Poland's Experience in Joining NATO
(Source : US State Department ; issued March 29, 2002)


By Ambassador Przemyslaw Grudzinski

(The author is the Polish Ambassador to the United States.)

 During heated debates about NATO enlargement, cost-benefit analysis
was widely used by politicians and experts. On one side they put
arguments for enlargement and on the other side the arguments against
it. The net result of these calculations led to the expansion of NATO.
However, there are still voices, especially now in view of the next
round of expansion, saying that the enlargement of NATO carries more
damage than benefits. Of course, I disagree with these opinions. By
joining NATO, Poland became a member of a military alliance, which in
an efficient way, provides for its security. At the political level, I
would like to point out just three benefits:

1. Poland gained security and confidence, which are fundamental for
further development. Without effective and credible security
guarantees, the transition toward more prosperous and democratic order
would have been much more complex and difficult.

2. Thanks to its membership, Poland's position in the region is more
constructive and stronger. Even before becoming a member of NATO,
Poland tried to play such a role. One has to remember that Poland
signed treaties of friendship with all its neighbors and actively
participated in regional initiatives such as the Vishegrad Triangle
(including Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) and OSCE
(the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), which
proved that a commitment to values such as freedom, respect of human
rights, and democracy are deeply rooted in Polish society. However,
membership in NATO gave Poland access to financial, institutional, and
political instruments that allow a more active and concrete promotion
of these values.

3. As a member of NATO, Poland has an opportunity to actively
participate in shaping the security framework in the Euro-Atlantic
area. It is a very difficult and demanding learning process. It
requires knowledge that other countries have been acquiring for 40-50
years. Not surprisingly, we have some problems in this area: there are
problems to fulfill our military personnel quotas and there are
problems in coordinating our efforts in order to pursue what appears
to Poland as an important goal for the Alliance (Ukraine). Poland is
striving to achieve greater cooperation between NATO and Ukraine. Our
ultimate goal is to encourage Kiev's pro-western policy. However,
Poland with its knowledge of Central and Eastern Europe as well as of
Russia, with its long and after all not so bad experience of dealing
with economic contingencies, social and political underdevelopment,
and ethnic and religious minorities, is able to contribute to the
better understanding of complex security challenges that the Alliance
is now facing.

Let's move to the military level. I just want to briefly mention the
following benefits:

First, membership in NATO required an introduction of civil and
democratic control over the Armed Forces. As a result of a delicate
process of transition, a civilian Ministry of Defense, responsible in
front of parliament, was created. In general, more civilian employees
entered the Ministry of Defense. General Staff was integrated into the
Ministry and subordinated to a civilian minister. Term limits in
commanding positions were introduced and Parliament gained control
over the defense budget. These were fundamental steps in creating
credible, apolitical military forces.

Already the prospect of joining NATO had forced the Polish army to
adjust and modernize. This process gained more speed when Poland
actually became a full member. The total number of Polish troops was
cut from 400,000 to 165,000 at present, with the goal to reach the
level of 150,000 troops by the end of 2003. The reduction in size is
combined with a shift in the composition of the armed forces. The
conscript service is cut from 24 months to 12 months and there is
focus on hiring professional soldiers.

I believe, and tragic events of September 11 convinced me even more,
that the enlarged NATO gained in credibility and strength. Let's
suppose that NATO did not enlarge. Its main goal -- defense -- would
be greatly undermined. First, NATO not only provides stability and
security, but also promotes democracy and the rule of law. By
enlarging the area of stability and democracy, NATO members simply
improve their security environment. One of the most important
arguments used by supporters of NATO enlargement was that there are no
different levels of defense that basically you are or you are not
protected. What they feared most was that countries in Central and
Eastern Europe would be kept in a so-called gray zone. Today that
seems extremely improbable, but I will argue that the way from a gray
zone to a black hole is not very long. Nowadays the challenges to
security derive from the failure of a state and its inability to
deliver on its economic, political, social, and cultural pledges.
Without the anchor of security and stability, and without a credible
prospect to join the Western institutions, the transition toward a
democratic state based on the rule of law could have ended up totally

Second, democracies do not carry out aggressive foreign policies, and
as such NATO provides just political, financial, and military means to
deal with the security challenges of its members. What is unique about
NATO and what makes it so attractive is that the common commitment of
its members, combined with the level of military cooperation, provides
a credible deterrent for any rational actor who would ever consider
imposing its power on one of the NATO members. When enlargement
occurred, nobody suspected that NATO members would have to act in
defense of the United States. Poland, together with other members of
the Alliance, invoked Article 5 [stating that an attack on one NATO
member is an attack on all], but also acted promptly on a regional
scale by organizing in Warsaw an international conference on combating

A military alliance has to be efficient. There was a fear that
enlargement would over-extend NATO and dilute its military
capabilities. This fear was combined with worries about America's
lesser and lesser interest and involvement in European affairs. These
worries were justified since they were derived from a fear of
destroying an institution that has served transatlantic interests so
long and so well. However, I want to stress that the effectiveness of
a military alliance depends on shared interests of its members and on
military capabilities. Regarding politics, first I just want to repeat
that despite the perception of growing divergences in interests among
members of NATO, what makes the transatlantic relationship so strong
and special is a deeply rooted commitment to the same fundamental
values, including freedom, democracy and respect of human rights. We
can discuss the difficulties in implementing these values in Central
and Eastern European societies with the legacy of the previous regime,
but nobody can question the commitment of Poles, Czechs or Hungarians
to these values. Sometimes attitudes of new members can appear a bit
childish and immature. However, their enthusiasm and their strong
belief in the future of NATO can be helpful in overcoming the tide of
NATO-skepticism and therefore strengthen the Alliance.

Third, there was a widespread fear that with 19 members the
decision-making process would be even more complex, undermining,
therefore, the effectiveness of NATO. However, based on three years
experience, it does not seem that the additional members have had such
a negative impact on the decision-making process. The time needed to
reach a consensus is no longer than before the enlargement. Moreover,
enlargement gave an impulse to discuss the modalities and necessary
changes in the decision-making process. If NATO wants to live up to
its promise of an open door policy and remain an effective alliance,
it has to address this issue.

Effectiveness depends also on military capabilities. Contrary to the
political field, the military gap between the U.S. and the European
members of NATO is a real one. This gap existed before the enlargement
of NATO and is still there. It requires a refocus and an increase in
military spending from all European members of NATO. I can only add
that Poland recognizes this challenge and is considering, among other
things, the purchase of a multi-role fighter. It will guarantee Poland
a high level of interoperability with the U.S. Army and with NATO,
which will allow Poland to support and fully participate in missions
that the Alliance decides to undertake -- both to guarantee security
of its members and to enhance security and stability in other areas of
the world.

In the ongoing debate about the future of relations between NATO and
European Security and Defense Policy, the Polish position is
particularly delicate and difficult. Sometimes accused of betraying an
organization of which it is not yet a member, Poland simply refuses to
make a choice between NATO and the European Union. Poland supports the
development of the European defense identity and considers it a
necessary step to enable Europe to play a more decisive and
responsible role in shaping international order. However, Poland
believes that such a development can and should take place within the
NATO framework. This strong belief derives from a conviction that
there are vital common transatlantic security interests, as well as
shared basic values, that unite the two sides of Atlantic.

And last but not least -- relations with Russia. The enlargement of
NATO did not particularly enhance the democratization process in
Russia. But if we agree on this, so we have to agree that the same
enlargement could not and did not undermine the security of Russia.
Yet, the enlargement enhanced the security of the former Warsaw Pact
members. Through mutual cooperation and the democratic institutional
framework, these countries' ability to protect and realize their own
interests has increased. I will argue that thanks to enlargement,
Poland and Russia are partners and, therefore, the relations between
them are good. Russia is a great state; just because of its size and
potential, it can shape international order either in a positive or in
a negative way. Poland supports practical and concrete forms of
cooperation between NATO and Russia that are geared towards promoting
stability, security, and respect for basic common values. At the same
time, such cooperation cannot undermine the effectiveness and
cohesiveness of NATO, which is a guarantee of Polish vital interests.


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