President Barack Obama'svisit to Poland was a long-awaited event.Washington’s preoccupation with the Middle East and the Arab world at the cost of the East European theme provoked among the Polish elites the fear of being left alone vis-a-vis Russia…
For Warsaw, the tour by the US president reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to Poland as the key East European ally. Poland being the main proponent and driver of basically all of the US initiatives in the post-communist Europe, the indications that the interest taken by Washington in the country was evaporating were taken seriously across the Polish society. US neocons occasionally refer to Obama as “not a Europe-minded transatlanticist by instinct” , a stark contrast to the majority of the US leaders who since the outbreak of World War I sought to widen the US influence over Europe, regarding Poland as an important partner in the process.
At the moment, Washington is not to blame for the lack of involvement with East Europe in general and Poland in particular. Over the epoch since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc, the Western world’s novices demonstrated such levels of loyalty to the US that Washington could not but start taking it for granted. East European countries are built seamlessly into the US-centered global configuration and will stay in Washington’s orbit even if it forgets completely about them. Still, the agreements reached as part of Obama’s visit should instill a new doze of optimism in Poland’s establishment: Poland is to start hosting new elements of the US missile defense in 2018 and even earlier – in 2013 – it is to accommodate a US airforce group at its Krzesin, Łask, Powidz airbases. As of today, the latter arrangement counts as provisional, but Warsaw clearly hopes to recast it into something permanent.
Poland’s bid for regional leadership is consonant with the US interests in Europe. Poland is supposed to take the role of a magnet helping to form an ensemble of countries unfriendly to Russia. Warsaw will hold the rotating EU presidency starting in the second half of 2011, and the US plan is to make Poland’s term at the helm of the EU a transitional epoch for East and Central Europe as Poland is believed to be the country best equipped to promote democratic values and market economy in their US reading among the EU hopefuls . The particularly impatient hopefuls are of course Moldova and Ukraine or, speaking precisely, the elites of the two post-Soviet republics. The situation in Belarus where EU aspirations are confined to the political opposition is in this regard completely different.
While in Warsaw, Obama reiterated in line with the established tradition that East Europe should become a zone of peace and stability but the presence of “Europe’s last dictator” – Belorussian leader A. Lukashenko – is an obstacle in the way of the dream. Consequently, displacing him is the task Washington and Warsaw are going to jointly tackle. To this end, the Belorussian opposition already got headquarters in a prestigious part of Warsaw, with the Polish administration picking up the bill.
The intensification of the Polish diplomacy’s efforts centered around Moldova and Transnistria is also noteworthy. Moldova is seen as a country where, due to its relatively small size, democratic gains can be produced at the cost of fairly modest political and financial investments . Washington’s involvement in Europe should, among other benefits, help build interaction mechanisms for future use in countries like Egypt, Ukraine, Syria, and Belarus .
The Eastern Partnership must be one of such mechanisms in the context of the post-Soviet space. The project was launched in 2008 via the EU by the Polish foreign ministry with Sweden’s backing and was supposed to embrace Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Warsaw is interested in integrating the republics into Europe and NATO, but since so far their admission to the EU is out of question the Eastern Partnership is to draw them into a strategic partnership with the EU and to enable an array of economic projects meant to detach from Moscow the countries whose economies are tightly interwoven with Russia’s. Poland hopes to reanimate the Eastern Partnership over the six months of its EU presidency, which is the explanation behind Warsaw’s hyperactive conduct in the corresponding republics.
For Washington, Poland is not only a foothold in Europe but also an active partner in dealing with other regions. Poland as the country more than any other susceptible to Washington’s perceptions of democracy and progress should be setting patterns to be followed by North African countries with freshly changed political regimes.
In April, 2011, former Polish leader Lech Wałęsa visited Tunisia to establish contacts with the country’s new administration and to share with it Poland’s reform experience. The Arab spring of 2011 is routinely likened to Central European “wake up” 1989 when the region’s regimes were collapsing serially and the post-Soviet republics coming into being as a result promptly switched their allegiance to the US.
On the whole, the latest agreements sealed by B. Obama and B. Komorowski mean that:
. In 2013, several US aircraft groups will be added to the US forces in Europe, a development clearly posing a threat to Russia’s national security.
. In 2018, new elements of the US missile defense will be deployed in Poland.
. Mensk will come under increasing pressure while Poland and the US will be jointly luring Moldova to a de facto anti-Russian alliance (B. Obama is already officially invited to Chisinau).
. Poland is ready to take an active role in the transitions provoked by the US in the Arab world and to spearhead Washington’s policies in Central and East Europe as well as in North Africa, the key part of the task being to undermine Russia’s influence in the regions.
. The US objective is to achieve greater uniformity of the European space. While the goal already looms on the horizon in East Europe where – with the exception of the tiny Belarus – the US primacy goes completely unchallenged, Washington meets with serious opposition in South Europe, especially in the geopolitically important Serbia and nearby Montenegro.
The rise and increasing activity of the traditionally pro-US Poland in Europe may lead to the isolation of the countries of South and South East Europe on which Washington will focus its reformist agenda while delegating to Warsaw most of the responsibility for Central Europe.
1) Jan Techau “Doing Geopolitics in Eastern Europe” Carnegie Endowment
2) “Insider view: congressman Daniel Lipinski on the future of U.S.-Polish relations” Central Europe Digest June,1 2011
3) Peter B. Doran “Obama in Poland. Substance and Symbolism” Central Europe Digest June,1 2011