May 5, 2023 - 7:15am

Poland’s uniquely bloody modern history makes it more sensitive than most countries to threats from its neighbours. The deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, can’t have helped matters with his recent Twitter outburst, in which he said:

I see no point in maintaining diplomatic relations with Poland. This state must not exist for us while there is no one but Russophobes in power and Ukraine is full of Polish mercenaries, who should be ruthlessly exterminated like stinky rats.
- Dmitry Medvedev

In these circumstances, Poland’s massive programme of rearmament, including a £1.9bn deal for British CAMMs air defence missiles last week, is hard to argue against. Having upped its defence budget to $30bn — at 4.25% of GDP the highest proportion in all of NATO — Poland is on a frantic spending spree that will entirely reshape the balance of power in Europe. From 250 American M1A2 Abrams tanks on order to 500 HIMARS as well as 96 Apache attack helicopters, by the end of the decade Poland will possess by some margin Europe’s most powerful land army. This means that, for the first time since the 18th century — and once again concerned with vital strategic interests in Ukraine’s wide plains — Poland is on the verge of becoming a great power.

Given Russia’s lacklustre performance in Ukraine so far, the scale of acquisitions might seem like overkill, though Poland’s military leadership isn’t taking any chances. The chief of the Polish General Staff, General Rajmund Andrzejczak, remarked earlier this year that Russia has the resources to drag the war out for another two years before facing significant logistics challenges, by which time the West’s already dwindling supply of materiel available for Ukraine may have long run out. In those circumstances, money is no object, whether or not the Polish economy can take the strain. “We just took our suitcases with money and [are] going like Hell around the world and trying to buy,” Andrzejczak told journalists late last year, “It’s not a matter of money. I’ve got money. I’ve got big money.”

And if money buys weapons, weapons buy power. With no swift conclusion in sight for the Ukraine war, Poland — already set to expand its nuclear power supply with American financial support, and keen to produce as much of its new weaponry as it can on its own soil — looks set to become Europe’s industrial as well as military powerhouse, awash in abundant energy funded by cheap credit. The already fraught relationship with a Germany undergoing a self-inflicted Morgenthau Plan through its abandonment of nuclear energy will alter even more dramatically in coming decades when Poland surpasses its neighbour. 

Similarly, frosty relations with Macron’s France will have to manage Poland’s assumption of the country’s self-appointed role as the vanguard of European defence. There’s a great irony here: while Poland loudly rejects French dreams of European strategic autonomy, the result of such a strong and self-reliant power guarding Europe’s eastern marches will be to allow America to focus more of its own resources and attention on the looming contest in the Pacific. In another great unintended consequence of Putin’s war, the Poles may hate Macron’s vision, but by finally enabling Europe to fend for itself, they’re hurrying it along.

Aris Roussinos is an UnHerd columnist and a former war reporter.