Security is and will probably remain a significant issue for Poland for a long time to come. In this respect, Germany can strengthen its eastern neighbor’s sense of security by ensuring that it remains firmly anchored within the EU and Nato. However, Berlin will first have to understand that the Polish desire for security is based much less on historical and emotional reasoning than on sound, rational motives. Germany also needs to increase its defense budget, despite the fact that this has become highly unlikely given the new coalition agreement.
Andrzej Mleczko, a well-known Polish caricaturist, once drew a picture of God wondering where each country in the world should be located. Mleczko depicted God as stating: “Let’s place Poland between Germany and Russia – just for a joke.” Throughout history, Poland has regularly been forced to deal with the consequences of its geographical position. The Poles were victims of German crusaders in the Middle Ages, and Prussian and Czarist imperialism in the 19th century. During the 20th century, they suffered more than hardly any other country under German National Socialism and Soviet Communism. After 1989, this led Poland to focus on gaining swift membership of the EU and Nato.
Experiences of Russian/Soviet rule mean that Poles long for the protection of their Western allies. As a recent German-Polish barometer survey commissioned by the Institute of Public Affairs in Warsaw confirms, now that Germany is anchored within Europe, two-thirds of the Polish population no longer views the country as posing a military threat. At the same time, the fact that the German armed forces are integrated into transatlantic and European structures strengthens the Polish sense of security.
This explains why Warsaw views some of the arguments, put forward by German Social Democrats, as untenable. The Bundeswehr, they contend, should not be significantly expanded as this would arouse the historical concerns of people in Poland. However, the German coalition government was party to NATO’s 2014 decision that member states should spend 2 % of GDP on defense. This decision was welcomed by Poland, and it has implemented the policy for a number of years. Moreover, Poland expects its allies to follow suit. Therefore, it views the new coalition agreement with apprehension, as the text lacks a clear commitment on this issue.
Poland considers the naivety of German companies that cooperate with Russia on energy as a significant threat to Polish security. Involvement in projects such as Nord Stream is viewed as “German participation,” since the German Federal Chancellor attended the project’s inauguration.
This situation is illustrative of the two contrasting readings of “energy security” that exist in the field. On the one hand, Germany is focused on the possibility of power outages occurring due to its reliance on unstable alternative energy resources. In contrast, Poland, which imports far less gas from Russia than Germany does, is more concerned about the possibility of Russia shutting off its gas supply.
The Poles know only too well that this is a real possibility: it happened to Ukraine in 2009 and 2014. Therefore, the Nord Stream II project strengthens Polish concerns about energy security precisely because the pipeline bypasses Poland. In the future, therefore, it will be possible to turn off Poland’s (and Ukraine’s) gas supply without posing a threat to Germany. The pipeline also increases Western Europe’s dependence on Russian gas – and does so at a time when there is much debate in the EU about energy diversification. The decision of the Tusk government to build an expensive LNG terminal in the Polish town of Świnoujście shows just how strongly Poland longs for energy security. In Poland’s understanding, energy security involves gaining the highest possible level of independence from Russian gas. This project enables distant countries to supply Poland with gas. The construction of the terminal received cross-party support, and it is treated as a turning point in Polish history.