel-Putin pact, a sort of very mild economic version of the infamous Ribbentrop-Molotov pact.

Looking to the east, there are still some rough elements in Poland’s neighbourhood and one of Tusk’s tasks will be to convince Merkel of the truth of Horace’s words: “Your own safety is at stake when your neighbour’s wall is ablaze.”

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