Ever since the Obama administration took office there has been speculation that the US government is planning to offer Russia a ‘Grand Bargain”: exchanging the planned European based missile defense system that the Bush administration was going to install in the Czech Republic and Poland for Russian cooperation in dealing with Iran. So far there is no sign that this has happened, but there have been enough signs pointing in this direction to make the Czechs and Poles nervous. It is not as if these nations did not have long and bitter experience with being betrayed by powerful Western nations.
In July 2009 Poland decided to sign an industrial cooperation agreement to develop and build the Franco-European Aster system. Implicitly, this is a rejection of the US Patriot and THAAD (Theater High Altitude Air Defense) systems. For Warsaw to buy an unproven system with few users and that will present any number of difficulties integrating into the US global missile defense network is a sign of just how much credibility has been lost by Washington.
What the Polish government may not realize is that by choosing to place so much of its future security in the hands of the French, it is undermining NATO in ways that may prove fatal. Historically Poland has often managed to undermine its own dangerous geopolitical position by failing to maintain friendly and reliable relationships with non-German and non-Russian great powers. Its inability to play a constructive role in the “Little Entente” of the 1920s and 1930s contributed to the destruction of Czechoslovakia in 1938-1939, and to the outbreak of the Second World War.
If Poland really is switching its allegiance from NATO to the EU, as the Aster deal would indicate, they may be endangering their hard-won independence, obtained at the cost of much suffering and blood in 1989. Do they really imagine that France and its German partner will ever do a better job of standing up to Russia than the US? One only has to look at who controls the gas pipelines to see the answer.
Poland’s move may simplify the case for a US withdrawal from NATO and a move to the “Full Dolman,” named for Evertt Dolman’s radical proposed US strategy laid out in his book Astropolik in which he proposed that the US abandon most of its overseas bases and a good bit of its sea, land and air forces in favor of largely space-based military power. These would not only include anti-satellite and space-based missile defense systems but also Space to Earth weapons.
If there is no reason to maintain a protective shield over Eastern Europe, then there is no reason to maintain expensive bases in places like Germany, Italy and the UK. For Russia this will present an opportunity to move aggressively to recapture as much of the former Soviet Empire as possible. We already saw this happening in Georgia in 2008. In the absence of US military power, this may be followed by actions against the Ukraine, the Baltic states and eventually Poland.
Russia may imagine that it has to move soon as its demographic meltdown will prevent it from attacking anyone anywhere in twenty or thirty years. On the other hand, with new sources of human capital, especially conscripts, it will have much stronger mobilization base. Even if the new troops are less than willing, they will still be useful, either as ‘cannon fodder’ or, if properly recruited and trained, as Janissaries.
This would negate George Freidman of “Stratfor’s” estimate that in the mid 21st century Poland will become a great power in its own right, allied with the US. His idea that Poland could revive its 16th century role as the dominant force in Eastern Europe only made sense as long as Warsaw remained close to Washington. If they choose to follow the EU, all bets are off.
One problem for the Poles is that they lack a vibrant and well financed military R & D sector. As long as they stayed close to the US and to a lesser extent Israel, they could have access to the most advanced military systems in the world. But by going with France and Germany, they will have access to a source of expensive but relatively backward weapons and systems from industries that are not backed up by the kind of massive budgets in the U.S.
A nation in Poland’s precarious geopolitical position needs a technologically advanced military. By going with a second-rate system such as the Aster, which in any case will not be ready for many years, they have chosen to put themselves at risk. While they may think they have gotten a good deal from the French, they may come to regret it, just as Israel came to regret its military relationship with France after the post 1967 embargo.
Poland’s decision may only make sense if the leaders there have already decided to begin work on their own national nuclear weapons program, and if France has decided to secretly help them with it. Chirac would never have risked angering Russia by doing something like this, but Sarkozy just might. That would fit in with France’s traditional friendliness towards nuclear proliferators, such as China and Israel in the 1950s and 1960s, and more recently, Iran and Iraq. Such a deal would appall France’s German partner, but on such issues France has long refused to pay attention to anyone else.