Hagel to Acknowledge Polish Contributions to U.S. Efforts
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Jan. 30, 2014 Poland has been a significant and strong ally since it joined NATO in 1999, and during his visit to Warsaw this week Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel plans to acknowledge the importance of that partnership and Poland’s many contributions to American efforts.
In an aircraft over the Atlantic Ocean, four hours from Warsaw, the secretary described to reporters traveling with him Poland’s contributions in Iraq and that nation’s continuing contributions as part of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, where 43 Polish troops have lost their lives.
“They’ve been important contributors to those two wars and they’ve been a strong NATO partner,” Hagel said, noting that Poland provides to the alliance one of the highest percentages of its gross domestic product.
In 2006, NATO member countries agreed to commit a minimum of 2 percent of their gross domestic product to spending on defense. In the current era of dwindling budgets, according to the NATO website, member contributions have decreased or have been suspended, and the alliance relies heavily on the United States for capabilities such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, air-to-air refueling, ballistic missile defense and airborne electronic warfare.
Through the U.S.-Poland military-to-military relationship, the two nations are working together in several ways, Hagel said.
While in Poland the secretary will visit Powidz Air Base in the central part of the nation where in 2012 the United States established a full-time aviation detachment to increase interoperability through joint training exercises and a regular rotation of U.S. military aircraft.
Another joint effort in the 2018 timeframe is Poland’s hosting of NATO missile defense assets, Hagel said.
A senior defense official traveling with the secretary said Poland has made clear to DOD it is committed to missile defense and is interested in updates on U.S. progress on part of phase three of the European Phased Adaptive Approach, a land-based missile interceptor.
“They’ve been a good NATO partner because [such a role] requires resources, it is a sacrifice, and Poland has really stepped up as they do in many other ways for this alliance,” the senior official said.
“The NATO alliance is a story of a downward trajectory [based on] reports of concerns about defense spending, but Poland has maintained a strong defense and … spends a lot of time thinking in terms of resources for defense modernization,” the official added, “and that’s something we’re very much interested in and want to help them with.”
As part of the project, Poland will buy its own air defense systems and the military is looking to expand its F-16 program, he said.
“We have F-16s that rotate through [as part of the aviation detachment the secretary mentioned], but they’ve got 48 F-16s right now and that’s something they’re working to modernize," the senior defense official added.
The Poles are also interested in helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems, he noted, “so they’re looking at a full and pretty impressive suite of items.”
Also important, Hagel said, is the Poles’ continued commitment to U.S. efforts to help partners around the world build military capacity.
Topics of discussion while the secretary is in Poland will include the current unrest in Ukraine and the future of ISAF in Afghanistan after 2014, the senior official said.
Violence began in Ukraine in November when its president decided to favor stronger ties with Russia and opted against signing an important trade deal with the European Union. Protesters took to the streets in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, and deadly clashes between protesters and the government are escalating.
“The Poles are very focused on Ukraine, not just because it’s in their neighborhood and they’re watching closely for any [instability] that might come out of Ukraine, but also because of the political evolution of Ukraine and Poland’s own … democratization process,” he explained.
Hagel and his delegation look forward to getting the Polish perspective on Ukraine, the official added, and hearing from Polish leaders about how the Defense Department may play a constructive role.”
On the topic of Afghanistan, Hagel said President Barack Obama is closely examining the post-2014 issue in Afghanistan, along with his National Security Council and relevant federal agencies.
According to Obama’s statement during his Jan. 28 State of the Union address, Hagel said that “depending on whether Afghan President [Hamid] Karzai signs the Bilateral Security Agreement that he agreed to and that was strongly endorsed by the Loya Jirga, a council of elders that Karzai himself empaneled,” the United States and its ISAF and NATO allies will have a difficult time planning for a post-2014 train, assist, advise and counterterrorism mission.
“But more importantly,” the secretary said, the uncertainty makes it difficult to know “what the Afghan people want us to do … to continue to assist them.” Without a signed BSA agreement, U.S. military and government officials have said the United States will not stay in Afghanistan after 2014.
ISAF officials and NATO ministers of defense also want answers about post-2014 Afghanistan when they visit his office at the Pentagon, Hagel said.
“Then they clearly state that they have parliaments, they have budgets, they have citizens, they have accountable factors in their governments and their countries that they have to answer to. You can’t just keep deferring and deferring [the BSA],” Hagel said, “because at some point the realities of planning and budgeting … collides.”
In the meantime, the secretary added, “we’re going to try to continue to work with Karzai to do everything we can to support his signature on that BSA.”
There’s a lot going on in the world and a lot of uncertainty, Hagel said on his way to Poland.
“It’s always important to recognize partners and have an opportunity to sit down and listen to them and see what they think,” he added.
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinAFPS)