It was 20 years ago today… Poland marks two decades of NATO membership

With its foreign policy subordinated to Moscow after WWII, it was only after the fall of communism in Europe that Poland was able to join. Stefan Kraszewski/PAP

As NATO celebrates its 70th birthday, Poland is marking twenty years since it joined the Alliance in 1999 – while remaining responsive to new security challenges in the region and beyond.

Visiting Poland last week, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg praised its commitment to the Alliance, from investing in new defence capabilities to hosting a NATO battlegroup.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was founded on 4 April 1949 as part of Western efforts to deter Soviet expansion in Europe. Its founding members were the United States and Canada, along with ten European countries: Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, Britain and Italy. Poland was unable to join as its foreign policy had been subordinated to Moscow after the Second World War.

On March 12th, 1999, Poland’s then Minister of Foreign Affairs Bronisław Geremek handed the then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright the act of Poland's accession to the North Atlantic Treaty. At that moment Poland became a full NATO member. msz.gov.pl

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO’s role has evolved. In the 1990s, it created a Partnership for Peace programme that helped Poland and other non-NATO countries to modernise their armies. This culminated in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary joining the Alliance in 1999. Slovakia and several other countries in Central Europe joined a few years later, in 2004.

Twenty years on, the Alliance remains alert to threats from Russia along its eastern flank, especially since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. As part of its deterrence and defence plans in the region, NATO has deployed troops to Poland and the three Baltic States.  

At the same time, its 29 members are working together to face new challenges, including combatting terrorism, spurred on by the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was founded on 4 April 1949 as part of Western efforts to deter Soviet expansion in Europe. Fifty years later, Poland joined.Public domain

Poland is a committed member of NATO, as one of a handful of countries to meet its spending target of 2% of GDP on defence.

Warsaw hosted the 2016 NATO summit at its National Stadium, which was attended by international leaders including Barack Obama.

On 12 March, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda was in Prague to attend 20th anniversary celebrations with his counterparts from the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia.

Visiting Poland last week, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg praised its commitment to the Alliance, from investing in new defence capabilities to hosting a NATO battlegroup.Radek Pietruszka/PAP

To mark the event he said: “The threats that enslaved us for more than 40 years return nowadays, in another guise, but undoubtedly return.

“Is our readiness necessary, when we are a part of the free world, not only mentally... but also politically and geopolitically? Should we respond to these threats? Yes, we should.

President Duda stressed that “accession to the North Atlantic Alliance was the final confirmation of Poland’s sovereignty and independence.”Jakub Kamiński/PAP

“We believe in an alliance that is the greatest military alliance in the world, and in which brotherhood means brotherhood, support means support, Article 5 means Article 5, not the ‘brotherly help’ about which here in Prague I do not have to remind anyone,” he added, referring to the to the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.

President Duda stressed that “accession to the North Atlantic Alliance was the final confirmation of Poland’s sovereignty and independence.”

Poland’s accession to the alliance came just seven years after the last Soviet combat troops pulled out of the country and bore testimony to its lightening transformation from Warsaw Pact state to full Nato member.