Poland may become 'core' of NATO, US regional military presence - FM

Poland's plan to become the core of NATO and the US's military presence in the region is realistic, Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said in his foreign policy address in the Sejm (lower house) on Thursday.

President Andrzej Duda and PM Mateusz Morawiecki also came to hear the minister's annual foreign policy speech, in which he outlined the main successes of Polish foreign policy as well as plans for 2019 and the coming years. Also present was the diplomatic corps, including US Ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher.

At the beginning of his speech in the lower house of parliament, the minister recalled the upcoming 30th anniversary of the first partially-free elections in the communist bloc, held in Poland in June 1989 after the 'Round Table' negotiations between the then communist government and the opposition.

Turning to defence issues, Minister Czaputowicz said that "it is especially important for us to strengthen NATO's deterrence and defence potential; our aspiration to become the core of the NATO and US military presence in our region is realistic."

The foreign minister made reference to celebrations of Poland's 20th anniversary of NATO membership, underscoring that, "strengthening the NATO military presence on the eastern flank of the North Atlantic Alliance, especially including military cooperation of Poland with the United States, remains our priority."

He emphasised the Poland hosts NATO forces, American troops but also British, Romanian and Croatian, and that a multinational command has been established in Elbląg (northern Poland), which is tasked with coordinating alliance activities on its eastern flank.

Jacek Czaputowicz highlighted that the Ministry of Defence's work on establishing an anti-missile base in Redzikowo (northern Poland) as a permanent US military base of strategic importance is continuing for a further year.

He went on to state that increasing military mobility remained an important task.

"Mass Russian manoeuvres on the border of NATO's eastern flank require the rapid creation of groupings of alliance forces, to be able to ensure a balance of power in the region. It also demands credibility of the military deterrent (...). Like other members of the North Atlantic Alliance, we believe that the United States' decision to suspend the obligations of the treaty on complete abolition of short medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic missiles (INF) is a justified response to its long-term breach by Russia."

The foreign minister indicated that Poland is in favour of creating a "military Schengen" within NATO and that he supports NATO-EU cooperation on the issue. He emphasised that Poland also favours the alliance maintaining an "open door" policy, noting that Poland supports the efforts of its eastern neighbours to join NATO.

He also pointed out that Poland already spends 2 percent of its GDP on defence and stated: "We plan to gradually increase those expenditures to 2.5 percent by 2030. Our efforts in this area are perceived by NATO's leadership and allies, which I had the opportunity to see during a recent visit to Poland of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo."

Turing to European issues, Czaputowicz said the current year is important for the EU as the upcoming European Parliamentary elections will start a new institutional cycle. "This creates a possibility and a need to reflect on the priorities that we should be aiming to achieve."

Czaputowicz also announced that leaders of EU member states that joined the bloc in 2004 will meet in Warsaw on May 1, the 15th anniversary of the accession.

The meeting will be held at the invitation of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, the foreign minister added.

"We are in favour of a strong EU, enjoying the support of the countries and nations that are part of it, an EU that contributes to the economic growth and prosperity of its societies and supports equalising the living standards of citizens of all member states," the minister said.

In his speech, Czaputowicz also noted that Poland will work to rebuild citizens' trust in EU institutions. In his opinion, the primary goal must involve restoring full, undoubted legitimacy and regaining the confidence of voters in the European institutions and their ability to solve the real problems of people.

Minister Czaputowicz pointed out that reform of the EU's system should involve a real democratic mandate and that a key role should be played by national parliaments, which mirror the will of citizens.

In his view, the EU is not only a ground for cooperation, but also constitutes a sphere where interests meet. "The ability to fight for its interest is a measure of a state's maturity," Czaputowicz stated. "By taking care of Europe's future, we are also looking out for Poland's interests."

Populist movements that have recently gained strength in the EU are proof of the bloc's crisis and are among the biggest threats to the European project, according to Czaputowicz.

The minister named Brexit as yet another threat to the bloc, saying that the EU-UK deal that had been hammered out after long negotiations secured all major aspects of post-Brexit relations.

However, the British parliament has already rejected the deal, twice. "We believe that a no-deal Brexit is the worst scenario, therefore we will seek solutions that will ensure acceptance of the negotiated agreement," the Polish minister said.

Poland supports the maintenance of the Common Agricultural Policy spending level in the EU's next multi-annual budget, Czaputowicz stated, arguing that "the transfer of EU funds is a compensation for opening the markets of weaker economies to competition from stronger economies, a situation that brings major benefits for the latter."

Czaputowicz rejected the EC's idea to make EU payouts dependent on the "currently assessed state of the rule of law in the countries which are to receive the funds."

The minister announced that Poland will take part in UN peacekeeping operations, explaining that "in November 2019, we expect the Polish contingent to be deployed within the UN's UNIFIL operation in Lebanon."

Speaking of the priorities in Poland's relations with the US, Czaputowicz named the expansion of the US military presence in Poland and the strengthening of NATO's eastern flank, joint security and defence projects and continued enhancement of energy security cooperation. Apart from that, the minister also named economic, investment and people-to-people contacts.

Polish-US energy cooperation should make Warsaw less dependent on Russian gas, the minister stressed. "We consistently oppose the Nord Stream 2 project and support the EC's criticism in this respect," he stated.

The controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline will supply Russian gas directly to Western Europe across the Baltic seabed, bypassing eastern EU members, who see the project as a threat to the region's and the EU's energy security. Currently, a major part of Russian gas is exported to Europe via Ukraine.

Poland will also continue work on the Baltic Pipe, a gas pipeline project connecting Poland with Norway's North Sea gas deposits via Denmark, Czaputowicz said.

The situation in the East is a challenge for Poland, the minister observed. "Russia has been continuing its aggressive policy against Ukraine," he added.

"Any dialogue with the Russian Federation within Euro-Atlantic and European structures should be made dependent on meeting the international community's postulates (by Moscow - PAP)," the minister argued.

The minister also appealed to Russia to comply with a resolution by the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly that urged Russia to return to Poland the wreckage of its presidential plane that crashed near Smolensk, Russia, in April 2010.

Turning to Polish-Israeli relations, Czaputowicz expressed sadness about what he called unfair accusations of Poland and Poles by "some Israeli politicians," as he referred to Israel's acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz, who accused Poles of "suckling anti-Semitism with their mother's milk."

"Speaking about the future of Polish-Israeli relations, I'd like to state clearly that we are ready to continue cooperation with Israel, including debates on difficult issues related to our common history. However, we can't agree to statements that reproduce false stereotypes and use a simplified vision of the tragic fate of both nations," the minister said.

"Openness, mutual understanding and respect for the other side's arguments should form the basis for our dialogue," he added.

Commenting on the recent US legislation on wartime property restitution, Czaputowicz said the Just Act is not a legal basis for bringing legal claims on property seized in Poland during World War II.

The Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act of 2017 requires reporting on acts of certain foreign countries regarding the identification and return of, or restitution for, assets wrongfully seized or transferred during the Holocaust era.

According to the Polish official, the act is not binding for other states.

"It should be clearly stated that this law, as part of the internal American legislation, does not give rise to any obligations for other states, in particular it does not constitute a legal basis for bringing legal claims against property in Poland that was taken away by Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia during World War II or by the communist authorities after the war," Czaputowicz argued.

"Potential claims of authorized persons, regardless of their nationality, are dealt with in court or administrative proceedings in accordance with the regulations and procedures provided for in the Polish legal system, on general principles," he added.

The minister stressed Germany's significance as Poland's key neighbour and partner in the EU, praising Berlin's approach to the euro zone and support for sanctions against Russia. "However, we have different views of the Nord Stream 2 project, which in our opinion does not serve to ensure energy security of the European Union," he said.

Other points on which Warsaw and Berlin have differing views include the multi-speed Europe concept and what Poland sees as protectionist measures, Czaputowicz said.

"Apart from developing bilateral relations with France and Germany, we also want to renew our cooperation with both countries within the Weimar Triangle,' Czaputowicz declared.

The Weimar Triangle was established as a platform for cooperation between France, Germany and Poland in 1991, but in recent years its works have stalled.

Czaputowicz stressed the role of regional cooperation in Central and Eastern Europe as an element of European integration. Such fora of cooperation include the Visegrad Group (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia), the Three Seas Initiative (countries located between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black seas) and the Bucharest Nine (the countries of NATO's eastern flank: Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria), the minister said.

Poland also supports the Western Balkans' EU accession efforts, Czaputowicz stressed.

Concluding his speech, Czaputowicz appealed for cross-party cooperation in foreign policy, stating that "the country's foreign policy is a national, and not a party matter."