The government of Poland has addressed a number of difficult national security issues since the nation regained its independence from Soviet control in 1989. Longstanding border disputes with neighboring countries and the perceived disparate treatment of Polish minorities in these countries are just two examples of the many external security challenges Poland faced head-on after its emergence from the Warsaw Pact. Poland’s leadership has also addressed a number of internal security problems, such as the modernization of its Cold War-era military and the transfer of control of the armed forces from the Polish General Staff to civilian authorities within its Ministry of Defense.
Notwithstanding these daunting security challenges, Poland’s decision to support elements of a U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) program on its sovereign soil has arguably posed the most complex national security dilemma for Polish leaders in this most recent chapter of its long national history. This essay will examine the decision to support the BMD program from the perspective of the Polish government, focusing in particular on the BMD program proposed and eventually implemented by the Obama Administration in 2009. After providing a historical summary of the United States’ BMD program as it applies to Poland, the article will examine the domestic context within Poland, and how this context influenced the actions of government officials charged with evaluating the BMD program.
The essay will then review Poland’s national interests in accepting a BMD program on its soil, and will discuss how Polish officials negotiated with the Obama Administration to gain concessions in support of these national interests. Finally, the essay will examine how the decision to support the BMD program affected Poland’s long-term relationships with neighboring countries within the European Union (EU) and, most importantly, Russia. By allying with the United States and, to a certain extent, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on BMD, Poland put itself in the middle of a highly contentious international dispute. Given the security guarantees, military modernization, and potential economic aid that resulted from this eventual support, however, the decision by the Polish government will likely prove to be a beneficial one, as Poland continues to rapidly emerge from the shadows of the Warsaw Pact.