During the 2004 presidential debate, George W. Bush famously reminded his Democratic challenger Jonn Kerry that Poland had been part of the “coalition of the willing” that invaded Iraq the year before. Bush evidently considered the Eastern European nation an ally on par with Australia and the United Kingdom and indeed, it was the fourth largest troop contributor to the American led effort.
Today’s Republican Party presidential candidate Mitt Romney isn’t forgetting about Poland either. Early next week, the former governor of Massachusetts will visit the cities of Gdansk and Warsaw on a European trip that also included stops in Britain and Israel.
Poland makes for a smart destination. As Graham O’Brien wrote at the Atlantic Sentinel last month, “In twenty years since the end of communism there, Poland has climbed to sixth in Europe’s economic standing.”
Due to a policy of rapid liberalization, the once desolate country has seen considerable economic growth and industry, especially after its accession to the European Union in 2004.
American companied have invested up to $20 billion in Poland since the collapse of the Berlin Wall while American exports to the country have more than doubled in the last ten years alone.
Beyond trade, Poland is a key strategic partner for the United States in Europe. Robert D. Kaplan listen it as one of the three pivotal European nations in The National Interest last year, besides France and Germany. The possibility of a de facto French-German-Russian alliance emerging under the guise of Germany working to pull Russia closer to Europe would certainly make the United States uncomfortable. “Poland and the United States would balance against this development, even as Polish sovereignty is respected by a Russia that would have to accommodate certain Western European norms,” according to Kaplan.
The construction of the Nord Stream pipeline is emblematic of the geopolitical reality that is emerging across the expanse of what used to be the Eastern Bloc. If Germany can import gas from Russia directly, it may balance its relations with Moscow at the expense of transit states in between.
Poland’s foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski saw the writing on the wall in February of this year and warned the Germans that they would never be recognized as Europe’s hegemons, “so you shouldn’t even try.” He added, “When Germany gets too big for its boots, we always automatically add allies.”
The Poles know all to well what happens when Germany and Russia get close. On the eve of World War II, the two divided Eastern Europe into spheres of influence while pledging nonaggression toward one another. Germany invaded western Poland; the Soviets annexed the eastern part of the country as well the Baltic states, Bessarabia and other territories in the east.
France, too, has an interest in preventing the rise of a German-Russian axis but may be too weak to stop it unless it deepens its alliance with Britain. The United States is the only power that is capable of guaranteeing the security of former Soviet satellite states like Poland on its own.
The Poles may hope that Mitt Romney is more susceptible to their interests than Barack Obama. The incumbent president seems willing to sacrifice the planned NATO missile shield for Europe, promising his Russian counterpart “more flexibility” after the November election — something the Poles must have listened to in apprehension — in exchange for Russian support on sanctions against Iran and maybe Syria.
Romney, by contrast, has characterized Putin’s Russia as his country’s “number one geopolitical foe.” That may be a bit of a stretch but the Poles are likely to agree.