In 2005, President George W. Bush asserted that "Poland has been a fantastic ally." Since its rapid democratization and accession to NATO, Poland has shared the burden of addressing the West's most pressing international challenges. Poland has supported America's global leadership role and has helped to expand security in unstable and unfriendly parts of the world. Wherever America is doing good in the world, Poland is not far behind.
As one of the four leading countries in the coalition of the willing, Poland has been present in Iraq from the outset of Operation Iraqi Freedom and continues to participate in stabilization and reconstruction efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Poland maintains 900 troops in Iraq and has committed an additional 900 soldiers to fight in Afghanistan. When fighting for freedom and liberty, America has a trusted ally in Poland; and as a medium-sized European power with ambitions to project power globally, Poland is a friend worth having.
Tensions in the Relationship. However, as with the rapid maturation of any relationship, tensions have emerged. It is essential that both sides recognize that significant sources of tension exist and have the potential to become longer-term conflicts if left unaddressed.
To project power internationally, Poland must have a modern military that is able to participate fully in global affairs. Its military modernization program has not, however, been without problems, especially in the context of Polish-American relations. A source of continued diplomatic angst on the part of the Poles is the U.S. Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program, which is heavily skewed in favor of less helpful partners in the war on terrorism. For its part, the Administration believes that Poland has already received considerable U.S. financing for military modernization through an enormous program of security assistance.
Under the current Visa Waiver Program (VWP), most visitors from 27 partner nations--primarily members of the European Union (EU)--are allowed to enter the United States for up to 90 days without a visa if they have valid passports from their countries. Poland is not in the VWP, and this has proved contentious for two countries that share such warm bilateral relations.
With the advent of easier travel within Europe, the Polish government faces a serious task in convincing Poles that the transatlantic alliance is at least as relevant as the EU to everyday life and its national interest. Yet Poland should be wary of Brussels' gravitational pull because closer ties with Brussels will come at the expense of its relationship with the U.S. and, ultimately, its national interest.
Strengthening the Relationship. The Polish- American relationship will require hard-edged, decisive leadership on both sides of the Atlantic to take it forward in a positive manner. There are certainly areas for further cooperation.
One of the strongest ties that bind the Polish- American relationship is mutual support for freedom and liberty throughout the world. The absence of national caveats for Polish troops in combat, unlike the majority of European forces in Afghanistan, illustrates that Poland is not just an ally of America, but a fighting one. This security relationship has proved mutually beneficial on a multitude of levels--strategically, economically, and diplomatically.
Under the current direction of Polish foreign policy, the U.S. invariably benefits from Polish support in a number of areas pertaining to freedom and security, including the promotion of democracy in Europe's near East. To maintain a working relationship with the United States that can successfully pursue a freedom and security agenda, Poland must continue to resist pressure for deeper integration into EU structures such as the Common Foreign and Security Policy and must commit to the transatlantic security alliance, wholeheartedly approaching negotiations regarding the most cost-effective way to manage international missile defense.
What the Administration and Congress Should Do. Specifically, the Administration and Congress should:
Prioritize continued close political and military cooperation with Poland. Through reorientation of the Foreign Military Financing program and extension of the International Military Education and Training Program, the U.S. would ensure that Poland continues the comprehensive modernization of its military in line with the U.S.-Polish Defense Transformation Initiative, which would be propitious to U.S. interests.
Reemphasize NATO's primacy as the premier security alliance in Europe. Washington must resist any plans to divide, marginalize, or undermine the NATO alliance, especially EU plans for a European Army or any separate military identity independent of NATO decision making.
Work with Poland to broadly explore all options on ballistic missile defense. The United States should continue to pursue national missile defense and undertake the most cost-effective options to maintain its security and that of its allies.
Increase people-to-people exchanges between the U.S. and Poland by revising the Visa Waiver Program. People-to-people exchanges are an important element of public diplomacy, and an updated Visa Waiver Program must not exclude key allies like Poland.
Arrange for President Bush to make an official state visit to Warsaw sooner rather than later. Top-level bilateral contacts are critical and especially important to the current Polish government in building trust and cooperation.
Conclusion. Poland is one of a handful of EU member states that understand the long-term challenges posed by the war on terrorism and has not shied away from the responsibilities facing modern nation-states and the international community. The Bush Administration should take active steps to tighten the strategic partnership with Poland, and Warsaw should seek to maximize its relationship with Washington. Poland is a relatively new player on the world stage and has some way to go before realizing its potential as a European power. The United States can help and should reciprocate at least some measure of the political capital invested by Poland in upholding transatlantic interests on the Continent.
Sally McNamara is Senior Policy Analyst in European Affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.