26 FEBRUARY 2021
Poland’s reported failure in last month’s anti-Russian war games proves that the country cannot defeat the Eurasian Great Power in a conventional conflict, which should thus inspire a paradigm change of thought about the future of Warsaw’s present policy towards its neighbor.
Poland’s Unsurprisingly Disastrous Anti-Russian War Games
Media reports streamed in earlier this week claiming that Poland disastrously lost its latest anti-Russian war games last month, so much so that the exercise allegedly ended with Moscow’s military forces on the banks of the Vistula fighting for control of Warsaw after just five days of virtual hostilities. This isn’t so-called “Russian propaganda” like some might instinctively claim as they usually do in response to any “politically inconvenient” development that happens in Europe nowadays, but was even reported on by The Center for the National Interest, a prominent US think tank. RT’s Scott Ritter and the Strategic Culture Foundation’s Patrick Armstrong also wrote insightful commentary about those reports, arguing that they could become a self-fulfilling prophecy and that Poland is being exploited as an American lab rat, respectively. These are thought-provoking observations, but what’s needed in order to have a more complete picture of the situation is a credible action plan for Poland to follow in the future, ergo the purpose of this analysis.
A Long-Overdue Lesson
The long-overdue lesson that must be learned from Poland’s reported failure last month is that the country cannot defeat Russia in a conventional conflict, not even with state-of-the-art American arms like the exercise incorporated into the scenario despite them not even having been delivered yet. While it might comfort the sensitive Polish national psyche to know that they have such weapons in their possession, they’ve thus far proven to be incapable of serving their intended purpose, which is to deter so-called “Russian aggression” in the extremely unlikely event that it ever happens. About that, while it’s understandable why Poles historically distrust Russia and most folks across the world are familiar with the quip that “history rhymes”, there’s no credible chance that the Eurasian Great Power will invade the Central European country nowadays. It arguably has the military capabilities to do so, but the intent is lacking, both due to the fact that attacking a NATO member would likely trigger World War III and also because Russia doesn’t have any reason to do so anyhow.
Debunking The “Russian Invasion” Myth
Even those who are casually familiar with the complicated history of Russian-Polish relations know that Poles will never accept being militarily occupied by their regional rival. Russian strategists also know this as well, hence why they’d pragmatically regard the fearmongered scenario of annexing Polish territory as unsustainable, thereby making it an impossibility. It wouldn’t accomplish anything for their country. Russia has no need for additional territory just for the sake of it, nor is there any reason to forcefully incorporate foreign citizens into one’s nation who don’t want to be a part of it. It’s a lose-lose for Russia regardless of whichever way one looks at it. The only semi-plausible scenario that some might speculate about is that Russia would launch a preemptive strike against Poland if it was convinced that Warsaw was about to imminently attack its forces in Kaliningrad in coordination with Washington’s and the rest of NATO’s. Even then, however, the attacking forces could be adequately dealt with without Russian troops entering Polish territory, let alone marching on Warsaw.
The Dangerous Russian-Polish Security Dilemma
The problem at play here is that Russia and Poland are trapped in a dangerous security dilemma that’s largely provoked by historical distrust and the pernicious influence of the US. Both sides fear, whether rightly or wrongly, that the other might launch a preemptive strike against them. Russia’s concerns are more legitimate than Poland’s considering NATO’s recent regional military buildup and the occasional publication of provocative so-called “reports” and “studies” about the possibility of seizing Kaliningrad. As for Poland, its fears are based mostly on historical experience and its leadership’s consequent predisposition towards expecting the worst of Russian intentions no matter what. The American angle is relevant insofar as the US provokes Poland’s paranoia for the purpose of exploiting its territory as a springboard for strengthening its offensive military positioning vis-a-vis Russia in advance preparation of any worst-case conflict scenario. Poland willingly goes along with this because it believes that it’s in its best interests, once again, whether rightly or wrongly.
Is America A Reliable Ally?
The most objective conclusion that one can make from the recent reports about Poland’s disastrous showing in last month’s war games is that the country’s policy of bolstering its conventional military capabilities has failed to achieve its purpose in defending against so-called “Russian aggression”. This “politically inconvenient” reality should inspire a paradigm change of thought about the future of Poland’s policy towards Russia. It’s needlessly expensive to continue along the present trajectory when the latest war games prove that this military-driven policy probably won’t ever succeed in delivering its expected results. In fact, one should ask why this policy is even being pursued in the first place if Poland truly has faith in the US’ commitment to Article 5 of the NATO Charter mandating all members to rush to each other’s aid upon request. Considering the capriciousness of some American Presidents, it might be the case that Poland doesn’t feel comfortable putting its entire security in the US’ hands, instead hoping to hold out in the event of a war long enough to pressure its ally to finally act.
Something For Poles To Ponder
That would explain the focus on improving its conventional military capabilities instead of relying solely on NATO’s nuclear umbrella as the ultimate deterrent against so-called “Russian aggression”. This observation is certainly provocative and will probably be angrily contested in public by most Poles, but upon pondering it, there definitely seems to be some truth within it that’s worth considering even if Poles don’t publicly admit it. Be that as it may, it’s important to return to the point that the only realistic chance of war between Russia and Poland would relate to their security dilemma dangerously spiraling out of control. With that in mind and remembering that Russia lacks any reason to invade Polish territory or strike it first unless it feared an imminent attack, the onus arguably falls on Poland to take the first step towards lessening this dilemma, perhaps by not so actively courting US and NATO troops into the country. This is especially the case when it comes to their presence in close proximity to Kaliningrad and Russia’s CSTO mutual defense ally Belarus.
Hybrid Competition In The Post-Soviet Borderlands
That’s not to say that Russia and Poland should — or ever can — “trust” each other, but just that it’s of the highest importance that no war is sparked by miscalculation from either side, which in the most likely case could result from Moscow’s legitimate misunderstandings about the purpose of foreign troops on Polish soil so close to it and its Belarusian ally’s borders. In reality, Russia and Poland will likely remain locked in a hybrid competition with one another for the indefinite future over the countries within their overlapping envisioned “spheres of influence”, Belarus and Ukraine. These two states sit in between Moscow’s Eurasian Union & CSTO (with Minsk being part of both while Kiev’s post-coup pro-Western government is in neither) and Warsaw’s “Three Seas Initiative”, thus making them the geopolitical fault lines of the New Cold War‘s European front. Neither Russia nor Poland is likely to back down from pressing their respective claims of influence which they both regard as inextricable components of their national security strategies.
Keeping The Russian-Polish Hybrid Competition Non-Kinetic
Even so, this predictably prolonged hybrid competition doesn’t have to go kinetic, let alone in a conventional military way like Poland fears that it might. Its ongoing military modernization program should be completed since the budget has already been allocated and the country’s long-term planning is predicated on this eventual outcome, but in the run-up to that milestone being met, Poland should consider a paradigm change of thought regarding its relations with Russia. Those two states are already in a state of unconventional conflict with one another through hybrid means in the Belarusian and Ukrainian “borderlands” between them which doesn’t require any further conventional military involvement on either side beyond their present posturing in this respect. It’s veritably in both of their interests to manage the dangerously spiraling security dilemma between them in order to offset the mutually disastrous scenario of a war by miscalculation, hence the need for Poland to consider how it could take the first step to bring this positive outcome about.
Poland’s Peacemaking Prerogative
There’s no shame in Poland doing so either since it should actually be regarded as a matter of national pride if the country took the initiative to pragmatically manage its military relations with Russia, especially considering the grand strategic importance of such a move with respect to global security, to say nothing of its more immediate effect on Europe. Poland aspires for leadership status within Europe, but won’t ever obtain this so long as it continues reacting to others, in this case its perception of the supposedly imminent threat of so-called “Russian aggression” and pressure upon it by its American ally to respond through a more robust conventional military buildup that only serves to exacerbate its dangerous security dilemma with Moscow (which itself should in theory be moot due to NATO’s nuclear umbrella). By proactively taking the initiative to peacefully manage its security dilemma with Russia, Poland would prove its political maturity, strategic independence, and continental leadership capabilities.
The paradigm change of thought that Poland must commence in response to its reported failure during last month’s anti-Russian war games is to seriously reconsider the wisdom of doubling down on its conventional military “deterrence” capabilities since these are inadvertently provoking an increasingly dangerous security dilemma with Moscow. It would be one thing if the recent war games predicted a Polish military victory in the event of a conflict between the two, but since it actually resulted in the exact opposite, this shows that Poland’s present policy hasn’t succeeded with its intended purpose. Both countries will likely remain locked in a hybrid competition with one another for the indefinite future over Belarus and Ukraine, but this dynamic could continue without the need for worsening their conventional security dilemma. Seeing as how Poland aspires for regional leadership status, it should consider taking the first step to manage its mutually disadvantageous security dilemma with Russia in the interests of global peace and security.