With Tomasz Szatkowski about the decisions taken at the NATO summit in Madrid, reinforcing the eastern NATO flank and the security of Poland talks Magdalena Kowalska-Sendek.
How do you estimate the meeting of NATO leaders at the Madrid NATO Summit?
Undoubtedly, this summit was special. We successfully adopted a new strategic concept of the Alliance. The last one, in 2010, became outdated some time ago, and we needed new guidelines for new directions of activity. I’m satisfied, because in Madrid we succeeded in adopting satisfying solutions on collective defense.
Much attention was devoted – in terms of the security situation in Europe and aggression of Russia on Ukraine – to the eastern flank of NATO.
The member state leaders in a declaration adopted in Madrid recognized that Russia is the greatest and direct threat for the security of allies and for the peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region. This is an important change, since according to the strategy ten years ago this country was considered a strategic partner. The aggression on Ukraine revalued the opinions of NATO. Today, a priority for the Alliance is collective defense in three areas: deterrence and defense, crisis management and cooperative security. The allied states understand that our territory must be defended the very first moment a threat appears. From this assumption stems also a decision about strengthening the eastern flank.
On the NATO eastern flank, battalion battle groups will be reinforced. Will the ones in Poland too?
The starting point will be an updated status of battalion battle groups, already reinforced in time of crisis. Such reinforcement was received by, for example, the Baltic states. The enlargement of battalions to the size of brigades will be done in cooperation with the framework states of these groups. We will not maintain brigades routinely, but only enlarge the units to their size in a crisis situation. Moreover, NATO wants to assign to each of these groups military units and equipment, so they are ready to respond immediately in case of emergency. This reinforcement will be most visible in the Baltic states, perhaps in Romania, because e.g. Slovenia and Hungary did not strive for developing these units to the level of brigades.
There are talks ongoing about how the process will proceed in Poland. I must admit that our country in this situation is somewhat a victim of its own success. What I mean is that in fact we already were and still are protected by our allies, and the presence of NATO forces is in Poland still larger than anywhere else on the eastern flank. Please, keep in mind that Poland has become a hub for the US presence, and this presence is of particular nature.
At present, in Poland there are 12,000 allied forces, most of which are American forces. The United States of America are also the framework states of the aforementioned battalion battle groups.
We are now in the process of setting up with the Americans the way to increase the capabilities of the battalion battle group stationed in Poland. I think, though, that these changes won’t be as visible as they would be in, e.g., the Baltic states. We shall keep in mind that in Poland we have not only American forces, but also forward division commands, a missile shield and a forward command of the US V Corps, which has now received a permanent status. It is via Poland that the US armored brigade is rotating, and here we also have the crucial part of brigade of the US army aviation forces as well as the US airborne units.
You have mentioned a permanent presence of the forward command post of the V Corps. Are these forces important?
This is the most important tactical command of the US army forces in Europe. The main base of the V Corps is at Fort Knox, and its forward command for two years has been located in Poznań. The officers stationed in Poland have been trained for planning and commanding land operations with the participation of the US forces on the Old Continent. If need arises, they can also coordinate the deployment of US forces from overseas.
The presence of such an important US command in Poland allows for an integration with our own forces in time of peace, building mutual training, operational and personal relations. The American meet our command system, the rules for operating of state and military administration, all of which improves interoperability and may translate into more effective functioning in time of crisis. The decision on locating in Poland a permanent forward command of the V Corps is also symbolic. It’s a proof of engagement and obligations of our allies to defend Poland. The Americans treat our country not as a forefield for their actions, but as the most important base on the eastern flank. This is in accord with our understanding of the Poland’s role. Without Poland, defending the Baltic states would be impossible.
Can we expect that – next to the command of the V Corps – for example US auxiliary forces will be formed in Poland?
This is a subject for ongoing talks, because Poland, according to the agreement concluded in 2020, will logistically support the presence of the US army. In case of crisis, the command of the V Corps surely would be reinforced with additional forces, though we shouldn’t be talking about this. In time of peace, support battalions and the US Army garrison commands will be stationed in Poland. Additionally in Powidz, a magazine of heavy equipment and combat means is built, owing to which the US and allied forces will be able to be quickly fitted with indispensable equipment.
During the last NATO summit, a new approach to the rapid reaction forces was discussed. Instead of – as it has been so far – the 40,000 soldiers commanded by the Alliance, over 300,000 soldiers are to be permanently stationed.
This is not going to happen all at once, since the reinforcement forces must go through the process of certification and confirm their readiness. I would like to make a note of the fact that we’re not talking about the rapid reaction forces which are to operate in any selected place of the world, but about the units specifically trained for collective defense, i.e. defending the territory of NATO. The Alliance is going to assign the units to a theater of operation. Although this doesn’t only mean that we will be receiving the support from, for example, the Americans. We will also have to delegate our own forces to defend Poland and our nearest neighborhood.
Accepting Sweden and Finland in NATO structures means reinforcing entire Alliance, not only its eastern flank. How the decision on NATO expansion will affect the security of Poland?
It will essentially. The Alliance is being joined by the countries of serious potential, strong armies and advanced arms industry. These are countries, which for long years have invested in their neutrality. This shows that being part of NATO gives serious benefits and is quite needed. Let it be an argument to all those sceptics who claim that NATO has no affect on the security of Poland.
Sweden and Finland joining NATO means that the Baltic Sea in case of conflict will be controlled by NATO. Besides, the territories of these states can be used as deployment bases for the allied forces. This is particularly crucial for the Baltic states. Obviously, the land route is via Poland, but this way we will gain alternative sea and air routes. For Poland, this also means lesser threat from the north.
Which of NATO’s decisions you consider of key importance for the security of Poland?
Help for Ukraine is important. It was Poland’s initiative to adopt the new allied aid package for Kyiv. It has been decided that allied states will continue to support Ukraine militarily and strengthen its defense capabilities. NATO is also to engage in improving interoperability, for example by training Ukrainian forces. What’s more, based on the initiative of Polish President Andrzej Duda, one of the summit declarations was a firm assurance that the states supporting Ukraine will also be supported by other states of the Alliance.
Ambassador Tomasz Szatkowski is the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Poland to the North-Atlantic Council.
autor zdjęć: fot. Robert Suchy / CO MON, NATO