Center for Strategic Decision Research


Key Aspects of Poland’s Presence in NATO as the Security Environment Changes

His Excellency Aleksander Kwasniewski
President of Poland

I am very glad to be in Budapest again for the XVIth NATO Workshop. Budapest is the capital of the country with which we have not only ties of friendship, but now ties through the Alliance. Over three months have passed since Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary became members of the North Atlantic Alliance. Coming under the NATO umbrella has given us a feeling of security, and leverages our chances of growth.

During the fifty years of its existence, the Alliance has successfully passed the test of history, protecting peace, democracy, and human rights. Today, we are facing a new and very serious challenge: tragic events are taking place in the Balkans, to which we cannot remain indifferent.


The simultaneous occurrence of the 50th anniversary of NATO, the ceremony of the admission of new members, and the war in Kosovo caused the April 1999 NATO Summit in Washington to be an exceptional one. The New Strategic Concept was adopted at the same time that one of its most important premises was being tested by the Balkan crisis. The idea of solidarity was also put to the test as was the new members’ readiness to participate in decisions, to assume required tasks, and to increase their responsibility.

The peace plan of the G8 countries, the resolution of the Security Council of the United Nations to create KFOR, the peaceful withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo, and the efficient deployment of the peace forces all indicate that the war in Kosovo is fortunately being extinguished. However, we still have a long way to go before peace is definitely accomplished, and during that time the mandate of the U.N. Security Council remains the best form of legal justification for the presence of the international peace forces in Kosovo. Just as several weeks ago we were surprised by the outbreak of the conflict, so now the building of peace should not surprise us. So just how can peace be won in Kosovo?


Poland believes that it is necessary to prepare, as soon as possible, a plan for the economic reconstruction of the whole Kosovo region, and to create new procedures for providing economic assistance to the Balkan countries. Since, as a rule, ethnic conflicts spring from poverty and a lack of perspectives, conditions must be provided for the improvement of the material situation of the population as well as for peaceful coexistence and stabilization. All of these measures should be undertaken as a collective effort by the entire international community, depending on available capabilities and resources.

The development of a security architecture in the Balkan region requires the active participation of Russia, and will contribute to the establishment and strengthening of strategic cooperation between NATO and Russia on issues of international security. Russia is a partner of NATO—a very important partner even if it is sometimes difficult to work with. We appreciate the efforts of the Russian political elites who take an active part in the negotiations toward solving the Kosovo problem. On the other hand, Russia cannot paralyze the actions of the Alliance and other international organizations. The action of the Russian rangers who occupied the airport in Pristina is a dangerous precedent which should not be repeated. After all, it is NATO that is bearing the main burden of responsibility and that has made the greatest contribution to the operation in Kosovo—the operation which Russia was opposed to, right from the very beginning.


In a short period of time, the conditions necessary for a cooperative model of international security have deteriorated. The essence of that model is: the achievement of a relatively similar level of indivisibility of security among the European countries; the establishment in the Euro-Atlantic zone of a system of cooperative, complementary institutions responsible for international security; the establishment of NATO as the leader of that system, working closely with other organizations; and the building of confidence in international relations. We have seen that the greatest threats to security in Europe do not result from conflicts between states, but from conflicts within states. We must recognize that maintaining peace and respecting the fundamental human rights and security of each state are inseparably connected with the security of all states.

Maintaining peace will require the cooperation of many complementary Euro-Atlantic and European institutions, since no single organization has enough resources to cope with all aspects of European security. The North Atlantic Alliance has demonstrated its capacity to be the main guarantor of European defense and security and its ability to put in place any required military action. Now we must create a system of financial assistance whose implementation, we believe, should be assumed by the European Union.

24 March 1999 was an extremely important turning point in the formation of a post-Cold War system of international security. The launching of the NATO operation in Yugoslavia became a determiner not only of the future of the Alliance but of Europe as well—neither will ever be the same.  Since the operation began, significant changes have been seen in the key elements that constitute the post-Cold War security system: the functioning of NATO, the relations between NATO and the structures of international security, and the relations between NATO and Russia.


The Kosovo crisis has become a catalyst for transformation in Europe. The Kosovo operation has proved that the prerogatives of humanity can and must prevail over those of the state. NATO, an alliance of free and democratic countries, decided to defend the rights of the minority in Kosovo, and resorted to military action to pursue that end. At the same time, it confirmed its firm support for the maintenance of territorial integrity and the sovereignty of all of the states of the region, including Yugoslavia. Such an event was without precedent. NATO saw to it that the rights to life, freedom, land, and work were not trampled by one leader’s own political ambitions. The operation, therefore, was a great success, despite the critical voices that were sometimes raised. The military action in defense of people suffering injustice gained the public support of all who regard human rights highly.

NATO’s work in Kosovo enforced the principles on which the North Atlantic Alliance was established and on which it functions. It also resulted in increasing the significance of NATO’s European component. We share the view that although the Euro-Atlantic community remains indispensable, the European Security and Defense Identity within NATO should become the subject of technical and organizational work, and not only a political challenge. If Europe wishes to participate in resolving conflicts in a coordinated manner, it must possess the appropriate combat capabilities. From the point of view of Poland, a strong European element supporting NATO would improve its ability to assume defense efforts.


The intervention of NATO in Kosovo significantly influenced the configuration of security on our continent. Poland, in particular, is aware of our heavy burden of responsibility for stability and peace in Europe and worldwide. It was, after all, the historical turn-around years of 1989-90 and Poland’s example which was followed in neighboring countries that made possible the dismantling of communism and the successive steps towards the West. We owe much to history, but the hard work and efforts of the Polish political class and the entire Polish nation following the year 1989 also merit recognition. The Polish political elites have displayed a degree of unanimity on this issue that is rarely found in our country. Stability, social peace, economic development, striving for reconciliation and agreement with our neighbors, as well as providing reliable information to win the largest possible number of supporters for NATO’s enlargement—such have been and still are our strengths, which are recognized worldwide.

I believe that this is exactly why our NATO Allies have begun to display more determination when defining the criteria of partnership and cooperation in the context of our membership, creating the conditions and incentives for their fulfillment. We have come to feel that not only do we need them, but also—among other things, and thanks to our own efforts—we have our place in the new vision of European security.

The Alliance has passed the test, because it has been and continues to be needed. It also has provided and continues to provide a frame of reference for hope: for recovering liberty and democracy in the Europe that was divided until 1989; for regaining the ability of states to determine their own destiny; and to determine a better future together with the entire Euro-Atlantic community. NATO was definitely a sign of hope for the Polish people; our call for both “our liberty and your liberty” and the Allies’ call of “one for all and all for one” reveal the essence of our perception of the issues that surround the security of the state, the region, and the world at large.

The purpose of NATO and the Euro-Atlantic community remains unchanged: to win over additional countries to democracy, to create the conditions for stabilization of the region, and to convince societies that are at a crossroads. Therefore, while geography is no longer the decisive factor of our security, it has become a significant element in determining our particular place in the Alliance. To a large degree, Poland will be implementing the policy of the Alliance to the East, and so it is with satisfaction that we heard expressions of acceptance at the Washington Summit of our policy of good-neighbor relations with the countries to the east of the Vistula River. We are also pleased with the support that is anticipated from our allies and with their openness to our initiatives. The decisions of the Washington Summit have provided us with a solid basis for the determination of an unequivocal, constructive and realistic “Eastern policy” of our state.


Because of the openness of the Euro-Atlantic structures, it appears that the regional system of security will be based on good-neighbor relations in the spirit of cooperation. We are participating actively in the forming of an institutional network of links within the region. Friendly and beneficial relations with other NATO countries as well as with countries that do not belong to the Alliance are of substantial importance to us. For example, a Danish-German-Polish Northeast Corps is being formed in Szczecin. Also, together with Ukraine and Lithuania, we are organizing army units that will be suitable for deployment in peace missions. Because we consider Ukraine as our strategic partner, I am glad that mutual trust and openness are leading towards the gradual extension of cooperation between that country and NATO. We also support the efforts of Slovakia and Lithuania, and hope they quickly join the North Atlantic Alliance. We also hope to develop good relations with Russia to increase the zone of stability and security on our continent. Only five years ago such ideas would have been political fantasies, but Europe must not now waste their historic possibilities.

The enlargement of NATO remains a priority. The Alliance has already adopted the Membership Action Plan (MAP), which will help each of the current and future candidate countries prepare to meet the requirements of NATO membership. We are ready to share our own preparation experiences with the countries that aspire to membership.


Since joining NATO, Poland has continued to reduce its armed forces, which it plans to cut by a quarter. We hope this encourages our Eastern neighbors to follow our example. As part of the adaptation of the CFE Treaty (on the reduction of armed forces and conventional arms in Europe), Poland has also declared its readiness to decrease its national armament limits in the future. I wish to point out that in the NATO-Russia Founding Act, the Alliance has assured that, currently and in the foreseeable future, it does not intend to deploy any nuclear arms on the territories of the newly admitted member-countries. Thanks to its membership in NATO, Poland has increased its security as well as reduced the presence of armed forces on its territory.

Poland’s ambition is to occupy a prominent place within NATO, and we are ready to demonstrate our full compatibility in dealing with future challenges. Our position in the Alliance should reflect not only the size of our country but also result from being active in the forum of the institutions of the Alliance. NATO is important to Poland, not as a social club of stable and prospering Euro-Atlantic democracies, but rather as a principal instrument for assuring the vital interests of humanity.


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