Thursday, June 02, 2011

Poland as a Frontline of Russo-Western Rivalries

President Barack Obama went on a trip to Europe at the end of this May, starting from Ireland, Britain, France, and Poland. Jan Techau, Director the European Centre of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, comments that his visit to Poland has more important security implications than the bilateral strategic discussion on Libya in Britain and the Deauville Summit of G8 in France.

It is no exaggeration to say that history of Poland is history of Europe from the 20th century onward. World War Ⅱ began from here. The Anglo-Soviet clash on Poland during the war grew into the Cold War. The Solidarity movement led by Lech Walesa was a precursor of the Berlin Wall fall down. Poland is in such a critical position in the Russo-Western geopolitical rivalry. According to Techau, Obama’s visit to Poland is expected to ease widespread anxieties among Central European nations that the United States resets relations with Russia at the expense of newly expanded NATO members in the east. Reassuring American security umbrella to the Eastern fringe will help the trans-Atlantic Alliance become more integrated. In the eyes of Poland, Obama’s decision to withdraw missile defense systems from there appears conciliatory to Russia. In order to soothe Poland, a squadron of US fighters will be stationed there from 2013. As Techau argues, a staunch alliance between America and Europe is the key to world peace and stability. Despite the rise of emerging economies, it is only the West that can make principles, ideas, and mechanisms of global policymaking (“Doing Geopolitics in Eastern Europe”; Carnegie Commentary; May 25, 2011). Obama’s visit to Poland poses significant implications to the Western alliance and power games with Russia.

Currently, the Russo-Western relationship is extremely delicate and complex. On one hand, both sides are deepening security cooperation as cited in the declaration of NATO Lisbon Summit last November. On the other hand, they are at odds with fundamental visions of global policymaking. While the West wants to promote a liberal world order, Russia envisions a multipolar and multi-valued world. Also, geopolitical rivalries between Russia and the West are still substantial. At Deauville, just before President Obama’s visit to Poland, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev demanded assurance that missile interceptors were not targeted on Russia while endorsing NATO led attack to Libya to oust Khadafy. See the Video below.





Mark Brzezinski, foreign policy advisor in Obama’s presidential election campaign, comments that it takes a long time to improve Russo-Polish relations because disagreements on the massacre of Katyn Forest. Strains between both countries deters the US-Russian reset, he says (“Obama, Poland, and Russia”; New York Times; May 26, 2011). As in the last century, Brzezinski’s article suggests that Poland is a key country of Russo-Western geopolitics in the 21st century. At the press conference after the bilateral talks with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, President Obama applauded Poland a model for democracy to Arab nations. Also, he assured US defense involvement in Poland. See the video below.





Russia was not the only agenda at the Obama-Tusk meeting. Along with economic issues like energy and trade, and security in Afghanistan, civil society repression in Belarus was discussed (“Warsaw visit concludes Obama’s four-nation European trip” Washington Post; May 29, 2011). Security in Eastern Europe is still volatile.

The Deauville Summit may have advanced the Russo-Western reset and deepened trans-Atlantic ties, but this détente has not eased East-West geopolitical tensions completely. Therefore, we need continual attention to NATO’s eastern frontiers such as Poland, Czech, and Romania, and former Soviet republics.