Trans-Pacific View author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject-matter experts, policy practitioners, and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into U.S. Asia policy. This conversation with Mariusz Rukat – Lieutenant-Colonel of the Polish Army reserve, formerly an analyst at the Ministry of National Defense in the field of political and military cooperation between the Ministry of Defense and the Polish Armed Forces with China, Japan, North Korea, and the U.S. and deputy defense attaché at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Beijing (2008 – 2012) – the 179th in “The Trans-Pacific View Insight Series.”
How is Warsaw balancing Poland’s national interests vis-à-vis the U.S. and China?
Poland’s national interests contained in its relations with U.S. and China arise from a wide array of challenges to comprehensive security, focused first on its Eastern sphere of political engagement – i.e. enhancing political and possibly military allied instruments in defense against aggressive policies of Russia, and, second, on facilitating economic development – building stronger relations with China.
While publicly extoled, Chinese economic concepts (the Belt and Road and “16+1” format) for many reasons turned out to be too difficult and to some extent elusive for Poland. Economically, it’s become clear that the Chinese initiative lacks the required transparency of procedures, doesn’t properly address intellectual propriety rights, and that these “partners” possess completely different modes of business culture.
Politically, other countries of the region are not interested in recognizing a (wishful) leading role for Warsaw, and prefer to talk with Beijing directly, and countries of old Europe are not especially happy with Chinese “16+1” focus on the new markets of Central and Eastern Europe [CEE]. Additionally, with Washington’s trade war in progress, the economic approach of Beijing to CEE has become a deeply political – an initiative that should have helped Beijing to establish a “camp of the willing” in opposition to Donald Trump’s anti-China economic quest.
Strategically, on the U.S.-China-Russia frontier, Warsaw seems to focus on the first principle: enhancing a hard security structure in countering Russia that would rest on a close and reliable alliance of Poland with the U.S., building stronger military capabilities (through enhanced American presence) in this part of Europe, and consolidating political awareness and commitments of NATO for this goal. With “Russia’s threat” and the priority of political-military buildup, Warsaw has turned away from the “China option,” deciding to bind itself with Washington’s hardline policy on China, which refers to Chinese Eurasian concepts (BRI) as “challenging to U.S. and allied interests and the international rules-based order predicated on open markets and democratic, transparent governance,” according to the 2018 Report to Congress of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
Explain Warsaw’s position on Huawei’s market access in Poland in the broader context of national security concerns.
Economically, in 2018 Huawei has overtaken Apple as the second largest smartphone producer, now being second only to Samsung, on global markets. At the same time, Huawei has captured 29.5 percent of the smartphone market in Poland. As a company in a strategic sector in China subject to the supervision of state organs, Huawei might exercise deep influence within ICT instruments and networks vital for transfer and shaping the information environment in other countries. Traditionally, in the eyes of Washington’s military these assets are strategically important to keep a superior position at the “phase zero operation level” – “shaping the choices of countries at strategic crossroads” ̶ in support of operational concepts in cyberspace.
In the security category, Huawei like any company having at its disposal deep technological impact may create substantial uncertainty on the field of information security and exercise wide social-political influence within foreign populations, if not properly addressed by national security entities entitled to monitor standards and the nature of technology introduced to the territory of a country. And actually British agencies have been declared to have positive capability to deal with this issue.
Russia and China did not attend the recent U.S.-Poland-led ministerial on Middle East security in Warsaw. Assess how Moscow and Beijing view Poland’s close cooperation with the U.S. on geopolitical challenges.
Even if in the realm of foreign policy of Russia or China, Poland (at best) might be perceived as an important pillar of the regional theater, acts like the U.S.-Poland-led ministerial on Middle East security in Warsaw will not be seen as autonomous policy choices. Therefore, Warsaw’s Middle East security conference, even as a clumsy diplomatic act, was meant to signal Poland’s exceptional position in Europe and readiness to establish itself as an axis of global policy issues, even as it would not be met with enthusiasm by the capitals of France and Germany.
At the same time, elements of “historical memory” (i.e. historical irritations between Poles and Ukrainians, and the highly sensitive issues between Poland and Israel), which become inseparable determinants of the foreign policy of Poland, highly complicate wider cooperative policy within the region that could be enhanced or coordinated by Warsaw, i.e. the support of political transformation in Ukraine.
Such acts definitely serve the interests of Russia – they disrupt cohesion of the political stand of the alliance, including the American will of stronger engagement on Eastern Flank of NATO. And Beijing, if it had cherished expectations that Poland wanted to operate more strongly within the bilateral strategic agenda, facing with the publicized arrest of a Huawei executive on espionage allegations, and Poland identifying China and Russia as main global threats to liberal order, clearly understood Warsaw’s doomed long-term political vision.
Explain Polish President Andrzej Duda’s strategic calculus in supporting the United States despite growing U.S.-EU discord.
Consciously or not, Poland plays a role in vertical U.S. strategy toward China and Russia. And, if Poland properly realigns its foreign and defence policy, Warsaw could define itself as a strong pivot of global attention, particularly in a wider approach to Russia, and an indirect regional policy towards China.
Nevertheless, it looks like Warsaw has not prioritized a catalogue of operational threats emanating from Russia, and has not established an ordered strategy of response so far. Russia seems conscious that a stronger act of aggression against a consolidated NATO camp would put it into an even worse international position. Russia’s paradox today relies on the fact, that while the disappearance of the Soviet Union diluted the cohesive force that for decades held the alliance together, acts reinvigorating the power of the lost Russian Empire gives NATO a major raison d’etre.
Meanwhile, with Donald Trump’s contractual approach to collective security, Western European countries, particularly Germany, more and more loudly voice uncertainty about the American security umbrella – for example at the Munich conference in 2018 and 2019. Poland visibly prefers the tougher stance of Washington rather than Germany’s policy towards Russia.
The strategic calculus of political choices of President Andrzej Duda (if any) probably originates from the sense of growing insecurity and substantial weakness of the European community. As the EU is today a weaker “small power” we can hear the growing voices of France and Germany distancing their policies form Washington and determined to conceive a new formula of Europe. On this background, Warsaw has decided to ally with the strongest international player – the United States. Theoretically, this choice could allow Poland to distance itself from the growing European interplay, and keep the U.S. engaged inside a multivector policy in Europe. Nevertheless, such policy would require employing smart diplomacy to keep Poland’s economic interests safe and enhancing the politically EU-focused posture of Warsaw.
Compare and contrast Poland and U.S. strategic interests related to China’s growing influence in 5G technology.
Poland’s (indirect) rejection of China’s 5G technology goes against the country’s economic interests. Better and wider access to information and higher speed of its transportation as offered by the 5G technology is of high importance to the robust development of vital sectors of the economy, i.e., e-commerce and finance. China may deliver elements of this infrastructure as a quickly available solution — evidently before U.S. companies would be able to do so. On present background, Warsaw might find itself left aside – and shouldn’t be surprised with the prospects of drifts and bargains in long-term Sino-American relations.
With its policy focused on Eastern Europe, Poland seems to lose sight of the U.S global strategic process with the goal of maintaining supremacy and the political and economic counterbalancing of Chinese influence. As Poland has entered into the deep shadow of relations between Washington, Beijing, and Moscow, Warsaw should carefully calculate its policy of distancing and discouraging European partners and disregarding the weight and range of the second-biggest world economy.