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Wednesday, 14 September 2005

Visit by the President of the Republic of Poland to the USA – meeting with the members of the Aspen Institute

On 14 September 2005, on the fifth day of his visit to the USA, President of the Republic of Poland Aleksander Kwaśniewski met at Aspen research scientists and members of the Aspen Institue - a research center of world renown that counts among its staff members many prominent American experts and analysts.
President of the Republic of Poland Aleksander Kwaśniewski responded to a series of questions relating to European issues and the future of the UN.
Address of the President of the Republic of Poland in the Aspen Institute –
Re-examining European Foreign Policy”:
Ladies and Gentlemen!
I wish to thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to meet with such an eminent assembly. I am truly pleased to have been able to accept the invitation, which you had addressed to Poland several times already. Given today the possibility of admiring the beauty of the Rocky Mountains and Aspen itself I could not but wonder at the idea of Walter Paepcke to locate the institute right here, in this place.
Addressing such a distinguished assembly and bearing in mind the great personages who spoke in the Aspen Institute, I am faced with a difficult challenge – to concisely present the Polish viewpoint on key issues concerning the future and security of Europe and the contemporary world. The optic of a country, which for centuries stood in the very midst of European historical processes. A state, which was the first victim of Nazi aggression and World War II. The country, from which the disintegration of the soviet empire began. The homeland of the Great Pope John Paul II and the “Solidarity” popular movement, the 25th anniversary of which we had the opportunity of celebrating two weeks ago in Gdansk. The state, which is a case study of successful transition, which thanks to the hard work and rationale of its people became a credible ally of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and an important Member of the European Union. A nation, which contributed strongly to the development of the United States of America both in the past as well as today when close to 10 million US citizens consider themselves to be Poles.
For Poland, as for the entire community of democratic states, a turning point in perceiving matters of security of the contemporary world were the attacks on 11th September 2001. This was the first act of a tragedy, which we continued experiencing in years that followed: in Moscow, Bali, in Madrid, London or Sharm el-Sheikh. Poland was and hopefully will be spared the disasters of terrorism. However few are the countries in the world, which would have experienced so clearly, with the blood of their own people, that the costs of neglect grow at an unimaginable pace. The famous slogan “We will not die for Gdansk!” voiced before World War II by the pacifist societies of the West brought them peace only for a while. Failing to stand up to fight at the right time, failing to come to the aid of Poland, they themselves later fell victim to aggression when Nazism became too powerful.
Both 60 years ago as well as today the recipe for peace and success in combating threats is the same. It can be rendered in three short words: co-operation, commitment and solidarity. Translating them into the practical language of contemporary politics, the precondition for pursuing an efficient and successful foreign policy in Europe is:
Responsible commitment on a European and global level.
Broadening of the area of freedom and security.
Building friendly neighbourly relations.
Ladies and Gentleman,
In the period of violent political, economic and social changes of the early nineties Poland was faced with the dilemma of how to ensure stability and security for our state. The decision was then taken to join Western structures of security and co-operation i.e. NATO, the Western European Union and the European Community.
Striving for membership in NATO, from the very beginning we assumed that we would not stand aside, that it is our duty to bear responsibility for security together with other allies. Poland is a country whose armed forces have for almost fifty years been taking part in UN peace operations worldwide. We are proud of soldiers who serve with the international forces in Bosnia, Lebanon and Syria, who are observers in Asia, the Caucasus and in Africa. Together with Ukraine and Lithuania we created joint battalions, the task of which is to carry out peace missions all over the continent. Meanwhile the Polish-German-Danish allied corps with its headquarters in Szczecin is designed to operate in the framework of joint defence of territories of members of the Alliance. Polish soldiers together with Americans and other allies carry out missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Poland’s accession to NATO in March 1999 was on the one hand the crowning of many years of efforts; on the other hand it faced Poland with new challenges. Already a few months later we had to decide about participation in the armed conflict in the Balkans – Poland’s first such experience since World War II. It was not an easy decision, particularly for a country so affected by wars. But then perhaps this is why we could not decide otherwise. Our part in this mission as well as similar later decisions with respect to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began a new phase in Polish history, expressing the motto: “For our and your freedom”. Many Poles fought, guided by this principle, including Tadeusz Kościuszko and Kazimierz Pułaski so well known in your country. These ideals of our heroes are valid also in the 21st century and for freedom, democracy and respect of human rights one has to fight on many fronts, also the very remote ones. Combating contemporary threats such as terrorism or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, for it requires determination and global involvement of our states to a far greater extent than it was the case even in the late 20th century.
Even the utmost determination of some countries would bring little effect if they were to act alone or in isolation. How important the factor of co-operation, trust and solidarity is we found out during the war in Iraq. Poland took part both in the war itself as well as in the later stage of stabilising the situation in this country. Our decision became the reason for acute criticism from some EU Member States. It was also one of the reasons for a debate on whether something like a Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union does exist at all. Do we at all need it? And in particular does the United States need it?
Foreign policy in the European Union is determined on an intergovernmental level. As recent crises and wars in the Balkans and in Iraq have shown, this system merely effective. It leads to pursuit of European foreign policy on the level of the lowest common denominator. Enlargement of the European Union to 25 Member States demonstrated even more clearly that we have arrived at the limits of pursuing foreign policy in this manner. We have reached a point in the history of development of the European Union when this policy, in order to be effective, must become something more than just a platform of agreed positions.
It is not by coincidence that I speak of these matters in America. I know very well the debates here, seeking an answer to the question how the United States should react to political emancipation of the European Union. I must admit with concern that I consider some of them as going in the wrong direction. I do not agree with theories, which give future Europe the form of a competitor or potential threat to the United States. This is a mindset resulting from perceiving the world through the optic of 19th century concepts, which do not match contemporary times. First of all, the nature of current threats has changed and secondly the world we live in is different. Today more than ever before there is no alternative to co-operation between Europe and America – together they must face up to contemporary challenges connected with security and with a dialogue with other sets of values, different from the Western ones. America needs a Europe strong by its unity, showing poise and confidence in itself and its values. Only such Europe will be able to co-operate with the United States on a partnership basis for the sake of peace, stability and security of our planet.
Ladies and Gentleman
Poland is the only state in Europe to have changed all her neighbours in results of political changes. The GDR ceased to exist, Czechoslovakia broke up into two independent states and several of them appeared in the East when the Soviet Union disintegrated. Regaining her sovereignty Poland was able to reach agreement with all neighbours in a spirit of reconciliation and partnership, although the history of our mutual relations was often dominated more by rivalry and conflict rather than co-operation and peace.
One of the biggest successes of politics in Europe was leading to peaceful and democratic transformation in states of the former Soviet Union. This process continues, as we could see in Georgia and the Ukraine. Especially the pace and scope of the positive changes in the Ukraine made Europe and the world wonder. The “Orange Revolution” may be seen as a continuation of democratic changes in countries of the former Eastern Bloc, initiated on the turn of the 80s and 90s. Civil activity brought about the victory of truth and honesty. The result of presidential elections and appointment of a new government provide an opportunity to implement fundamental reforms in the Ukraine. Possibilities arise to anchor the Ukraine firmly in Western political and security structures. Building a strong and lasting partnership between the European Union, NATO and the Ukraine is a process of historical significance.
Thus Polish experience of the last dozen-or-so years leads to the crucial conclusion: we must not forget about our neighbours. We must be loyal to them and support them in times of change and transition. From the very beginning they should be involved in partnership-based co-operation, stimulated to undertake essential reforms and transformation and supported on this difficult track. Above all however – we must have confidence in them and believe in a common future in united Europe. And if one can hear questions being asked today as to what we, the Poles can contribute to the EU’s Eastern policy, we can answer: the trust that our Eastern partners have in us, the experience in co-operation and the knowledge and understanding of changes going on in these countries.
Moving the focal point of enlarged EU’s policy further East is reasonable also for another reason. Stability and prosperity of EU Member States largely depends on development of the internal situation in neighbouring countries. The significance of economic and legal differences between the Union and themselves, approximation of business and environmental regulations are examples of areas, which should be the first to benefit from the Union’s interest. Moreover the individual character of these young countries must be taken into account and they should be supported in the further process of transition towards an efficient market economy, development of civil society, rule of law and democracy.
Ladies and Gentleman,
One of the greatest challenges facing the enlarged European Union and NATO is building friendly neighbourly relations with Russia. The question about relations between the Union, Poland included, and Russia is to a significant extent a question to Russia itself – what is its vision of the future, how Russia defines her place in the future world. Does it intend to follow the path of partnership and co-operation with countries of the Western hemisphere or will she attempt to create some sort of imperial policy. The Kremlin’s approach to events in Georgia and the Ukraine or with respect to Belarus shows that Russia may strive to rebuild and strengthen her influence in countries arisen after the disintegration of the USSR. This is why a good co-operation of America, the European Union and the Russian Federation is so much needed. It is necessary to support those forces in Moscow, which aspire to modernise and democratise the state, to build a civil society and partnership-based relations with neighbours.
The enlarged European Union, apart from neighbourly relations with Russia is also faced with challenges resulting from neighbouring on Belarus, countries of the Middle East and North Africa.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
Beyond doubt the challenges today facing Europe and America are of global nature. This makes discussions about the future of Europe, often so alien to Americans and difficult for them to understand, are in fact debates about one of the most ambitious political projects in the history of the world. This is why we need the trust and support of the United States in this process. Europe is still waiting to cross her Rio Grande.
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