On the eve of Polish President Kwasniewski’s visit to the USA next week (January 30, 2004), a review of current USA-Polish relations is warranted. Americans hear that Poland is America’s closest friend and ally on the European continent, and that it stood shoulder to shoulder with us, along with England and Australia, to root out dictators that destabilize countries and create conditions for terrorism. Poland has represented US interests in Iraq even before the latest war with Saddam and has risked its EU candidacy to support our policies, boldly resisting the pressures of France and Germany. It has been called America’s Trojan Horse in Europe, and rightfully it should be the cornerstone of our policy to maintain and strengthen the transatlantic alliance, as well as to spread democracy in the former Soviet region.
Unfortunately, thus far, the United States has shortchanged Poland. While billions of American dollars are sent to many countries overseas, our government has reduced its military aid to Poland–the annual FMF budget to Poland in 2004 is down to $12 million, which is significantly less than we provide to our friends in Western Europe. It is interesting to note that of all our FMS/FMF and FMA funds that Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) provided to Europe between 1993 and 2002, Poland received less than one percent of those funds. Investing in a trusted partner for securing global peace is in our national security interest and disregarding true friends is a mistake.
This is a question of fairness, and demonstrates serious erosion of vision. We should not be distracted by our legitimate need to show resolve in Iraq and invest in our future. It seems to us not unreasonable to ask that Poland’s FMF budget be raised to at least $300 million annually thereby offsetting the cost of the war and investing in an ally for future peacekeeping missions. It seems also not unreasonable for us to wave visas for Poles like we have done for our Western European friends. Surely Poland is not a hotbed of terrorism and the country meets all US legal criteria for a waver since statistics show that even those Poles who overstay eventually return to Poland.
It has been fifteen years since the Polish shipyard workers regained their hard-earned freedom back from the tyranny of Communism. Polish blood was spilled to end the Cold War well before the Berlin Wall came down. Since then, according to many distinguished economists, Poland has successfully implemented an “economic miracle” by fighting a “triple-digit” inflation that quickly precipitated after the fall of the communist government in 1989 and got the inflation down to the current two percent level. All of this was accomplished at a tremendous price to the people of Poland.
Surely, it would be quite a major blow to our foreign policy if Poland and our other Central European friends were forced to pull out from Iraq because they ran out of funds, occasioned by their depression levels unemployment and struggling economies. While Poland has accomplished much in getting its inflation down, its high unemployment, which for quite some time is at 18% and is three times as great as ours, is hurting its economic development and military modernization. Furthermore, we question why Polish companies did not receive contracts in rebuilding Iraq when they must lower their unemployment by putting people back to work.
These are the very same people that command the 10,000 soldier International Division in central Iraq, which includes approximately 2,500 Polish troops. Poland has also sent over 1,800 Polish trucks and transport vehicles, provided logistics, helicopters, airplanes, and other equipment for the Iraq peace-keeping operation under the existing Polish Ministry of Defense Budget with some US assistance. This noteworthy and noble action has depleted much of Polish military equipment to support our operations in Iraq and Polish Ministry of Defense is deeply feeling the bitter pain of unplanned and unforeseen expenses in order to stand by our side. This situation surely alone deserves grateful attention and consideration by the United States government. At the same time it is very cost effective and financially advantageous for our taxpayers that Poland continues to provide its peacekeeping operations worldwide, because of the significant differences in costs, thus allowing our military greater flexibility in other operations worldwide in the war on terror.
A strong friend and an ally at the gateway to Europe and Eurasia is in our long-term interest. We welcome President Kwasniewski for another visit to the USA for constructive and positive meetings with President Bush and his Administration and Congress and urge our government representatives to correct the current state of affairs and properly recognize the assistance provided by Poland to the world in the war on terror and its unwavering loyalty and friendship to the United States of America.
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