Wolfowitz Praises Poland's Emergence as NATO Leader
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
WARSAW, Poland, Oct. 5, 2004 Though it's among NATO's newest members, Poland already has emerged as one of the alliance's leading nations, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said here today.
In remarks at Warsaw University, Wolfowitz said Poland has "quickly moved from being a new member of NATO to being an important NATO leader, a tribute to the courage and commitment that we Americans have long admired about our Polish friends."
The Polish people have fought bravely for freedom their own and that of others, Wolfowitz said. He cited important contributions made by two Polish generals Tadeusz Kosciuszko and Casimir Pulaski -- in America's fight for independence.
From 1778 to 1780, Kosciuszko designed and oversaw the fortification of West Point, the defense George Washington termed as the key to the American Revolution.
Pulaski died from wounds suffered in the Battle of Savannah in 1779. "Two years before his death," Wolfowitz said, "Pulaski told Benjamin Franklin, 'We Poles have a hatred for all forms of tyranny, especially foreign tyranny. So no matter where in this world someone is fighting for freedom, we feel it is a personal matter to us as well.'"
Wolfowitz praised the performance of Polish forces in World War II, most notably in the Battle of Britain and at Monte Casino in Italy. He also noted the Polish people's successful resistance against Nazi occupation and Soviet repression.
"Today Poles are free, and now, just as in the early days of my country, brave Americans and Poles are once again working and fighting side by side to bring freedom to nations where liberty has long been held captive," Wolfowitz said.
Poland, the deputy defense secretary said, stands as a new leader of Europe. "Poland's leadership is marked by courage and belief in freedom, and strengthened by painful lessons of history," he said. "Poles understand perhaps better than anyone the consequences of making toothless warnings to brutal tyrants and terrorist regimes."
As other countries issued "hollow warnings" to Germany in the 1930s, Wolfowitz said, Adolf Hitler stormed one country after another only to be warned again. "In 1935, Britain and France acquiesced to Germany's abrogation of its disarmament obligations," he said. "In 1936, Hitler ordered the remilitarization of the Rhineland, betting correctly that the world's hollow warnings formed weak defenses. When he annexed Austria in 1938, the world again sat by. When he marched into Prague later that same year, the world sat still once again.
"And finally, when the world warned Hitler to stay out of Poland," Wolfowitz continued, "he assumed that this warning was just as empty as all the ones that had come before. Poland and the world paid for it with the worst war in history."
But the end of World War II didn't end Poland's ordeal, he said. Rather, it marked the beginning of four decades of Soviet occupation. "And yet, in spite of all of that tragedy," the deputy defense secretary said, "democracy flourishes in Poland after a journey of courage and determination whose difficulties only Poles can truly comprehend, but which Americans deeply admire."
When the Cold War ended, Wolfowitz said, many people hoped a long period of unbroken peace had begun. But the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States provided a "rude awakening" that evil had not disappeared.
Facing an enemy for whom freedom itself is the target has given NATO a new sense of purpose, Wolfowitz said. "For the first time in NATO's history, Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty was invoked, of all things, to defend the United States," he said.
"NATO (Airborne Warning and Control System) airplanes patrolled American skies. NATO support for the International Security Force in Afghanistan helped assure the stability and neutrality of that country's capital. And NATO's contribution to provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan is enabling the Afghan government to expand its authority, making the country more peaceful, stable and secure."
More than 10.6 million people, 40 percent of them women, have registered to vote in the Oct. 9 national election, when Afghans for the first time will choose a democratically elected president, Wolfowitz said.
"The NATO alliance remains as vital to our national security today as it was in the Cold War," he said. "It's true of Europe as well. This menace of terrorism, I believe, threatens all of us. No one can fight it alone. Only together can we defeat the challenge the particularly dangerous challenge posed by the intersection of weapons of mass terror, terrorist organizations and state support for terrorism."
Poland's membership in NATO provides the country "with the assurances it deserves that Poland's hard-won freedom will be protected," Wolfowitz said. He reminded his Polish audience of predictions that Poland's presence in NATO would be divisive for the alliance.
"Polish membership in NATO instead has seen Poland take the lead in promoting stability and progress in Europe," he said. It also has helped to lead the way for nine other new NATO members, he added.
"By remaining true to its founding vision of a Europe whole, free and undivided, NATO has shown that an alliance based on a belief in freedom has more staying power than any alliance in history," Wolfowitz said. "And for this reason, the United States and Poland have worked hard together to modernize and strengthen NATO."
The new NATO members that previously had been part of the Soviet bloc understand the difficult journey to democracy, he said. "With Poland," he added, "they can stand as powerful beacons for emerging democracies, and now, hopefully, in the Middle East and Central and South Asia."