Opinion

Poland Must Be Alert Once Again to Protect Its Independence

Antoni Macierewicz
Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz looks on after a remembrance ceremony for the 2010 plane crash that killed Poland's President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others in Smolensk, in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, Poland March 10. Kacper Pempel/Reuters

The date of Poland's independence is somewhat symbolic, as it is difficult to attribute it to any specific moment in time. Suffice it to say that November 11 was first celebrated as a National Independence Day in 1937.

The date coincides with the Armistice Day (which commemorates the end of WWI on the western front in Europe) as well as the assumption of command over the Polish military troops by Józef Piłsudski in Warsaw in 1918. This emphasizes his role as the architect of Polish independence, although the efforts of many other military commanders and politicians cannot be forgotten. Over the ashes of the fallen Austro-Hungarian, German and Russian Empires, Poland struggled to rise again. The country was very quickly put to the test. In 1920, the Bolsheviks invaded Poland to carve out their way to Germany, aiming to bring both states under the Bolshevik umbrella.

The Red Army was defeated in a bloody battle at the outskirts of Warsaw. This victory was possible only because of all political and social forces were united in support of independence.

The Second Polish Republic lasted for only 21 years and was far from being  perfect. Yet it brought up the entire generation of people who knew how to live in freedom. Poland was first to fight against the German and Soviet invasion in 1939, when it was partitioned again as a result of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. The Polish, however, never surrendered and fought against the invaders on all fronts of the war. In the homeland the fight was not over with the end of war in 1945. The underground resistance against the communists lasted until 1950s, with the last soldier killed in 1963. Still, after the Treaty of Yalta in 1944, the communist Polish People’s Republic became merely a vassal of the Soviet Union. Revolts against Soviet influence broke out in 1956, 1968, 1970, 1976 and 1980-1981 and all of them were crushed by the communists. The last one gave birth to the famous “Solidarity” movement. But without the Second Republic, it would never have been possible.

The day when we regained independence is disputable, too. Usually it is claimed to be June 4, 1989—when the opposition was first allowed to participate in the parliamentary elections. Still, the first free elections took place on October 27, 1991. Nevertheless, for over a quarter of a century, Poland has been independent again. Unfortunately, nothing is granted forever and we are seeing more and more threats to it. In 2007, Estonia fell a victim to a mass-scale cyber attack. Then, in 2008 Russia invaded Georgia—though after to the visit of the Polish President Lech Kaczyński with a group of Central Eastern European leaders to Tbilisi, Russia stopped its progress. Two years Kaczyński he died in an aircrash in Smoleńsk, in Russia. The exact circumstances have never been revealed. We feel we have faced Russian reluctance to cooperate in the process of explaining the accident.

In 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine, illegally annexed Crimea and stirred the war in Donbass. Meanwhile, Kremlin permanently conducts military exercises that could easily be transformed into a full scale invasion in areas of eastern Europe. Eastern Europe faces an unprecedented information and psychological war against us, including sophisticated disinformation and the nuclear weapon threats.

Due to these reasons, after my party won the elections in October 2015, we decided to reform our defense policy. We set up three main priorities. First of all, we wanted to convince NATO to establish military forward presence on the eastern flank of the alliance. The decision on that was made during the NATO summit in Warsaw in July. Now it is materializing and soon the American, British, German and Canadian units (to mention the framework nations only), supported by several other contingents from the member states, will be deployed in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. We also increased our military spendings to 2 percent of GDP as one of only five NATO members.

The second priority is missile defense. Notorious threats of a nuclear attack by the Russian politicians, ongoing deployment of ballistic missiles close to our borders and the provisions of the military doctrine of Russia make such an attack possible. This is why we are working on purchasing an effective missile defense system.

The third priority concludes lessons we all learned from the war in Ukraine. NATO urges its members to build resilience to the hybrid threats. Therefore we decided to establish an entirely new branch of our armed forces—the Territorial Defense. Its main task will be countering the potential attacks aiming at destabilization of the country through means not meeting the criteria of a conventional military invasion (“little green men”, irregular warfare, cyber-, information and psychological warfare). The units of the Territorial Defense will be formed on a local basis and thus their soldiers will be best suited to defend the area where they live.

As a nation that values independence so highly, we have to be on the alert. After all, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

Antoni Macierewicz is the minister of national defense of Poland.