In 1999, Poland joined the NATO Alliance. Ever since, collective defense has been at the heart of Poland’s national security strategy. But recent changes in Europe’s strategic environment may be leading Poland to think twice about whether collective defense alone can guarantee its security. The combination of a more aggressive Russia, a less resolute Western Europe, and a growing divergence between the military capabilities of Poland and those of the rest of NATO have made unilateral Polish action a real possibility.
No one needs to remind Poland of the strategic dangers arising from its geography. Often sandwiched between great European powers, Poland has been invaded, carved up, and occupied for over two centuries. During World War II, its mostly flat and open terrain made it particularly vulnerable to the mechanized armies of Germany and the Soviet Union. Today, Poland’s position is less tenuous, but still fraught. While its western and southern borders are anchored by friendly NATO countries, its eastern border abuts Russia’s military stronghold of Kaliningrad, Belarus (a close Russian ally), and Ukraine (a country riven by Russia).
It’s not unusual for U.S. politicians on the campaign trail to decry free trade. Most voters will be happy to hear that they can blame other countries for their own economic problems. And most politicians know that it’s safe to talk tough on trade before an election, but then they quietly reverse course once in office. Republicans, of course, usually don’t have to distance themselves from market liberalization; their constituencies usually favor free trade and preferential trade agreements.
Russian behavior has long influenced how safe Poles feel. Centuries of fending off or being subjugated by Russia (or, its 20th-century incarnation, the Soviet Union) have left them with an abiding mistrust of their big and often unfriendly eastern neighbor. Needless to say, Russia’s recent aggressiveness in Eastern Europe has put many Poles on edge. Adding to their unease have been worries over the reliability of Poland’s principal security partners: NATO and the United States. At times, both have appeared either slow or unprepared to counter Russia’s actions.
Colleagues at the U.S. Army War College recently published a piece making important arguments that largely echo the competitive approach emphasized in the Trump administration’s new National Defense Strategy (NDS). They correctly argue that U.S. strategy since 9/11 has been obsessively focused on counterterrorism and that U.S. military power has been drained by exhausting and largely unproductive deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their conclusion, however, that this has left the United States at a distinct disadvantage with respect to the revisionist powers of Russia and China, is exaggerated. Moreover, an imbalanced U.S. strategy that is excessively reliant on military force fails to capitalize on America’s significant advantages in the non-military instruments of power. Furthermore, an overemphasis on building ever more offensive military capacity risks provoking even more aggressive counterbalancing by adversaries that will ultimately lead to a self-fulfilling and dangerous security dilemma, in which the international system and the United States will actually be less secure. Finally, a more muscular military strategy will do little to address the central challenges posed by Russia and China as they expressly avoid directly confronting U.S. military strengths and instead seek asymmetric advantages in the “gray zone” below the threshold of open military conflict.
Thanks to a near-myopic obsession with eradicating transnational Islamic terrorism, costly invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, and a zero-risk approach to homeland security, America’s competitive edge has eroded over the last 16 years relative to China and Russia. That’s the conclusion of the recently released National Defense Strategy (NDS), which recognizes—correctly, in our view—that the United States finds itself behind the curve today when it comes to this inter-state strategic competition and the threats it poses. However, the NDS falls short in identifying how America should best respond to it.
Corruption allegations and political unrest in Africa have too often prompted halfhearted concessions or constitutional tweaking by strongmen bent on staying in power. But the past week’s two notable counterpoints are only the latest in a string of surprising developments around the continent. Deeply unpopular President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, plagued by years of corruption scandals, complied with ruling party orders to step down on Wednesday, February 14. The next day, embattled Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn unexpectedly resigned, citing a desire to allow “reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy.” Not long before this particularly eventful week, José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, two longstanding dictators, left office—the latter in a military coup.
Whether you get your news online, on the radio, on television, or in print, there is no way to escape the recent spate of revelations of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault that have taken place in every industry and at every echelon. Powerful politician, billionaire media mogul, tenured professor, it makes no difference; the Harvey Weinstein scandal (rather than the countless sexual disgraces associated with our Commander-in-Chief) provided the watershed moment that now has our country engaged, at least for the time being, in this important, albeit uncomfortable, conversation.
A visitor to Zimbabwe’s capital city could be forgiven for missing the apparent military coup underway at Harare’s “Blue House.” But despite business-as-usual in much of the city, anxiety and confusion are rife beneath the surface.