POLAND: A European nation Americans should love
Poland is a European nation that Americans should love. Poles have long memories, including a powerful awareness of what America has done for their country, especially in the last century. From Woodrow Wilson to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, US presidents and governments have supported Poles in their aspirations for freedom and independence, finally helping Poland shake off Soviet hegemony in the 1980s.
It was in this context of gratitude that the Poles immediately expressed their outrage and sympathy for Americans when terrorists struck New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. And it was in this context of gratitude that they quickly became part of the Coalition of The Willing that supported the United States in its liberation of Iraq from the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Poland's ambassador to Washington, Przemyslaw Grudzinski, says that his country's participation in the Coalition was, "the first symptom of its reaction to 9/11." He says Poland's goal was "to demonstrate to the US government that Poland is a committed ally in all kinds of weather." Poles had long felt indebted to America, and they saw participation in the Coalition as a way to give something back. Supporting the United States in Iraq "was an opportunity to make it more of a two-way street," he said.
"We were able to create an image of Poland as a valuable ally," he says, and Poland's relationship with America moved from one of just receiving assistance to one of "mutual advantage." Poland has emerged as a very valuable ally for Washington in a Europe dominated by reluctant partners and outright critics of US policy in Iraq.
There was another impetus, as well. Ambassador Grudzinski says that Poland was surprised to see what a negative impact the war in Iraq had on trans-Atlantic relations, and "wanted to stem the tide of weakened trans-Atlantic relations and demonstrate that there are countries in Europe with the political will to support the United States."
These forces propelled Poland to stand firmly by Washington's side in Iraq, and it continues to maintain a force of 1,700 troops there. In addition, it leads a multinational force comprised of units from several countries, including a Brigade of 1600 from Ukraine. The ambassador says that opposition to the war within the Polish population was not much less than in other European countries when doubts were raised about the real reason for going to war in the first place, but that in the aftermath of the successful Iraqi elections earlier this year, the mood is generally accepting of the government's commitment, and there are no plans to withdraw Poland's force early.
But the cost of Poland's participation in Iraq has been very high. It is estimated that some $500 million has been spent on it to date, the ambassador says, and Warsaw hopes that it will be compensated, at least in part, for this loss. In fact the Bush administration has allocated a $400 million Solidarity Fund to compensate allies for their financial losses in Iraq, and Poland has been hopeful of receiving $100 million of this amount, although the total it gets might be reduced by Congress in a decision expected this week.
Poland's military has been traditional and defense-oriented and it was ill prepared for the expeditionary needs of its assignment in Iraq. Equipment has suffered much greater wear and tear than it would in the gentler climate of Central Europe, adding to the costs of the operation. Maintaining its force in Iraq "has bled resources from the modernization program." He notes, that this program includes a $3.5 billion purchase of F-16s from Lockheed Martin.
The ambassador stresses that Poland did not join the Coalition of The Willing "to elicit a tangible result," but Washington's assistance in modernizing Poland's armed forces is one of the two most important ways America is assisting Poland today. He says that Warsaw will receive $56 million for this purpose in 2005, as part of the ongoing assistance (and separate from any Solidarity Fund appropriations).
He believes that Polish support for the operation in Iraq will only increase as Warsaw expands its role in training the Iraqi army and as Polish companies take up opportunities to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq. Some of these companies built industrial projects in Iraq during the 70s and 80s.
He points out that Poles resonate with the suffering Iraqis went through under the totalitarian dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. They want to help Iraq become a democratic, market economy and they believe that Iraqis are capable of ruling themselves in a democracy. "We do not think the Iraqis are too unstable to govern themselves," he says.
The other main issue he is working on is the lifting of visa restrictions for Poles wanting to come to the United States. After the visit by Poland's president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, to Washington earlier this year, President Bush agreed to a plan to work in his second term towards granting Poles a visa waiver (such as that enjoyed by the British and citizens of some other friendly countries).
Ambassador Grudzinski says that while Poland is not as close to America as Britain, "and doesn't expect a special relationship in the same terms," bilateral ties should not be based on agreements between the two governments but rather facilitate the broadest possible people-to-people relations. And "visa policies should reflect this." The current visa regime "is not conducive to good relations," he adds.
Turning to the economy, the ambassador notes that Poland has been enjoying good GDP growth rates of some 5.6% on average for the past few years. Warsaw sees the necessity of keeping up this pace, to close the gap with more prosperous European countries. For the moment, the level of affluence in Poland is just 40 percent of the European Union average, and it will take 15-20 years to catch up.
From 2007, the EU will pump 10 billion Euros ($13 billion) a year, for six years, into developing Poland's infrastructure, to help its economy develop to the level of more advanced EU members. During those six years, Poland will be the biggest beneficiary of so-called structural funds paid by the EU to its less-developed members. The EU is "extremely helpful" in helping Poland catch up with the mainstream of European economic life, the ambassador says.
Poland can compete well with its lower-than-average labor costs, but it still suffers from a very high unemployment rate of 20 percent. This is one of the unfortunate results of its radical move to a market economy in the 90s, a move that resulted in the closing of many unproductive companies, especially in mining and heavy industries.
America is second or third in foreign direct investment its companies have pumped into Poland, but the ambassador sees the coming years as a "historic opportunity" for more companies to get involved there. For example, the housing market will grow dramatically in the next years, he says.
His Excellency Przemyslaw Grudzinski
Date of Presentation of Credentials:
September 5, 2000
Date and place of birth:
October 30, 1950, Torun, Poland
Married, two daughters
1972 - University of Nicolaus Copernicus, Toru·, M.A. History
1977 - Institute of History, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw: Ph. D., Thesis: The Future of Europe in the Ideas of Franklin D. Roosevelt
1982 - Institute of History, Polish Academy of Science,Warsaw: Habilitation, Thesis: US Nuclear Strategy, 1939 - 1945
1978-1980 - American Council of Learned Societies, Visiting Fellow, Princeton University
1988 (Fall) - Fulbright Fellow, Princeton University
1989 (Spring) - Visiting Profesor, Center for International Studies, University of
Southern California, Los Angeles and Center for Strategic and International Studies, UCLA
1976 - 1996 - Professor, Institute of History, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw
1990 - Advisor to Deputy Minister of National Defense
1991 - Director, Bureau of Research for the Sejm (Parliament) and Director General, Sejm
1992 – 1993 - Deputy Minister of National Defense (Policy)
1994-1997 Professor, George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, Garmisch – Partenkirchen, Germany
1997 – 2000 - Undersecretary of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
1980’s - Member of NSZZ “Solidarno··” (Solidarity movement) from its beginning; involved in the independent publishing activities (samizdat)
1994 - Founding Member, Euro-Atlantic Association, Warsaw
1996 - Founding Member, Council on Foreign Policy, Warsaw
The Future of Europe in the Ideas of Franklin D. Roosevelt 1933-1945, Ossolineum, Warsaw 1980 (in Polish)
Scientists and Barbarians: The Nuclear Policy of the United States, 1939-1945, Polish Scientific Publishers, PWN, Warsaw 1987 (in Polish)
Theology of the Bomb. The Origins of Nuclear Deterrence, vol. I-III, Polish Scientific Publishers, PWN, Warsaw 1988 (in Polish)
A Critical Approach to European Security. Identity and Institutions, with Peter van Ham, Pinter, London and New York 1999
Polen und Russland. Polnische Befuerchtungen und Erwartungen, „Internationale Politik”, no 1/52, Januar 1997 (available also in Internationale Politik Russian edition)
Poland-Russia. Discord and Cooperation, Center for International Relations, Institute of Public Affairs, Warsaw 1997
Essay on Europe, with Peter van Ham, „The National Interest”, Winter 2000