Poland Celebrates 20 Years of NATO Membership
Two decades ago, when Poland joined NATO, its main aim was to protect itself from Moscow. Now, security concerns over its aggressive eastern neighbour remains a key issue in domestic and foreign politics
The country became a member of the alliance in 1999, at the same time as Hungary and the Czech Republic. Now, there’s an advanced NATO training center operating in Poland. And Lublin is home to one of the Alliance’s four European multinational brigades. It’s ready to hold back an aggressor while allies bring reinforcement.
“Polish officers feel great in international society – we cooperate with the United States and other NATO countries. Because of this, the Armed Forces are fully integrated into the forces of the Alliance and have completely different military equipment,” Minister of Defense of Poland 1992-1993, 1997-2000 Janusz Onyszkiewicz said.
Thirty years ago, at the beginning of the 1990s, Poland was one of the Warsaw Pact countries, which opposed NATO. The Northern Group of Soviet Forces was stationed in the country until 1993. It was only after their withdrawal that Poland decided to join the military alliance. It took the country five years to become a member of the organization since it started reforming its defense sector.
“I felt tremendous relief since the period of preparations for Poland joining NATO was unusually tense, it wasn’t all easy. On that day I was convinced that the post-war division of Europe had ended for good, and Poland was well-rooted in the structure of the North Atlantic Alliance,” Onyszkiewicz said.
Now, Poland is one of the member states allocating 2 percent of its GDP a year for the army. In 2018, it amounted to more than $12 billion. By 2026, the government plans to spend $49 billion on modernizing troops and equipment. According to opinion polls, residents of Poland support its membership in the Alliance. Sixty-two percent of them believe it is essential for the country’s independence.
“If this expansion hadn’t happened, Russia would be tempted to restore some form of domination over Poland or the Baltic states. But when these countries are members of the EU and NATO, the chances of such scenarios are much smaller.” Onyszkiewicz said.
Instead, Moscow is implementing these scenarios in Ukraine and Georgia – NATO allies. The course for joining the Alliance is already secured in the Ukrainian Constitution. Poland’s former ambassador to NATO Jerzy Maria Novak believes that the members of the organization are also interested in its expansion.
“The idea is to integrate the Ukrainian Armed Forces into NATO structures as much as possible, to actively receive non-combat assistance and later, possibly, defensive lethal weapons as well,” he said.
NATO’s main task is the collective defense of all member states. An attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies. Ukraine is expecting to receive a concrete action plan for joining NATO next year. Novak believes that reforms, modernization of troops, and signing the membership agreement may take from 5-to-10 years.