by Luka Ivan Jukic
Tuesday, 5
April 2022
Explainer
17:58

The new Polish militarism

Spooked by Ukraine, Poland is committing its resources to defence
by Luka Ivan Jukic
Waiting for Putin. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

For most of its history, Poland has found itself along the boundaries of what we think of as Europe. Today it once again finds itself on Europe’s eastern border, a bulwark of the institutionalised West in the form of Nato and the European Union in the face of a revanchist Russia. For decades the country has warned its allies of the danger posed by Russia. For decades its worries fell on deaf ears.

Now it seems its allies have finally come around, but Poland is leaving nothing to chance. On March 18th, it passed the “Homeland Defence Act.” It will raise Polish military spending to at least 3% of GDP next year, while doubling the size of the army to 300,000 soldiers.


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Quite remarkably for the bitterly divided country, it was passed unanimously in both the lower and upper houses of Parliament. Its purpose is unambiguous: to build up a Polish army that can deter further Russian aggression in eastern Europe and, if need be, defend the country from a conventional land invasion by Russia.

Long before this year’s invasion, Poland has been taking its defence seriously. Last year it purchased hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of Turkish drones (the first Nato country to do so), acquired advanced American Abrams tanks (specifically designed to counter Russian armour), and began building comprehensive air defence systems. These are just a few examples of how Poland has been revamping its military over the past decade in response to Russia’s acts of aggression.

It also re-founded its own Territorial Defence Forces in 2017 in reaction to the first Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014. The importance of Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Forces in the country’s defence seems to vindicate Poland’s decision to revive the force that was disbanded in 2008 as part of the Polish military’s modernisation program. Since the invasion, the number of Poles applying to join it has increased seven-fold. Even gun ranges have seen a boom in business.

Poland is militarising fast. Millions of Ukrainians fleeing their country have impressed upon Poles a strong feeling that they may be next. State and society are both preparing accordingly. Poland is much smaller than Russia, but it is also much richer than Ukraine, and has much more powerful allies.

Singular among them is the United States, making it unsurprising that Poland is the most pro-American country in the EU. Nonetheless, Poland is relying neither on Nato’s Article 5 nor on its alliance with the US as the sole guarantor of its security. It is instead building up a military equipped and trained to repulse a Russian invasion like the one we are watching in Ukraine today.

A little over one hundred years ago, a beleaguered Polish army defeated Trotsky’s Red Army in a series of battles that came to be known as the miracle on the Vistula. The battle saved Polish statehood and halted the westward march of the Soviets.

Poland is preparing to do it again, if need be, but this time it would rather not rely on miracles. While Russia is unlikely to test NATO’s commitment to the Baltic states or Poland in the near future, Poland is doing all it can to ensure that if it ever does, its struggles in Ukraine will pale in comparison to the defence that would be mounted by a well-trained, well-equipped, and no less motivated Polish military. Europe can sleep easy knowing that Poland is taking the security of its eastern flank seriously.

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Bill W
Bill W
8 months ago

Well done, Poland, a country the UK could learn from.

Last edited 8 months ago by Bill W
Ed Cameron
Ed Cameron
8 months ago

Hmm… perhaps sleep a little more easy / easily

Michael K
Michael K
8 months ago
Reply to  Ed Cameron

I will rephrase: I do like the idea of a solid defense, but the Polish president currently seems to intend to start a bigger war.

Last edited 8 months ago by Michael K
David Kingsworthy
David Kingsworthy
8 months ago

the bitterly divided country” — sorry, what is the nature of the bitter division in Poland?

Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago

Basically between those who agree with everything EU says and does (mostly voters of PO whose leader is Donald Tusk) and those who, while in favour of EU, regard certain areas of policy as outside of EU remit.
One example are judicial appointments.
In wider context it is battle between social and cultural liberals and conservatives over issues like abortion and LGBT.
This unity around defence and foreign policy re Russia is fairly new.
The PO government under Donald Tusk from 2007 to 2015 was quite passive towards Russia aggression in Georgia and Crimea with some cynic claiming it was just following orders from Berlin.

rick stubbs
rick stubbs
8 months ago

Militarism seems a little clic baited. Let us say the Poles plan to defend themselves very actively against a former oppressor and occupier state. The Germans have neutered themselves militarily for years, along with many other EU states. NATO is a alliance of military powers but it’s most cherished strategy is hiding behind US arms. If you want to survive nationally in a tough neighborhood, build a national army. It isn’t complicated.
I would note that the former Polish Lithuanian empire included Belarus and Western Ukraine prior to the Russian empire’s encroachment in the late 1700’s. The Russian  historical claim to these regions is less valid than Poland’s. This UKR special operation is basically a re-colonial strategy originally advanced by the Czars and extended by the Red Army in WW2. They want passive client states like Belarus but only weak states must comply.
As the author notes, the Poles routed the new Red Army in 1922. Putin et al might recall that event. And they must know now, if not 60 days ago, that their Russian army could be no match for a rearmed German/Polish/EU force supported by US. An army that can’t roll up Eastern UKR with the advantages of flanking positions, short supply lines and safe harbor from Air Force bombing of staging areas, supply bases and armored columns is a weak force and growing weaker. Russia is in danger of becoming a rump state which issues nuclear threats – like N Korea.

Last edited 8 months ago by rick stubbs
Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
7 months ago

I don’t think that *militarism* is the right word for a country bang next to Russia (or it’s sock puppet Belarus anyway) seeing what’s going on and deciding to beef up its defences.
It has become loaded..loaded onto a bandwagon with right-wing, far right, even further far right, and fascism that old fashioned Marxists, now less happy to speak their name, clatter around on.