There will be no war with Russia, say Czech and Polish experts

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Tento článek je součástí Special reportu: Czech-Polish visions on the future of the EU

The major security threat for Poland and the countries on the Eastern flank of the EU and NATO is the aggressive politics of the Russian Federation. Czech Republic’s experts don’t mention Russia in the front line. What they point at is rather the dissolution of the world order before our very eyes.

Who is afraid of Russia?

Main security and defence threats for Poland are, first and foremost, the aggressive policy of the Russian Federation, unstable neighbourhood on NATO’s Eastern and Southern flanks and terrorism, at least according to 2017’ Concept of Defence of the Republic of Poland prepared by the Ministry of National Defence. Also, Tomasz Smura from Pulaski Foundation and Warsaw Security Forum points at Russia as the major threat in the military but also broader non-militarily context of disrupting the vulnerable world order.

Russia appears as a threat in public space all the time – people see that it undertakes war games at EU’s doorstep scaring especially Baltic states, then it carries war games with China waging its finger at the West in this double scope. It conducts cyberattacks at the US, intelligence assault on Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in Hague, further, it manipulates social media and spreads disinformation.

However, general Waldemar Skrzypczak offers consolation. In his view, there will be no war. There’s no military threat for Poland – and in EU countries accordingly – as “powers that run economic expansion don’t want a war, since it would end this expansion process”. Answering the question on why the people are so scared of Russia in Poland he said: “Because of the Russian propaganda”. This propaganda is multiplied by the media that looks for clickable content and by politicians who well know the power of fear. While Vladimir Putin also well knows, he would lose that war and “Russia would never be again as it is now – that is… Putin’s,” said Skrzypczak.

The second major threat has more existential nature. It is about the disintegration of the world order as we know it. This threatening reality is shared by the Czechs. Why this dissolution is something we should tackle, following Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union’s call for the EU to be “architects” of the world order in statu nascendi?

Because “these institutions have up until now enabled us, although often not ideally, to deal with problems in a relatively cheap and painless way. This all thanks to a number of regional organizations, the EU in Europe, and globally thanks to NATO and the UN,” says Tomáš Weiss from Faculty of Social Sciences at Charles University

He adds that the current situation when nation states no longer respect international law will lead to less stable World constellation, more frequent regional conflicts and problems connected to them, like failing states and uncontrollable migration waves.

For Ondřej Ditrych from Institute of International Relations Prague decreasing role of multilateralism and efforts of some “big players” to propose alternative, partly revisionist models of World constellation represent the biggest threats. “An assertive spreading of influence and undermining trust in political and public institutions are connected to this as well,” analyst explains.

In this context, the West – European Union and the Transatlantic alliance – instead of elbowing its way to achieving the status of the world power status surrenders to self-disintegration. Major forces that inspire and also buttress this process are the unpredictable but predictably protectionist and nativist “Twittocracy” of Donald Trump, the US-China spiralling trade war that can herald a new recession, alienation of Iran which due to the potentially rising oil prices can lead to the same effect as the aforementioned trade war. Tomasz Smura also mentions the unhealed challenge of the migratory pressure onto Europe, a side-effect of the now suffocating Syrian war.

Last but not least, this dissolution is effectively fuelled by Russia as well – which general Skrzypczak poins out. “Putin has been meddling in Europe and Europe is falling apart because of him. He is the major enemy of the West, according to his effective doctrine: if I upset the West, I will upset NATO too. And in this context it’s worth to realise that neither Viktor Orbán nor Slovakia’s president Andrej Kiska play in the V4 team, but in the Kremlin’s team,” general said. Also Czech president Miloš Zeman is very well known for his pro-Russian sympathies – for example he was defending Russia after the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Great Britain.

In Ditrych’s opinion manifestations of political violence, often marked as terrorism, need to be mentioned too. “But at the same time, disproportionate measures restricting liberties of citizens represent a threat for liberal states as well,” Ditrych thinks. Here, Smura points out that despite the terrorist challenge has decreased, this situation might reverse, as the radical islamists that went to fight in Syria might be willing to come back to the West as the conflict ends.

Ditrych also mentions challenges like human-caused changes of the climate, which currently play their part in destabilizing less developed parts of the World and could affect Europe in the future.

What can Poland and Czech Republic do about these threats?

Neither Poland not Czech Republic can deal with these challenges alone. “Therefore we should focus on being a reliable ally in the European as well as the Transatlantic security framework,” said Ditrych for Czechs but this approach seems rational also for Poland and other EU members.

Smura sees a big potential for Poland in consolidating the West by running a wise mediation between the EU and the US. Meaning, not bilaterally as we seem to do today which only adds up to the present divisions, but on behalf of the whole European community.

But we also need sufficient military resources and a political will to use them in EU and NATO operations.

Poland invests in its military power. However, despite some ideas like territorial defence which might support it in potential hybrid assaults, say, at Polish borders or in case of actual terrorist or just local criminal raids, make sense, it is all about implementation. “The devil’s in the details,” Smura commented. In his view, it is important to invest in modernization of the conventional army and military equipment, which is now limited due to draining of the financial reserves for the above mentioned territorial defence troops.

Smura also adds – and this claim is also valid for Czechs and all EU countries both individually and in regional groupings – that despite it is good that we spend more on security and defence, we can never spend enough to withstand potential threat from Russia.

Main strategic partners

For both Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Czech Ministry of Defence, ensuring national security requires simultaneous action in three complementary dimensions: allied – based on NATO and the EU, regional – both mention the Visegrad Group, and national – aimed at significantly strengthening own defence capabilities.

There are some differences in strategic partnership outlook for both countries though. Poland, along with NATO and the EU, points at maintaining close relations with the USA, our historical ally, at least on the declarative level – and in terms of military business cooperation as well. On the regional level Poland, along with the V4 mentions also Romania, as well as the Baltic and Nordic countries, for an active Eastern policy. On the other hand, Czechs list Germany as an important pillar of their regional defence cooperation, along with the V4. “The Czech Republic also has two-sided defence cooperation with other countries. In this way, we can improve abilities of our armed forces and learn to cooperate with others during European and Transatlantic military activities,” says the spokesman of the Ministry of Defence Jan Pejšek.

Tomáš Weiss underlines that the most important partners should be those that follow the rules and abide by the rule of law.

Also general Skrzypczak threw in his two cents here, saying that Czechs are comfortable partners for all. They play with these who have advantage, treating everyone and everything with a distance. “Czechs value economic interests the most, not political ones,” he said. According to the experts is this approach very clever. On the other hand, Polish politicians have an illusion that they want isolation from the EU, which has nothing to do with security guarantees for Poland.

State of the army

From the EU countries, Poland has the sixth strongest army (after France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain). Unrest in the Eastern Ukraine and a growing boldness by Russia have forced the Polish government to beef up its military spending and procurement programs.

MON budget for 2018 is 41 billion PLN (some 10 billion EUR). This amount is not enough to meet the burning needs of the Polish army. Reason? The increase in the dollar, unforeseen increase in the costs of the „Wisła“ air and missile defence program and exceeding the amounts allocated for the creation of the Territorial Defence Forces (1.5 billion PLN annually). “At the moment, Poland would not be able to defend itself against the attack from Russia or Belarus” – says general Skrzypczak, former commander of land forces and deputy minister of national defence. But as Smura mentioned above, it could probably never spend enough to do that alone, outside of its strategic alliances.

“The opponent knows that the army is not modernizing, that there is no progress, that the training of the army has been limited, or that a paramilitary formation is being built that does not fit into NATO structures. The enemy reads our media, watches the Polish army, has agents everywhere. They sleep peacefully in the Kremlin,” general added.

There’s more self-appreciation in Czech Republic, also as Prague doesn’t dream the dreams of becoming a leading regional power and looks rationally at its size and potential. And so, as Ondřej Ditrych evaluates, the Czech Army has very good and respected troops. But at the same time, it is in a need of a reform. The focus should supposedly aim at the already existing abilities of the Czech Army, which can be beneficial for the collective defence.

“The commitment to put two percent of GDP into military is one thing, the reality the other. At least in the two upcoming decades, it is likely the Czech Army will be used outside the Czech Republic,” stated Ditrych.

“I am not convinced we are completely sure about in what probable scenarios the Czech Army may be used. That is important for the following process of planning, cooperation with partners and arms industry companies, as well as for developing strategy of using new tools, like EDF or PESCO,” he added.

PESCO

Poland, filing an official motion for inclusion in PESCO, indicated that it should not compete with NATO and keep in mind the needs of the Eastern flank. The development of the defence industry, joint orders for weapons and the sharing of military equipment, what PESCO aims at, is an opportunity to increase Europe’s defence capabilities. “A safer Europe is a safer Poland,” claimed Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. „Poland is involved in nine PESCO projects, I have submitted six more and seventh by France to deal with biochemical risks after the two that were in the preliminary stage,“ stressed Minister of National Defense Mariusz Blaszczak.

Accordingly, Czechs also point out that PESCO activities can develop Czech abilities in some areas, but are not a replacement of a complex and all-embracing planning process of NATO. EU activities should only be complementary to the NATO activities.

Still, Czech government considers PESCO to be “a tool enabling participating states to cooperate more intensively and together develop their military capabilities. At the same time, we see it as chance for Europe to take more responsibility in defence politics and strengthen the European part of NATO,” Jan Pejšek admits.

The company Glomex Military Supplies offers a view of arms industry. As its spokesman Jiří Grund states, PESCO is an interesting opportunity, but there are also others on the EU level. The decision of what road to go on lies on the backs of politicians, the industry will have to adapt. “The worst part is the uncertainty what will come next. Changing a political decision takes an hour, rebuilding the industry and developing new business ties in different markets takes years,” Grund explained.

EDF – European Defence Fund

Last year the European Commission has launched a European Defence Fund to help EU countries with spending taxpayer money more efficiently, i.e. by reducing duplications of spending and joining forces in puchases to make a better value for money. Both Poland and the Czech Republic positively regard the initiative, no doubt – it means additional budget and better spending – but also see some ‘buts’ and space for improvement.

,,In order to benefit from EDF, Poland may launch research projects, development programs and military acquisition initiatives jointly with EU partners. Arms purchases from domestic entities and companies from outside the EU and offset-based programs will not be able to count on EU support.

At the same time, many details about EDF still need to be clarified, which gives Poland the opportunity to negotiate facilitations for Polish defence companies in using EU funds. In particular, Poland could attach specific proposals for industrial and defence projects and capacity acquisition programs to the so-called permanent structural cooperation (PESCO) – all the more so as the priority for EDF will be the financial support for projects covered by PESCO, said analyst of the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) Marcin Terlikowski.

Also Prague sees positive potential of the EDF, however, not without ‘buts’ either. Looking at the content of the European Defence Fund, the Ministry of Defence sees it as positive news. The fund supports joint research, development and competitiveness of the European defence industry.

But there’s one “but”. And it addresses industry, as in the Polish case. “The key part will be to protect the Czech industry. The funds must be distributed in a fair way, not only to the most influential corporations from the largest EU countries. The proposal of 13 billion euros for years 2021-2027 is very ambitious and begs the question if industry can even absorb this amount of money,” said Pejšek.

According to Glomex, the fund can help to achieve a higher competitiveness, a higher strategic autonomy and provide information on how to better manage military expenditure. “Considering the unpredictable behaviour of some global players it is key for Europe to improve its independence in military, transportation and intelligence capabilities,” said Jiří Grund.

All these mechanisms for cooperation and spending will not make up for the unity of the EU and the Transatlantic Alliance. Thus, whatever billions of euro the countries would spend, fragmented and divided Poland, Czechs, Europeans or the West will not be able to effectively face the challenges of the ongoing change in the global order. And effectively mean being architects of tomorrow’s world and not just spectators or mere commentators of international events – to quote Jean-Claude Juncker.