What Poland Can Do for Europe

A Bigger Role in Continental Defense

Polish Mi-17 helicopters during military exercises near Drawsko Pomorskie, Poland, September 2017.  Agencja Gazeta / Cezary Aszkielowicz via REUTERS

Poland is on a military spending spree. Since January, Warsaw has announced that it would negotiate a $7.6 billion missile deal with the arms-maker Raytheon, that it would purchase a number of new helicopters and tanks, and that it is considering buying as many as 100 more fighter planes. In the coming years, it plans to procure over 1,000 military drones and five new naval ships. These plans are part of a $14.5 billion military modernization program that Warsaw announced in late 2016—and thanks to them, Poland is poised to play a key role in defending Europe.

The spending hasn’t come out of the blue. Poland needs to replace its remaining Soviet-era military equipment and even some of the hand-me-downs it acquired from Western neighbors in the early 1990s. Russia’s current aggression in the Baltic Sea region—earlier this month, it moved Iskander missile systems to the exclave of Kaliningrad, from where they can reach Warsaw—have added to the sense of urgency in Poland. “If you happen to live in a rough neighborhood, you invest in a proper lock and maybe even in pepper spray,” Aleksander Korab, a Polish newspaper editor now in charge of the U.S. daily Metro, told me. “We Poles learned the hard way that the only way to stop the bully is to stand up and arm yourself.”

Polish soldiers march during a welcoming ceremony for NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence combat battalion in Adazi, Latvia, June 2017.
Polish soldiers during a welcoming ceremony for NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence combat battalion in Adazi, Latvia, June 2017. Ints Kalnins / REUTERS

Unlike most European countries, Poland didn’t slash defense spending during the 1990s, and in recent years, it has upped its game. In 2015, Poland spent 2.2 percent of its GDP on defense, according to statistics from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Last year, it spent two percent, NATO’s benchmark. This week, President Andrzej Duda signed into law the government’s decision to gradually raise defense spending each year until 2030, when those expenditures will reach 2.5 percent of Poland’s GDP. That’s a higher share than any other NATO

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