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Wednesday, 24 September 2008

NATO is an exporter of stability and peace

President Lech Kaczyński, who came to New York to attend the Session of the UN General Assembly, also took part in a Foreign Policy Association conference.

Below you will find the text of the President’s address at the conference:

“The subject I should address today is NATO and the challenges in store for the Alliance. Even as recently as half a year ago, or even three moths ago, one could address the subject fairly easily and casually, but today this is no longer the case. Ladies and Gentlemen, many years ago, as the President has just been telling you, I used to hold a position in Poland comparable to that of the S National Security Advisor. This was a long time ago. Together with my brother, I belonged to a narrow group of politicians who charted out the goal of NATO accession for Poland. These were the first years of our independence. We did not have it easy: neither in Poland, where naive opinions about the role to be played by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were circulated, nor in the neighbouring countries who openly talked about the dissolution of NATO, the subject that was but rarely raised in our country. According to the latter, NATO was deemed to be no longer necessary once the communist system had collapsed, since the Alliance, it was claimed, was formed in 1949 precisely to defend its members against communism. Thus we did not have it easy, but within two year’s time our concept became valid, also for Poland’s post-communist party in 1993. We did not have it easy also considering that there were initially opponents on your side as well, and there were reportedly, though I cannot check the veracity of this claim, some obligations made vis-à-vis the last Soviet President and First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev. The obligations pursuant to which Poland would no longer be a member of the Warsaw Pact, which had been dissolved, but at the same time would never be a NATO member. An idea that was quite resonant in Poland (and I do not know in how far it was promoted by secret services) was that Poland should be something like a middle-of-the-road country. The Western part of our country, which is of course very small as compared to the USA but fairly big by European standards, should be under West German influence, whereas the Eastern part under Russian influence. Back then, the Soviet Union was still nominally in existence but these where the very last months of its life. And yet, we managed to win there. Step by step, we were persuading the US administration about the need to enlarge NATO and, indeed, the Alliance was enlarged. We have been NATO members for nine years now. I wish to take this opportunity to express my warmest thanks to Poland’s chief negotiator at that time, and at present Poland’s Ambassador to the UN, Mr Andrzej Towpik, who is present with us today.

Yes, that day back in 1999 was a great day for me, even though I was outside politics at that time. While introducing me, Mr President failed to mention the years 1995-2000, when I was back at the university, having resumed my former career. Why was that? Because we were saying already in the early 1990s that security structures in the world fell into ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ ones. And that the only existing hard security structure was NATO. And that NATO alone was able to guarantee not ideal security, for there is nothing ideal in this world, but at least a measure of security. And that goal we achieved. NATO was enlarged to include not only our country, incidentally, but some other nations as well. However, the problems did not end. A question arises, why did they not end? I think that the principal reason for that is that the world and the ways in which it functions have proved to be incomparably more complex than it seemed in the early 1990s. It was back then that the outstanding US political scientist and sociologist Francis Fukuyama spoke about the end of history. However, history does not want to end somehow. It refuses to end, confronting us with ever new problems, including the problem of security in its various dimensions: the international one and also with the dimension related to terrorist activities. These are the two main problems that make NATO’s continued existence necessary. 

Will you please allow me to focus on international issues in the first place, Ladies and Gentlemen. Here, the transformations that our Russian partner has been undergoing have become the central problem for NATO, which is a broad-based but nevertheless regional organisation, as I would like to recall, even though the region in question is a very big one, on the global scale. In the 1990s, Russia experienced an era, not the first such era in its history, referred to as a ‘Time of Trouble’, an era of disintegration not only of the Soviet Union, but also of Russia, of the Russian Federation as such. An era of a great weakening of central government. Of a huge rise in crime levels, indeed of criminal rule almost at times, not on a national scale, but in its various regions. Accordingly, Russia experienced great difficulties. It never ceased to be the subject of international law, a major player, but its role declined dramatically. The states that emerged from the former Soviet Union mostly remained under the rule of their former communist leaders, ones that harboured strong nationalist sentiments, so to say, that were strongly attached to their national customs, often very different from our European ones; that were often strongly attached to a world simply organised into clans, for this is common in these countries; but they had a communist past. They did not pose any particular threat to Russia at that time, even though they showed tendencies towards independence. It was not even President Putin’s rise to power that put an end to Russia’s ‘Time of Trouble’. In my opinion, this era began to end a little bit earlier, in the late President Yeltsin’s final years in office, when he still served as president, but did not actually exercise power. It was then that a tendency started to revive - a tendency that, incidentally, had never completely subsided; for it is a fib that it ever subsided - to reconstruct the empire that had been laboriously built starting from a small principality in the 15th century, the Principality of Moscow. Earlier on, the Principality of Tver had been even more important, and the historical capital of the region known as Rus is Kiev, it has been its capital ever since the Middle Ages. Starting from that small principality to grow into a state that used to stretch from the Western borders of what is today central Poland all the way to Alaska, part of the United States. Alaska, as we know, was sold by the Russians. A part of your country used to belong to Russia for quite a long time. And there were also attempts against California. One has to remember that too, that such attempts were made. This imperial tendency started to revive slowly and in various forms, and the reasons behind that are very complex. The fundamental reason, I believe, is something that is ingrained in the tradition of a given nation and state, in the tradition of relations between the rulers and the people; this is a question of paramount importance in Russia. It is a tradition very different from the trans-Atlantic one. Last but not least, one of the reasons is that the new ruling elite that emerged after communism is an elite deriving from the communist apparatus, most notably from its ‘power sectors’. I am referring here to civilian intelligence and counterintelligence and the security service, i.e. the KGB, and to the GRU, i.e. military intelligence. According to some estimates, as many as seventy-eight per cent of the members of today’s Russian ruling elite have that kind of background, and even if we assume that this estimate is exaggerated, this is still the predominant tendency as regards the origins of the apparatus. This apparatus was brought up in a certain way, it was subject to certain indoctrination, and a certain world of values was presented to it. These people came as a rule from plebeian backgrounds, and they were formed in this respect not by their families but, rather, by school, university and later by KGB and GRU schools. This mentality remains, and this not a civic state mentality; it is the mentality of a state whose objectives are mostly external and prestigious. And one more factor was added to that - ownership, which had been absent from Russia on a scale incomparably larger as compared e.g. to Poland, which was also a communist country after all. There is no comparison here: in this respect, Poland was always regarded by the Russians as a merely semi-socialist state. A tiny shoe-repair kiosk there, and the cobbler in that kiosk was a ‘chasnyi’, an enemy of the people. I saw it myself in Russia forty years ago. I repeat, he made his living by repairing shoes, and he had the right to do so because he was mentally ill. This is what ownership looked like in Russia and do remember, Ladies and Gentlemen, that to this day it is the authorities in Russia who decide about ownership. You can be the owner on Wednesday and cease to be the owner on Thursday, because this is what the authorities decided. This is one of the biggest misconceptions of European entrepreneurs most importantly, but largely also of American entrepreneurs, American corporations; the fact that they mistake the European and American notion of ownership for the local notion of ownership. 

What is the point of telling you all these things? My point is that the revival of the imperial tendency was a natural phenomenon in a sense, a natural striving of the Russian elite. How is this tendency translated into realities? One has to say it clearly: the Russians have created a great culture and the Russians have a lot of vices, but they are political geniuses. I myself used to think many years ago that once Poland was a NATO member, as well as an EU member, but this is not the subject that we are discussing today, then we would have a solid wall behind us, we would be completely safe, to put it briefly. And yet this is not the case, for the Russians have managed to work out a way to gain influence in the European Union, to a much greater degree, as well as in NATO, to a much lesser degree, but there as well. In other words, today the very fact of membership in these two organisations does not protect one from excessive Russian influence; for Russia, as any other country, has the right to exert influence.

One can ask, therefore, why I am so enthusiastic about NATO? As I said, there is nothing better. My definition of NATO is: an exporter of relative stability and peace, a reliable exporter. Ninety-five per cent reliable, at least. What examples will I quote here? Greece and Turkey are NATO members, and we know what historical relations between these two nations have been like. We know the question of Cyprus. I can assure you here today, Ladies and Gentlemen, that if these two countries had not been NATO members, we would have had at least two wars between them in the past few decades. Who would have won? There is no telling, but these two wars would have occurred. The relations are tense. A non-abolishable dispute, so to say, a dispute difficult to resolve, but at least there are no wars. This is what makes me such an ardent advocate of NATO enlargement, of enlarging its area of responsibility. This is what makes me want so much to see Ukraine and Georgia join NATO. 

Let us now proceed to a specific issue, to the Georgian crisis, for this is the crisis that I referred to at the beginning, when I said that had I been speaking here a few months earlier, my situation would have been different. The Georgian crisis has various aspects, but to quote a person with whom I mostly disagree, even though he made a great contribution to combating communism, one of my compatriots, I can say that in Georgia Russia showed the face it wanted to show. It was not a coincidence. ‘We are powerful, and you are helpless’. Who are the ‘you’? ‘You’ stands for the West as a whole. Regrettably, in this case for both the EU and NATO. Why did I show that degree of determination there, together with my friends from the Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, as well as from Ukraine? Because I was convinced that the Russian maximum plan was to remove Saakashvili from power. This was the maximum plan, because there are always variants, and we managed to jointly prevent this plan from being carried into effect. Naturally, Poland is too weak to be the main player here, but it was a major player. The authorities were not overthrown. The iron principle of territorial integrity was very boldly violated and this was precisely the point. ‘You are helpless’: what is the meaning of that in geopolitical terms? Namely, for Europe, as well as for the United States, it is not Georgian territory - for Georgia merely serves as a pathway - but today definitely Azerbaijan, and tomorrow Kazakhstan perhaps, and the same is true of Turkmenistan, that mean huge gas and oil reserves; that powerful instrument in Russian hands that I have failed to mention so far. There was a chance of laying down a transport route to Europe, to European ports, and therefore perhaps even further, bypassing Russia. Today, this chance has been considerably reduced. This is something to be bitterly regretted. And was there a way to do that? Yes, it was. Determination, most importantly on the part of NATO. Why am I speaking of NATO rather than the European Union? Firstly, these are organisations of different character. NATO is a political and defence organisation and I wish to warn you against the idea of which I heard at NATO Council sessions, to make NATO a purely political organisation. I will not mention here who said that, but these were the great ones of this world, though not from the United States, who said so. NATO should return to defence objectives. NATO is the organisation through which the responsibility of your state – that happens to be undeniably the most powerful state in the world today - for global security is exercised. NATO is also the organisation through which European states should exercise their growing share of responsibility. 

And here we touch upon yet another matter that I would like to say a few words about, that is cooperation with the United States within NATO. There is a tendency in the European Union, a very strong one indeed, towards collectivising the membership of those EU countries that are NATO members at the same time. This is not the case with all EU countries, for there are several exceptions, i.e. states that are EU members but are not, and do not want to be, NATO members. However, you must also understand the position of my country on this issue, and in particular the standpoint of the government that was in power between 2005 and 2007, and also my personal standpoint: we do not want to completely collectivise the NATO membership of EU countries. For such collectivisation would result in the dominance of the strongest European states, and these states display an attitude vis-à-vis the existing threats, an attitude that I would describe as extremely moderate; outright extremely soft. And therefore it is not in the interest of the United States, nor in the interest of my own country, to excessively collectivise this membership. Europe should assume an increasing share of responsibility for security. I will say it openly, Europe’s defence efforts are too weak. Yes, it is true. This is one problem, and the way to increase them is not through a collectivisation of NATO membership. This would mean in fact decision-making by two states: Germany and France, my all respect and friendship for them notwithstanding. Their attitude is well known. My all respect notwithstanding and despite the fact that I would like to emphasise, that these nations are my own country’s close allies.

I wish to take this opportunity to say a few words about what we in Poland, I personally and the former prime minister, consider to be a major victory, i.e. the signing an agreement on the missile shield between Poland and the United States. The former government, headed by my brother, was absolutely determined on the issue. The next government had its doubts. We have won, there is an agreement. There is this agreement and it is precisely this agreement that I regard as a sign of something else. Even NATO occasionally fails for reasons, let us describe them as ‘bureaucratic’ reasons. In this case, the only chance to lay down the foundations of this missile defence system, a system designed to combat terrorism, were bilateral relations between the United States and Poland and between the United States and the Czech Republic. This is something to be remembered, too, that there are issues on which one has to act bilaterally, rather than act even through NATO, for this kind of action is most effective. Can I say what the recipe is here, where this is the case, and where this is not the case? No, because it depends on a specific case; in this particular case, the bilateral relations formula proved to be definitely the most effective one.

Ladies and Gentlemen, one could ask what would have happened if Georgia had been granted MAP? And Ukraine, too, but Ukraine is not the point at the moment. In my opinion, the Ossetian-Abkhaz operation would not have occurred at all in such a case. There is an opinion, I heard it yesterday, that this would have been the greatest embarrassment for NATO. No, almost certainly there would not have been any such embarrassment, I am ninety per cent sure, for NATO would not have had an opportunity to embarrass itself. Russian operations would certainly not have been given up in the sense that there would not have been any activities against Georgia at all, but they would have had a very different character. And this, I believe, is yet another proof that we need to have the courage in enlarging NATO, for what it takes is not only US consent, even though the key is in Washington, naturally, but what it takes is the consent of all NATO member states. 

This is my principal message concerning NATO, so to say. Naturally, every country to join the Alliance must fulfil certain criteria of basic democracy and basic military effort. There is no NATO membership and saying: so now we do not have to develop our own armed forces any more, we will make some savings, and the Americans or somebody else will do that instead of us. This kind of attitude, not uncharacteristic of some countries, is a completely false attitude. In the light of the developments in Georgia, that constitute a particular situation, but are nevertheless crucial - for as I have mentioned, Georgia is the key to whole Central Asia - this situation calls for a change in the way of thinking within NATO, and in the European Union as well, I believe. A change that is extremely difficult to achieve today, a change that is a bumpy, very steep upward road ahead. My personal experience - quite extensive by now, regrettably - shows that one needs to fight for such a change in the way of thinking, that what one person says today, four people will say tomorrow and forty people the day after tomorrow. Forty - and that would constitute a majority in this company. May I assure you, Ladies and Gentlemen, that I will strive to continue to fight for that change – even though doing so not always adds to my popularity, and indeed often gives me much pain – that I will continue to fight for that change in my God-given capacity of the President of a fairly big European state, a middle-sized state by global standards, for I have my fears. 

I have not spoken of my other fears today, concerning China, concerning relations between the North and the South, and the expansion of Islamic fundamentalism, that is a world that completely transforms our civilization. I can see very many Ladies among us and I am very happy to note this, but if Islamic fundamentalism were to triumph, I would not see any of you Ladies here in this room. This would be a complete change of civilization, so to say. All these things are threats, too, but I am not thinking on a global scale at the moment, I am thinking, rather, on the scale of a great region where tensions may occur, for to believe that if someone’s imperial needs are satisfied, it will make that someone stop and calm down is simply to believe in miracles. It is allowed to believe in miracles, people who are Christian ought to believe in them, actually. It is only that miracles happen very rarely indeed.”
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