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Poland Threat Perception
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    Throughout the communist era, official threat perception by the Polish military was identical to that of the Soviet Union: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO--see Glossary) would confront the forces of the socialist nations on the plains of Northern Europe in a massive conventional war. Until 1990 Poland had the special threat perception of renewed invasion from Germany; although the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) was itself no longer a military power, it was the ostensible staging area for large numbers of NATO troops against the Warsaw Pact. On the other hand, the Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia and Hungary exemplified the eastern threat perceived by both communist and noncommunist Poles with nationalist loyalties. That threat was also a convenient tool for the Jaruzelski government in justifying oppression of reform activity.

    By 1987 the inefficient centralized industrial systems of the Warsaw Pact countries were increasingly unable to produce hightechnology weaponry, and their national economies had become severely distorted by the priority given military production. Accordingly, Gorbachev's "new thinking" on Soviet security prompted a redesign of Warsaw Pact strategy based on sober reassessment of Warsaw Pact resources and on the belief that political means could replace military strategy in protecting the security of the alliance. The new strategy included reducing defense spending and emphasizing a pan-European security plan that might split NATO into American and European factions. Although the new structure continued to regard Poland as a central player in the coalition defense system, Poland was able to reduce and streamline key military units beginning in 1987. Thus, before the revolutions of 1989, the Warsaw Pact's combined threat perception had changed pragmatically, and member nations had the opportunity to relieve somewhat the onus of mandatory support of the alliance's military structure. For Poland, this change triggered the search for a more realistic and independent threat perception that continued into the early 1990s.

    The postcommunist era complicated Poland's threat perception. The new outlook began with the recognition that Poland was not and could not be militarily comparable to its traditionally dangerous neighbors. To the east, the Soviet Union had fractured into numerous republics, abolishing any remaining threat of an attack launched from the east to keep Poland within ideological limits. The uneasy relations among the former Soviet republics, especially between Russia and Ukraine over issues such as jurisdiction over nuclear weapons and control of the Black Sea, caused alarm in Poland. So did the possibility that reform would fail in Russia, allowing an ultranationalist, hard-line regime to come to power, reassert Soviet or imperialist prerogatives, and renege on troop withdrawal schedules. Another threat was the rejection by the newly independent republics of arms control agreements signed by the Soviet Union. Such a move could lead to uncontrolled proliferation of nuclear weapons and the failure of limits on conventional forces in the region. In another scenario, central authority might fail entirely in former republics, causing conflicts among former Soviet forces to spill over onto adjacent Polish territory. In 1991 three events--the Soviet crackdown in Lithuania in January, the attempted reactionary coup in the Soviet Union in August, and the chaos of the SerbianCroatian struggle in the last half of the year--lent urgency to the formation of Poland's new European security policy.

    Polish concerns were magnified by the strength and disposition of forces in the former Soviet Union. Russian troops withdrawn from Germany and Poland went to Kaliningrad, the isolated Russian province on Poland's northern border, and often remained there because the surrounding republics, Belarus and Lithuania, would not permit Russian troops to pass through their territory. The continued concentration of Russian armored, artillery, and infantry forces in Kaliningrad was a source of alarm for Poland in 1992. (Poland did not seek a change in the political status of Kaliningrad, however.) To the east, the armed forces in Ukraine's Carpathian Military District adjoining Poland exceeded Poland's entire combat strength in 1992 (although bilateral relations with Ukraine were quite friendly). Many Polish storage depots were located close to the borders of both Kaliningrad and Ukraine, making them vulnerable in case of attack from either direction.

    Past territorial and military conflicts with Belarus, Lithuania, and Ukraine were confined increasingly to the memories of the older generations on all sides. Nevertheless, Belarus, remembering that the Treaty of Riga had divided that republic between Poland and Soviet Russia in 1921, still claimed the Bialystok region of eastern Poland, which was home to a substantial Belarusian population. And Ukrainian nationalists remembered the role of the Polish People's Army in helping the Soviet Union crush the anticommunist Ukrainian Resistance Army in 1947, as well as the interwar Polish hegemony in western Ukraine. The most divisive issue in Polish-Lithuanian relations was treatment of the Polish minority in Lithuania, estimated at 300,000 people in 1990. In 1991 and 1992, that well-organized minority pressed for autonomy, putting the Polish government in a difficult diplomatic position and blocking Poland's efforts to secure its eastern and northern borders from ethnic turmoil (see Other Former Soviet Republics , ch. 4).

    Poland's evaluation of Germany's position was more reassuring. In the early 1990s, Polish policy makers saw the newly reunified Germany's strong commitments to NATO and the European Community (EC--see Glossary), the German national outlook, and continued deemphasis of the German military as indicators that Germany would remain a benign neighbor through the 1990s. Poles increasingly perceived the threat from Germany as one of economic rather than military domination. Accordingly, Poland's best defense appeared to lie in forming closer ties with the traditionally robust German economy and reinvigorating the Polish political system rather than in strategic military planning. Doubts about Germany's long-term territorial goals were revived briefly in 1990 when Germany hesitated in accepting the Oder-Neisse Line as a permanent border between the two countries, but tensions were eased by the signing of a border treaty in mid1990 and a Polish-German friendship and cooperation treaty in late 1991 (see fig. 12; Germany , ch. 4). In pursuing closer German ties, however, Poland cautiously soothed Russian perceptions that a new alliance might be forming to its west.

    Data as of October 1992

    NOTE: The information regarding Poland on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Poland Threat Perception information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Poland Threat Perception should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
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