With Mariusz Błaszczak, the Minister of National Defense, on NATO’s eastern flank, increasing defense expenditures and the number of reserve personnel, talk Paulina Glińska and Tadeusz Wróbel.
Shortly before the NATO summit in London, the president of France expressed his criticism on the condition of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. What is your opinion on the effects of that meeting?
I consider it successful for NATO as a whole, but also for Poland and our region. There are several levels of this positive evaluation: one of them is the symbolic, historical context – at the summit we celebrated the 70th anniversary of creating the strongest political-military alliance in history, as well as the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain, one of the events that made it possible for Poland to join NATO. We have been a member for over 20 years now. Politically, the London Summit confirmed the unity and cohesion of the Alliance. The particularly important thing was that all NATO states affirmed their commitment to collective defense in the event of a crisis. This proves that the famous rule of the Musketeers: “one for all, all for one” is still valid, and it was clearly communicated to the world, including potential adversaries. Furthermore, the summit confirmed that the Alliance’s political obligations are consistently fulfilled. A perfect example is NATO Readiness Initiative. As planned, at the London Summit the Allies committed to contribute forces necessary to implement the initiative, i.e. 30 battalions, 30 naval combat vessels and 30 air squadrons, ready to use within 30 days. The summit also confirmed the progress of work undertaken by the Alliance in many other important areas, such as increasing defense expenditures, countering threats of all kinds, including missile, terrorist, hybrid and cyber threats, recognizing cosmic space as a new operational area. These are concrete initiatives increasing the security of NATO states and their citizens. The Polish delegation, led by President Andrzej Duda, was very successful in London. The President’s endeavors contributed to Turkey making arrangements regarding the Baltic defense plan on the political level. Moreover, Andrzej Duda played a leading role in a meeting, organized by the US President, bringing together the Allies who fulfill the requirement to spend at least 2% GDP on defense. It is a clear confirmation that Poland is right to think that NATO is still strong and in good condition. Therefore, we don’t share the doubts raised by President Emmanuel Macron.
Before the summit, there was some disturbing information on the stand of Turkey, which, in return for support, wanted NATO to accept its military operations in Syria. Did the allied states succeed in maintaining their hitherto stand concerning NATO’s eastern flank?
The process of strengthening NATO’s eastern flank, and through that also increasing Poland’s security, will be continued, which was confirmed at the meeting in London. Let me remind you that since the summit in Newport in 2014, NATO has been working intensively, in the most extensive process since the times of the Cold War, on adapting its actions to modern-day threats, mainly due to Russia’s aggressive politics. One of the objectives is to ensure the security of the eastern flank, so also of Poland. The effects of this process are very noticeable. To name just a few, particularly important for our country: strengthening NATO Response Force, deployment of forces within NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence in Poland and the Baltic States, increasing defense expenditures. The London Summit confirmed that the Alliance has appropriate military tools to effectively protect all member states, Poland included.
Is the USA ready to maintain their military presence, increased after 2014, in the east of NATO?
On a yearly average, rotations totaling around 4,500 American soldiers are deployed in Poland. Two declarations, signed in June and September 2019 by the presidents of Poland and the USA, identify projects on permanent presence of American troops in Poland, which are crucial to our interests and pertain to, i.a., command capability, reconnaissance, special operations forces and infrastructure necessary to accommodate additional troops. We agreed with the American side that the projects are to ultimately lead to increasing the presence of the US forces by around 1,000, to the yearly average level of at least 5,500 troops. Considering the current number of American soldiers and the planned enhancement, it will be possible to quickly deploy a division-strong force of US troops, and in the future – basing on the evaluation of the security situation in the region – further enhance American military presence in Poland.
American politicians are paying more and more attention to the Asia-Pacific region, with China as their most dangerous global competitor. Can such a change of strategy pose a threat to NATO?
We are certainly well aware of the tendencies in the American governmental and political circles. We need to keep in mind that the USA are a global power with multiple political and economic interests in the Pacific region. However, America and Europe are bound by very special ties – cultural, political, economic and military. After all, we are talking about a state which fought in both world wars on the Old Continent, then provided support during the economic recovery after the war, greatly contributed to ending the Cold War, and, last but not least, supported the changes in our region and the accession of Poland and the neighboring states to NATO. We must also remember that the USA haven’t stopped engaging in the functioning of the Alliance and keeping Europe safe. They are and will be NATO’s leader. Their financial, political and military contribution is crucial to the Alliance, they also engage in countless NATO initiatives and projects. On top of that, in recent years Americans have been more and more inclined towards enhancing their military presence in our region, particularly in Poland.
There are undeniable tensions in the relations between the USA and some European NATO members. For years, Americans have been openly dissatisfied with the fact that some states don’t increase their defense budgets.
I wouldn’t call it tensions, but rather healthy pressure regarding the obligation to spend a minimum of 2% of GDP on defense. We should focus on the positive aspect of the American postulates. They want NATO to be stronger, to spend even more money on defense than it currently does. Consequently, the Alliance will become better prepared to respond to existing threats. We accept American requirements, and we are one of only eight states with such a high defense budget. After all, we are talking about our security. The London Summit summarized the process of increasing NATO’s defense spending. Importantly, the presented data is definitely satisfactory. The Allies, excluding the USA, have increased defense expenditures by 130 billion American dollars in total within the last five years, and in 2024 that amount can reach as much as 400 billion. The facts are unarguable – NATO spends enormous amounts of money on defense.
Building our own defense capabilities is important not only in the context of NATO membership. How do you assess the development of the Territorial Defense Force (TDF) and the process of creating the 18th Mechanized Division?
Ensuring security to Polish people is my priority, so we consistently develop our defense capabilities. The process of forming TDF requires time and willingness. Luckily, we can’t complain about that, because Polish people want to serve in the army and they are very satisfied with this formula. Our country needed territorial forces, their enthusiasm, but also competence and experience. Currently, we are forming the western wall of TDF. At the same time, the brigades that were created in the first phase are already obtaining their operational readiness. We are talking about almost 25,000 people who are ready to react in a very short time – both in the event of an internal crisis and an external threat. It is a real force. The necessity of its existence was confirmed during the recent floods in the south of the country. As to the decision to create the “Iron Division,” the fourth one in the Polish Armed Forces, deployed to the east of the Vistula river, I am of the opinion it will bring a new quality to the army. Its commander, MajGen Jarosław Gromadziński, supports conducting operations using battlegroups with full interoperability of command and according to NATO procedures. The characteristic feature of this tactical task-force is a four-battalion structure of brigades, which significantly increases combat potential, while simultaneously reducing the staff and administrative structures. Last year, we managed to begin forming several units of the 18th Division, and there are more locations ahead of us. Everything is going as planned.
A strong army is also advanced armament. Which of the technical modernization programs will be the priority in the upcoming years?
Definitely acquiring the F-35 5th generation aircraft for our Air Force. During the summit in London, I talked about the progress of the work with President Trump’s national security advisor, Robert O’Brien. He reinforced my conviction that the procurement will be smooth and we will negotiate an appropriate price. Our airmen need a technological leap. These aircraft work like a network of centers acquiring and processing data in an ultramodern way. In order to “close” the Polish multi-level air and missile defense system, it is necessary to execute the Narew short-range air defense system program, which relies on the Polish industry. As a result, the army will receive state-of-the-art equipment, and our domestic arms industry will gain technological know-how and financial stabilization. Due to the purchase of the American HIMARS system, Polish artillery will soon obtain capabilities to hit targets at a distance of even 300 km. We are continuing the helicopter program. We have already purchased Black Hawks for the special operations component, as well as maritime Anacondas. In 2019, I signed the new technical modernization plan, with the planning horizon set for the year 2035. The amount allocated for procuring new armament and equipment for soldiers is PLN 524 billion, which lets us look to the future with calmness and certainty.
Considering the level of neglect in the Polish Navy, it is impossible to restore its full operational capabilities in a very short time and in the extent we would wish for. However, we are working on the best possible solutions, taking into consideration the cost and effect relationship. Therefore, we are going to implement a bridging solution in the critical submarine program, but based on the understanding that ultimately a new generation ship will be delivered to the Navy. In the meantime, we’ve managed to deliver to them the very much awaited “Ślązak,” and we are also executing the plan to deliver six tugboats. It is an optimistic prognosis, although I am aware the expectations are much bigger. We are going to put all our effort into the work that will allow the Polish Navy to reach the anticipated level.
Which of the armament programs can be implemented using the strength of the Polish defense industry?
First, I want to emphasize that it is really important to me to build our defense capabilities relying in the widest possible extent on the Polish industry. In 2019, the value of contracts concluded with domestic companies reached PLN 6.8 billion, almost twice as much as in the previous years. There is no strong army without strong industry, and there is no strong defense industry without orders from the army. In the concept we are implementing, the objectives for the army and the industry are consistent. Our industry has potential, confirmed by modern artillery systems, armored carriers, or guns delivered to Polish units. We are also going to use that potential in the “Narew,” “Rosomak BMS” or “Ottokar Brzoza” programs.
The EU member states are tightening their cooperation within the defense industry. Do you see it as a chance for Polish producers?
We are joining European research projects and development initiatives. Actions undertaken to this end at the EU level are initiating the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), and the European Defense Fund (EDF). The second initiative is especially important for the defense industry. It aims at supporting joint research in the defense sector, common development, and purchasing new equipment platforms and defense technologies by the EU member states. Engagement of Polish entities in development work within the European Defense Industrial Development Program (EDIDP) must nevertheless be closely connected to the needs of the Polish Armed Forces. Thus, we are analyzing the possibility to cooperate on the new generation tank project. Most EU member states also belong to NATO, so we need to work on effectively unifying our efforts within the frame of the arms industry and modernization programs, as well as our strategic potential for collective and effective defense. We can’t afford to duplicate the structures and effort of NATO and the EU. The good thing is that our approach is shared by a growing number of member states, not only those situated on the eastern flank.
After ten years of waiting, the basic emolument was unfrozen, which means higher salaries to professional soldiers from January 1, 2020. Do we already know how the money will be distributed?
Since I took office at the Ministry of Defense, one of the pillars of the MoND’s policy has been to improve the conditions of service and work in the army structures. That’s why since 2018 we have consistently increased soldiers’ salaries. Let me remind you that in 2019 they were increased by amounts ranging from PLN 200 to PLN 550. This was the biggest raise in years. The previous government was saving money on the army, and for many years denied raises to soldiers. According to our plans, the average salary of soldiers in 2020 will be increased again by PLN 624. We will achieve that by increasing the basic emolument, but also raising the so-called multiplier of this amount to 3.811. I can assure you that both soldiers and army employees can rest assured when it comes to their finances. We want to make the profession of a soldier competitive in comparison to other jobs, also in terms of remuneration and offered perspectives, in order to raise interest in military service and increase the personnel strength of the Polish Armed Forces.
Since we are talking about increasing the number of soldiers, what are the effects of the “Become a Soldier of the Republic of Poland” campaign initiated this year?
The campaign has been very well received by the Polish society. Recruitment and promotion campaigns in many places around Poland have attracted hundreds of thousands of people. The measurable effect of our activities is that over 32,000 applications for professional military service have been submitted since the beginning of the campaign. This project will definitely be continued.
Another priority is increasing the number of personnel reserves. The MoND has initiated many programs to this end, including Legia Akademicka (Academic Legion), a program focused on creating certified military classes. 2020 will be the time of intensive training of reserves. How intensive?
I don’t think I have to convince anyone that the army’s most valuable asset are people. The universal law of war is that it is won by reserves. Therefore, both pillars of the system, i.e. operational forces and personnel reserves, must be prepared to face various types of threats. The increased intensity of reserve soldiers’ training planned for the year 2020 is consistent with the assumptions on raising mobilization capabilities of our armed forces. This process had been frozen for several years, which directly caused a wide gap in reserves’ potential. We are going to reverse this process. In 2020 we will call thousands of reservists to trainings of various length and with various obligation of appearance.
In 2018, you signed a concept concerning the NCO corps. Work on its implementation is still ongoing. When will we see the first effects of the changes?
Work is ongoing because the changes we intend to introduce go very deep. It is an extensive development concept aiming at refreshing the NCO corps in its entirety. Its provisions will cover over 38,000 soldiers. I want NCOs to climb to a new level of functioning, to be leaders with expert knowledge, with certain independence to act, rather than just be tools in the hands of commanders. We are basing our actions on the modern model adopted in the US Army, where officers deal with planning and supervision, and experienced NCOs command soldiers.
What is the development perspective for the Cyberspace Defense Forces (WOC)?
Engaging the Ministry of Defense in matters connected with cybersecurity arises from the changes in the security environment, as well as national obligations and obligations towards NATO. We must raise competences of personnel in this field. We’ve significantly increased enrollment numbers in military majors at the Military University of Technology (WAT) and the Polish Naval Academy. As a result of these undertakings, around 2,000 officers with specializations related to cybersecurity will finish military universities by 2025. Recently, under the patronage of WAT, a Military Comprehensive Information Technology High School (WOLI) has been created, and MBA studies have been launched at WAT in cooperation with the University of Genoa. We have also undertaken work to create the SONDA School for Non-Commissioned Officers, offering education to NCOs in the field of IT and cryptography. I have also succeeded in opening the Ministry of Defense to the civilian environment of IT specialists, particularly by including the Polish Armed Forces twice in the civilian hackathon. It is worth mentioning that since February 2019, over 750 people have expressed their willingness to work in the departmental structures connected with this field – they are the ones who will later work in the ranks of WOC. In September 2019, I approved these military forces’ organization and functioning concept, which assumes a phased, evolutional creation of WOC, so that by the end of 2024 the tactical level units obtain readiness to execute tasks and operations in cyberspace.
autor zdjęć: Wojciech Król / CO MON