January 6, 2016 3:30PM

Poland Hopes to Use Britain to Stick Washington with Bigger NATO Bill

Poland’s new government wants a deal with Great Britain. Help us get a NATO (meaning American) garrison, and we’ll agree to limit European migrant flows to Britain.

British Prime Minister David Cameron was rebuffed when he sought Warsaw’s support for his European Union reform plan. However, over the holidays, Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said, “Of course, Britain could offer something to Poland in terms of international security.” He went on to complain that “there aren’t, aside from a token presence, any significant allied forces or defense installations, which gives the Russians an excuse to play this region.”

Indeed, as host of the July NATO Summit, Polish President Andrzej Duda will make the issue a priority: “We need a greater presence of NATO in this part of Europe.” He called for allied bases in Poland and said: “We need more guarantees from NATO, not only we as Poland but the whole of central and eastern Europe in the current difficult geopolitical situation.”

No one seriously expects the Dutch, Italians, or Spanish to provide permanent garrisons for Poland. The Germans, who publicly oppose the idea, won’t be coming.

Only Britain and France are realistic candidates, and both reluctantly halted further cuts in their military budget. They aren’t likely to tie up significant combat units in Poland.

Which leaves you-know-who. The United States will be cajoled to continue defending a continent which doesn’t see much need to defend itself.

Last year, NATO-Europe collectively spent about 1.5 percent of GDP, well short of the two percent member objective. Only Estonia, Greece (to confront Turkey), Poland (first time ever), and the United Kingdom made that level.

Even two percent isn’t much if you believe your country is threatened by the authoritarian, aggressive power next door. And Latvia and Lithuania can’t be bothered to spend that much. Turkey also fails the two percent test, despite threatening fellow NATO member Greece, whining about the impact of the Syrian civil war, and shooting down a Russian plane over Syria.

Everyone simply assumes America will do whatever is necessary.

Of course, Russian threats are not as great as the Poles would have others believe. Poland appears secure. Moscow is unpleasantly aggressive, yet its ambitions appear bounded, largely limited to preventing further NATO expansion up to Russia’s borders. Nothing suggests that Vladimir Putin wants Russia to try to digest millions or tens of millions of Georgians and Ukrainians, let alone troublesome Poles living in historically Polish territory. Despite Russian threats against central and eastern Europeans, Moscow lacks the military and economic capability to make those threats credible.

The Baltics, with varying populations of ethnic Russians, also don’t appear to be of much concern to Russia. Attempting to grab a majority-Russian city or other territory would offer few benefits at high cost.

Washington should stop being complicit in the European game of playing the United States. America no longer can afford to defend its populous and prosperous allies.

However, Europe will do nothing so long as America does almost everything. Washington must do less.

If London supports Polish plans for a NATO garrison at the Warsaw Summit, let Britain offer the first troops for that purpose. Anyone else voting yes should be invited to join in too.

As I note in National Interest online: “U.S. officials should note that America remains a bit busy elsewhere—fighting in Afghanistan and the Middle East, garrisoning Japan and South Korea, patrolling the world’s oceans, and maintaining troops all over ‘Old Europe.’ Washington will allow the Europeans to take the lead in their continent’s defense.”

The case for a U.S.-dominated NATO disappeared years ago. The Europeans should discuss how they will defend themselves in the future.

Poland wants to make a deal putting a NATO tripwire on its territory. Washington should make clear that, irrespective of what other nations want, the Americans won’t be coming.

June 23, 2014 12:29PM

NATO — What Is It Good For?

With continuing instability in Ukraine, and Poland’s foreign minister Radek Sikorski allegedly using vulgar and racist language to disparage the US-Poland alliance, now’s as good a time as any to evaluate what NATO does for Americans.

Not much, I argue in Foreign Policy (online). As I conclude:

NATO has produced some benefits, but the costs to the United States -- tens of billions per year, validating Russian nationalist narratives about the West, and infantilizing its European partners -- are often ignored. Washington should cut the Europeans loose, and encourage them to cooperate with each other on European security matters. With a combined GDP larger than the United States and a benign threat environment, Europeans are capable of defending themselves, but won't until Washington makes them.

Please give it a read.

May 5, 2014 5:13PM

Balcerowicz’s Polish Big Bang versus Ukraine

On May 21, 2014, Leszek Balcerowicz will receive the 2014 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty during a dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. The prestigious annual award by the Cato Institute carries with it a well-deserved check for $250,000.

For those who might have forgotten the accomplishments of my long-time friend, allow me to suggest that, in Balcerowicz’s case, a picture is literally worth a thousand words.

But, before the picture, a little background.

In 1989, Balcerowicz became Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister in Eastern Europe’s first non-communist government since World War II. Balcerowicz held these positions from 1989 through 1991, and again from 1997 through 2000. Subsequently, in 2001, he became the Chairman of the National Bank of Poland, a post he held until January 2007.

A student of the “Five P’s”: prior preparation prevents poor performance; Balcerowicz was ready when he first took office in 1989. Indeed, he pulled his comprehensive economic game plan to liberalize and transform the Polish economy out of his desk drawer and proceeded to implement what became known as the “Big Bang”. As they say, the rest is history.

The results of the “Big Bang” speak for themselves in the accompanying chart. Poland’s economy has more than doubled since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1992, growing at an average annual rate of 4.42%.

Media Name: 201405_blog_hanke61.jpg

What about neighboring Ukraine? The contrast with Balcerowicz’s Poland couldn’t be starker. As Oleh Havrylyshyn, the former deputy finance minister of Ukraine, spells out in his classic book – Divergent Paths in Post-Communist Transformation: Capitalism for All or Capitalism for the Few – Ukraine rejected the Big Bang, free-market approach to reform. In consequence, it has taken a road to nowhere, remaining in the shadow of a corrupt communist system.

Unlike Poland’s prosperity, Ukraine has witnessed a post-Soviet contraction in its economy. Yes, the Ukrainian economy has been contracting at a real annual rate of almost 1% since the fall of the Soviet Union. Accordingly, it is smaller today in real terms than it was in 1992.

Many think the International Monetary Fund, which just ponied up $17 billion for Ukraine, will turn things around. Don’t hold your breath. Over the years, the IMF has dispensed its medicine and money in Ukraine with negative results.

When it comes to much-needed liberal economic reforms, one has to do something big; something that captures the public’s imagination and garners wide support. Unfortunately, Ukraine lacks a clear economic game plan – one with wide popular support.

June 12, 2012 3:59PM

Pushing Ukraine Back to the Soviet Union?

Ukraine scored a historic upset in their first Euro 2012 soccer match yesterday, creating a rare celebratory and unifying atmosphere in the country. There had been little good news out of the Ukraine leading up to its co-hosting—with Poland—of the continent’s major soccer championship. Despite achieving independence two decades ago, Ukraine’s political development remains stunted. Ironically, European governments risk pushing Kiev away while attempting to promote democracy there. Such as by Berlin’s threat to block a new political and trade agreement between Ukraine and the European Union.

There’s not a lot to choose from among Ukraine’s leading politicians. However, President Viktor Yanukovich appears to be misusing his power to punish rival Yulia Tymoshenko for political revenge.

In response, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that her nation would boycott the 2012 European Championships. Last month German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also threatened to kill Kiev’s Association Agreement and the Common Economic Space Treaty with the EU. Ukraine is a member of the Eastern Partnership initiative, created three years ago by Brussels.

Ukraine is not the only troubled member of the EP:  Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, and Moldova all have serious human rights issues. However, Nicu Popescu of the European Council on Foreign Relations explained that while Ukraine is not the worst offender among the group, it “is the biggest source of disappointment and bad news.” As a result, warned Jana Kobzova, also at the Council, “More and more EU states are asking why should we want the Ukraine closer to the EU when its political system is increasingly incompatible with the values the EU preaches?”

It’s a fair question, but the alternative is Kiev slipping closer to orbit around Russia. Yanukovich originally was viewed as Moscow’s candidate, since he represented Russophone speakers. However, in office he put his nation first. He has refused to join Russia’s Customs Union (which also includes Belarus and Kazakhstan) and turn over control of Ukraine’s natural gas to Moscow. But because of resistance in Brussels, Yanukovich last month declared a “strategic pause” in Ukraine’s relations with the EU. In fact, Foreign Minister Konstantin Grishenko said his nation would no longer seek full EU membership.

Germany and the other EU members should moderate their ambitions. None of the Eastern Partnership members were on the fast-track to EU membership. The systems were too different and the geographic distances were too great. Even before Kiev disappointed its European friends people were talking of a 20-year accession process. And enlargement fatigue had not yet afflicted Brussels, with disappointment over the performance of Bulgaria and Romania, resistance to Turkey’s membership, and reluctance to quickly include the rest of the Balkans.

Instead of viewing Ukraine as a candidate member to be transformed, the Europeans should treat Ukraine as an errant friend to be reformed. Closer ties should be developed, allowing more criticism to be delivered with greater effect. The association agreement between the EU and Kiev obviously is important economically to Ukraine. It also may be the best vehicle to help pull Kiev back to a more democratic course.

Cross-posted from the Skeptics at the National Interest.

May 23, 2011 10:10AM

Let Europe Be — and Defend — Europe

In the midst of difficult domestic political battles, Barack Obama begins a lengthy European trip today.  He should encourage the continent to increase its defense capabilities and take on greater regional security responsibilities.

Presidential visits typically result in little of substance.  President Obama’s latest trip will be no different if he reinforces the status quo.  His policy mantra once was “change.”  No where is “change” more necessary than in America’s foreign policy, especially towards Europe.

Despite obvious differences spanning the Atlantic, the U.S. and European relationship remains extraordinarily important.  The administration should press for increased economic integration, with lower trade barriers and streamlined regulations to encourage growth.

At the same time, however, Washington should encourage development of a European-run NATO with which the U.S. can cooperate to promote shared interests to replace today’s America-dominated NATO which sacrifices American interests to defend Europe.  Americans no longer can afford to defend the rest of the world.  The Europeans no longer need to be defended.

Although World War II ended 66 years ago, the Europeans remain strangely dependent on America.  Political integration through the European Union has halted; economic integration through the Euro is under sharp challenge; and military integration through any means is reversing.

Indeed, the purposeless war in Libya, instigated by Great Britain and France, has dramatically demonstrated Europe’s military weakness.  Despite possessing a collective GDP and population greater than that of America, the continent’s largest powers are unable to dispatch a failed North African dictator.

President Barack Obama starts with visits to Ireland,  the UK, and France.  In the latter he will consult with the heads of the G8 nations, which include Germany and Italy.

His message should be clear:  while America will remain politically and economically engaged in Europe, it will no longer take on responsibility for setting boundaries in the Balkans, policing North Africa, and otherwise defending prosperous industrial states from diminishing threats.  Washington should expect the continent to become a full partner, which means promoting the security of its members and stability of its region.

The president should deliver a similar message when he continues on to Poland.  Part of “New Europe,” which worries more about the possibility of revived Russian aggression, Warsaw has cause to spend more on its own defense and cooperate more closely with its similarly-minded neighbors on security issues.

In fact, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, members of the “Visegrad Group,” recently announced creation of a “battle group” separate from NATO command to emphasize regional defense.  The president should welcome this willingness to take on added defense responsibilities.

August 31, 2010 5:42PM

Travel after the Fall of the Iron Curtain

In the sumer of 1992, I lived and studied in Prague. I was keen on seeing life in Eastern Europe after the end of Soviet domination.

It was invigorating to think that my local law professor headed over the Vltava River in the afternoons to work on the new constitution in the Prague Castle. It was fascinating to learn of the "lustration" process by which participants in Soviet-era wrongs were penalized but not ostracized. Out of habit, no Czechs ever talked on the subway. Americans did.

There were other reminders of the old order. My overnight train to Katowice, Poland, from which I planned a connection to Krakow, stopped in the middle of nowhere. In the pitch black night, the sound of border guards throwing open train compartments and making demands in a foreign tongue brought forth fearsome movie-memories of life under totalitarianism.

They pulled a young man from my compartment and took him off the train. I don't remember if it was a Central or South American passport, but it was one that doesn't afford its bearer the luxury of easy international travel that Americans enjoy.

I honestly don't remember if he was allowed back on the train. I'm just glad that era is over.

November 9, 2009 11:25AM

It All Began In Poland, 1939 – 1989

The fall of the Berlin Wall twenty years ago today is rightly being celebrated in Germany as a momentous historical event that led to a huge increase in human freedom around the world. The wall was indeed the most visible physical symbol of an inhumane system that divided Germany and Europe, holding captive hundreds of millions of people.

At a seminar in Wroclaw, Poland hosted by the Polish Adam Smith Center last month, I was reminded that the Poles correctly view their country as playing a central role in the 20th century drama of totalitarian aggression and eventual liberation. As the title of a book I was given suggests—It All Began In Poland—the country’s invasion by Nazi Germany, which sparked World War II, and the invasion and partial occupation by the Soviet Union almost immediately thereafter signaled what was in store for much of Europe. Similarly, the peaceful revolution of freedom that culminated in the collapse of communism was symbolized and pushed forward early on by Poland’s heroic Solidarity movement.

People from all parts of the former Soviet empire deserve recognition and admiration for their efforts and sacrifices in promoting freedom. As we reflect on this momentous day, let’s remember the special role the Poles played in making the world a better place.