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  • Writer's pictureThe Red Line

Episode 114. Poland: Europe's Eastern Shield

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Europe is banking on Poland to valiantly secure its Eastern frontier, recognising its pivotal role along the CSTO's Western border and Poland's steadfast backing of Ukraine. However, a deeper examination reveals tensions between Warsaw and Brussels over everything from legal standards to concerns about recent large-scale procurements, raising questions about Poland's integration within the EU framework. With Poland's economic position and its role in European defence under the microscope, a critical question emerges: Can Poland effectively balance its commitment to regional security with its EU obligations, and what impact will its disputes with the EU have on its political future within the bloc? To answer that, we turn to our panel of experts:




PART I: The Shenghen Shield - (05:20)

with Mujtaba Rahman

- Managing Director of the Eurasia Group

- European Commission's Directorate General for Economic and Financial Affairs

- Snr Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics

  1. Poland's Strategic Reintegration into the EU: The election victory of Donald Tusk and his Civic Platform party represents a significant shift in Poland's political landscape, aligning the country more closely with the European mainstream. Tusk's pro-European stance and experience as a former European Council president enhance Poland's position within the EU, potentially influencing the EU's future direction, especially in defense and economic policies.

  2. Impact of Poland's Political Changes on EU Relations: Under the previous Law and Justice party government, Poland faced criticism from the EU over judicial reforms and other policies perceived as undermining democratic norms. These tensions led to the withholding of EU COVID Recovery funds. However, Tusk's election is seen as an opportunity to restore the rule of law and democracy in Poland, which could improve relations with the EU and impact Poland's receipt of future EU funds and participation in EU-wide initiatives.

  3. Poland's Role in European Defense and the Ukrainian Crisis: Poland has been a major supporter of Ukraine following the Russian invasion, serving as a critical transit point for nearly 90% of military resources entering Ukraine. This support underscores Poland's strategic importance in European defense, especially in light of potential changes in US commitment to European security. The discussion suggests a focus on increasing Poland's defense spending and contributing to the consolidation and enhancement of the European defense industry.

  4. Economic Concerns and EU Skepticism: Despite benefiting from EU membership through grants, loans, and access to the single market, there is a notable skepticism towards the EU within Poland. Concerns about national sovereignty and the impact of EU policies on Poland's economy have fueled this skepticism. The election of Tusk, with his cautious approach to EU integration and reforms, reflects the balancing act of pursuing economic benefits while managing domestic skepticism towards the EU.

  5. Debate over Ukraine's EU Membership: The possibility of Ukraine joining the EU has sparked debate in Poland, with economic concerns at the forefront. Many in Poland fear that Ukraine's accession could lead to a shift in manufacturing and agriculture from Poland to Ukraine due to lower labor costs, impacting Polish competitiveness and jobs. This issue illustrates the complex interplay between economic interests, political solidarity with Ukraine, and the broader implications for EU enlargement and economic policy.

PART II: The Dangers Across the Dneiper - (22:08)

with Michał Baranowski

- Managing Director of the German Marshall Fund

- Head of the GMF's Warsaw's Office

- Member of the Polish German Reflection Group

  1. Increased Defense Spending and Modernization: Poland is significantly increasing its defense budget to over 4% of GDP, focusing on modernizing its military capabilities. This includes moving units further east and emphasizing NATO's presence on the eastern flank, highlighting Poland's proactive approach to national defense amidst concerns about Russian aggression.

  2. Extensive Procurement and Diversification of Sources: Poland has embarked on an ambitious procurement program to replace old Warsaw Pact equipment, ordering a wide range of top-tier military hardware from the U.S. and South Korea. This includes M1 Abrams tanks, Apache helicopters, Patriot batteries, and a significant number of K2 Black Panther tanks and K9 self-propelled guns, indicating a strategic pivot towards enhancing its conventional military strength.

  3. Strategic Shifts and Evaluations by the New Government: The new Polish government is reviewing previous defense modernization decisions, including the substantial purchases from South Korea, to ensure value and strategic alignment. There's an emphasis on prioritizing relationships with the United States and European partners for defense cooperation and purchases, reflecting a nuanced approach to balancing strategic relationships and military capabilities.

  4. Economic and Financing Challenges: With changes in global interest rates affecting financing terms, Poland faces potential budgetary pressures on its defense spending. The new government is scrutinizing the terms of deals made by its predecessor, especially the financing of South Korean military purchases, which could have implications for Poland's defense budget and modernization trajectory.

  5. Defense Strategy and Army Model Dilemma: Poland's defense strategy appears to be at a crossroads, with discussions on increasing the size of the armed forces to 350,000 by 2035, while simultaneously modernizing with high-end equipment. This dual approach raises questions about the feasibility of maintaining a large, well-equipped professional army within budget constraints and strategic objectives, especially in the context of heightened regional security threats.

PART III: Berlin, or Belgorod - (37:06)

with Edward Hunter Christie

- Snr Research Fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs

- Snr NATO official

- Lead author of NATO's Artificial Intellegence Policy and White Paper

  1. Strategic and Military Response to Russian Aggression: Poland has significantly increased its defense spending and military capabilities in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including expanding the size of its armed forces and procuring new defense equipment from various countries, notably South Korea. This reflects Poland's strategic shift towards enhancing its military readiness and serving as a crucial logistical and support hub for Ukraine.

  2. Poland as the Eastern Shield of Europe: Poland is increasingly recognized as the primary bulwark on NATO's eastern flank, especially given its geographical proximity to Ukraine and Russia. The country's efforts to strengthen its land forces, coupled with its acquisition of advanced military equipment, position Poland as a central figure in Europe's defense against potential Russian expansion.

  3. Pragmatic Procurement Decisions: Poland's decision to source a significant portion of its military procurement from South Korea, rather than exclusively from European or American suppliers, is attributed to the need for rapid acquisition and the readiness of Korean defense industries to meet this demand. This pragmatic approach underlines Poland's urgency in modernizing its military forces in light of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

  4. EU Relations and Domestic Politics: Poland's strategic importance and proactive defense posture have somewhat muted EU criticism over domestic rule-of-law issues, drawing parallels to how NATO overlooks certain actions by Turkey due to strategic considerations. The evolution of Poland's relationship with the EU and its internal politics, particularly with respect to potential shifts in government, could influence the degree of scrutiny and cooperation between Warsaw and Brussels.

  5. Future of EU Expansion and Poland's Role: Poland's stance on EU expansion, especially regarding Ukraine's potential membership, is complex, balancing strategic support for Ukrainian integration with economic concerns and the impact on Polish interests. Poland's approach to EU enlargement will likely involve navigating between supporting long-term continental stability and managing short-term domestic economic impacts.

Poland: Europe's Eastern Shield

(Released February 9th 2024)



I: White Eagle, Red Star

- By Norman Davies

II: Convert Action: Reagan, The CIA and the Cold War Struggle in Poland

- By Seth G. Jones

III: Poland: A Case of Post-Traumatic Sovreignty

- By Jaroslaw Kuisz


For episode transcripts, monthly geopolitics Q&A’s, member-only videos and to support the show, check out our Patreon here:


This episode is dedicated to our Patreon members: Luke Heckmann, Joseph R Hungerford, Toby Paltridge, Jack Hyman, Niall Little, Isiah Santillana, Sydney Paris and Naja Nic



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