Łukasz Zalesiński talks to Andrzej Fałkowski about the meanders of military diplomacy and difficult negotiations during NATO summits.
You mentioned once that for the last few years you had rather been a guest in your own home.
Yeah. I spent 14 years on four missions abroad. In Brussels, I served in three different positions with breaks for service in the country. Recently for almost four years I was a Polish military representative at the NATO and European Union military committees in Brussels. In addition, I held for two years the defense attaché at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Washington D.C. And if you add to this the delegations, trips to courses or lectures, it comes out that during this time I sat on the plane about 500 times... Now I have been home for three months.
That is why you follow the media every day from the morning...
Of course. I do it because it's what interests me.
I do not know. I'm not a professional diplomat. In my opinion, military diplomacy has as much to do with diplomacy as military music has to do with music.
The soldiers are playing with open cards. When I met with representatives of NATO or EU military committees in Brussels, our positions were always presented in a simple, clear way, while those developed by civilian diplomacy were far more veiled, packaged in a language that takes into account the meanders of international relations. In addition, military recommendations, although taken into account, did not always materialize in the form of political decisions. NATO is a pact based on two aspects: political and military. And the latter, contrary to what is commonly believed, is shorter. The last word in NATO always belongs to politicians. But it's all good, because civilian, democratic control over the army is necessary to stop the inclinations of some generals…
And how did you get into this world at all?
At the end of the nineties of the last century I was deputy director of the economic department at the Ministry of National Defense. Poland was just negotiating the terms of NATO membership and it turned out that someone in Brussels was needed for matters related to economic issues. I was seconded to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to soon take up the position of a counselor in the Polish Representation at NATO and the Western European Union, for such a name was in force prior to our entry into NATO.
Two decades have passed since then. But when we consider how the situation in the world has changed, you can probably talk about light years?
When I started my service in Brussels, there were representatives of 16, not 29 sitting at the table. It was easier to get along. NATO itself victoriously emerged from the Cold War. It's time to look for your own identity, operations outside of article 5, engagement in Afghanistan, Bosnia or Kosovo. And suddenly, due to Russia, everything changed.
Annexation of Crimea in 2014. You are again in Brussels as MILREP.
When I left to Brussels, the crisis was just beginning. It was certain that Russia is not bluffing so it was clear that now a move must be carried out by NATO. The Alliance leaders were on their way to the summit in Welsh Newport. According to the original assumptions, it was to be a routine meeting summarizing the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, but Russian activity completely changed its direction. In Newport there was a significant correction of the NATO modus operandi. A reform package was created to respond to Moscow's aggressive policy. The NATO Response Force, i.e. the NRF, was increased and immediate reaction forces were created, i.e. VJTF, with the so-called picket, NFIU was created - six integration units, which, if necessary, are to coordinate the actions of the reinforcement forces. The leaders of the alliance have changed the approach to contingency planning and the first attempts to define a hybrid war have come to that. And to define means to perceive and understand the threat. The status of the Multinational North-Eastern Corps in Szczecin has been upgraded - from low to high readiness. Once again, there was a declaration that NATO member states would allocate 2% of their GDP for defense. And the alliance declared support for Ukraine. These were still timid changes, but NATO clearly began to return to the roots. There was a change in mentality after 20 years of self-improvement, as it turned out, a strategic pause.
But the Newport Summit was just the first step.
Yes, the trend started in Wales was continued during the Warsaw summit. Our leaders established that NATO troops will appear in the Baltic States and in the east of our country as part of a strengthened permanent presence, or eFP that a multinational Alliance command will be created in Elbląg. In Poland, rotational stationing began the American Armored Brigade Combat Group, or ABCT, the alliance gave the green light to Montenegro, supported Georgia's aspirations, declared further assistance to Ukraine, announced the fight against Islamic State and continued presence in Afghanistan and Iraq. Other decisions were made in Warsaw, which may not be given so much attention, but they are no less important. I mean even the recognition of cyberspace as the operational domain. NATO decision makers strongly emphasized that the key issue for the alliance is the principle of collective defense, which can be summarized in the words "one for all, all for one". For us, of course, the most important thing was the American engagement on the eastern flank...
These processes were watched by you very closely. What was your participation in the decisions that were made in Newport and Warsaw?
If we assume that in the army we operate in zero-one categories, this share is equal to zero. Perhaps this sounds perverse, but you need to be aware of NATO's decision-making mechanisms. The summit is nothing but the North Atlantic Council in the formula of the leaders of states. And that's what they make key decisions. This moment is preceded by a series of negotiations and meetings in the so-called the format of foreign ministers, defense, ambassadors or heads of general staffs of member states. The NATO military committee, which I composed as a representative of the head of the General Staff of the Polish Army, conducted talks, of course, in accordance with the instructions from the highest military levels of the member states. I tried to execute instructions from the country during the pre-accession negotiations. At the end, we gave a number of recommendations to the NATO political party to reach final decisions by heads of state and governments in Warsaw. This required many bilateral and multilateral activities. Intensive negotiations, building a coalition, or even - colloquially speaking - a trade fair at the headquarters level, as well as political - governmental and diplomatic - were necessary.
And how important are the relationships, likes and personal qualities in this puzzle?
Huge. Here the same rules apply as in business: "there is no chemistry, no solutions". Do you know the term "partnership for peace"? We cried ours: "eating for peace". Once we even counted in the representation, in how many lunches, parties and dinners I took part in during the service in Brussels. I do not remember this number today, but believe me, it was really a lot. Of course, it's not just talking about business then. However, diplomacy is the art of making friends. Friendships and sympathies can be useful at the negotiating table. When you know and like someone, it's easier to convince them of your reasons. You can even ask that when discussing an important topic for our country, do not put matters on the edge of the knife... There was not much time for boredom.
Can Poland really talk about the success of the NATO summit in Warsaw?
Of course. We managed to negotiate a lot because we had some chips on the table, which we skilfully played. First of all, we showed that we are not just a petitioner and we can contribute quite a bit to common defense policy. Incidentally, it was not easy to agree on details related to the stationing of alliance troops in Poland and the Baltic States. Difficulties in particular concerned the emergence of the so-called framework countries or project leaders in individual countries. Great Britain agreed to accept this role in Estonia. But already in the case of Lithuania, where Germany is stationed, the case turned out to be very delicate due to historical events and the German constitution, the provisions of which complicate matters of Bundeswehra involvement outside the country. We also had a big problem with Latvia. Logic would indicate that the role of the framework state should be adopted there by France or Italy, i.e. European potentates. Meanwhile, neither one nor the other were eager. Finally, probably at the instigation of the United States, this task was undertaken by a non-European country - Canada. And then, figuratively speaking, the skeleton began to be covered by other countries. That's why in our battle group, apart from the Americans, we have troops from Romania, Croatia and Great Britain. Strengthening the eastern flank means long and labor-intensive hours spent at the meeting tables and on less official talks... at many governmental, diplomatic and military levels. Summing up the last summits of NATO, I will say that we can deal with the classic triad. In Newport, a new or refreshed trend was launched, in Warsaw it was developed, in Brussels, it would be appropriate to do something as well...
How would you summarize the recently concluded NATO summit?
In Brussels, there were rather no fireworks, although a number of previously prepared decisions were made. Four times 30, that is, 30 days' readiness, 30 battalions, 30 squadrons and 30 ships, as well as a change in the structure and creation of two commands: rear in Ulm and naval in Norfolk as part of the NATO forces structure. Further changes in structures are still being worked out by planners and during bilateral negotiations. In addition, there were again attempts to squeeze more money into the armed forces of individual alliance countries. Several countries have been censored or have been subjected to open criticism or even ostracism. Both methods, euphemistically speaking, are diplomatically problematic. In total, you can talk about many important moves, which are a continuation of previous trends. Much more important is what was set in the corridors, during meetings at the highest level, in various national configurations. We will probably find out about these equally important - if not more important - like the top, agreements in the near future. Among them, I hope for the decision to station troops also with us. One should not forget about another summit: Trump - Putin. This is a system of connected vessels.
So what future is waiting for us?
Talking about it is a bit like fortune telling, because the situation is changing very dynamically. Who would have thought a few years ago that Russia would decide to seize Crimea and that the President of the United States would sit at one table with the leader of North Korea? I would not expect fireworks, for example, an open armed confrontation between NATO and Russia. Just look at the potentials of both sides. The 29 member states of the Alliance total approximately one billion citizens. Russia has 143 million of them. NATO armies have 3.2 million soldiers, while Russia has about 800,000. NATO spends ten times more on defense and the countries associated in it generate half of world GDP. Of course, one key person will have to make key decisions in Russia, 29 leaders have to get along with us, but the fact that so many of them meet in one place to cope together has a huge potential for deterrence. The erosion that has occurred in the European Union due to brexit can not be repeated in the alliance. And Poland? It should look after its position in NATO, but also always remember about Article 3, which talks about defending its own territory. We need to build our own potential, not only to take away from the allies, but also to contribute to this NATO puzzle all the time.
Lt. Gen. Andrzej Fałkowski
He began his service in the 3rd Regiment of Security of the Navy Command in Gdynia. In 1998 he became a counsellor in the Permanent Representation to NATO and the Western European Union in Brussels. Then he was deputy director of the NATO International Military Staff for Logistics and Resources in Brussels, defense attaché, military, sea and air attaché at the Polish embassy in Washington and in 2014-2018 he was a Polish military representative at NATO and the EU in Brussels.
autor zdjęć: arch. prywatne