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Chapter 5. National Security


Syrena, mermaid of Warsaw, legendary protector of the ceded Old fortress at Cieszyn, Silesian stronghold ceded by Piast rulers to Bohemia in twelfth century.

Courtesy Sam and Sarah Stulberg

IN THE EARLY 1990s, Poland addressed its national security issues as an independent state for the first time in more than fifty years. The loss and restoration of independence, and the fluctuations of national security that accompany such trauma, were not unusual in Polish history, however. When it was included in the Soviet Union's new empire after World War II, Poland lost control of its national security for the second time in two centuries. After functioning as two separate entities during the war, the Polish military was consolidated after the war as a subordinate component of a multinational military organization devoted primarily to defense of the Soviet Union. Following the Soviet model, the Polish communist government also established strong military-style internal security forces to protect the regime from internal and external threats.

In 1989 Poland's communist government fell unexpectedly after several decades of civil unrest that periodically had brought the threat of punitive intervention by the Soviet Union. The ensuing political chaos forced Poland to develop a new doctrine of national defense emphasizing cooperation with Western military and security organizations and friendly relations with previously hostile neighbor states. By 1991 the Warsaw Treaty Organization, better known as the Warsaw Pact, the multinational military structure created by the Soviet Union to dominate its East European empire, also had crumbled.

Poland's new doctrine developed slowly and fitfully in the first years of the 1990s. The country's economic need to trim its defense establishment clashed with perceptions of possible new threats and alliances in postcommunist Europe. After emerging from the Warsaw Pact, Poland found itself without military alliances at the same time as its military infrastructure was rapidly decaying. In this setting, harsh budget restrictions caused alarm that national security again might be compromised before restructuring and rearmament could take place.

Poland's location between two powerful neighbors, Germany and Russia, had influenced the country's national security for centuries. By the early 1990s, however, the changing political circumstances of the region had mitigated Polish concerns about German or Russian aggression for the foreseeable future. Beginning in 1990, Germany's attention was largely absorbed by the massive problems of reunification. The disintegration of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991 enabled the nations of Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine to emerge as newly independent states on Poland's eastern border. Thus, in less than three years the number of countries on Poland's borders increased from three to six. Under those circumstances, Poland was concerned about a security vacuum that might promote internal instability, border disputes, or even an armed regional conflict close to Polish territory. Poland's national security depended not only on the stability of neighboring states but also on domestic political and economic stability.

A healthy military was important for two reasons. Historically, the army had represented Polish self-esteem and the survival of the Polish state. National leaders were anxious to recapture that tradition to boost domestic morale. Also, a capable military establishment would help Poland present itself to the world as a viable, independent state. To achieve these goals, Polish leaders sought a complete restructuring of the defense establishment in the early 1990s. A new national military doctrine was formulated to reflect the end of the Warsaw Pact and the end of the political and military division of Europe into rival camps, as well as Poland's possible inclusion in existing Western security structures. The reform program was intended to streamline the Ministry of National Defense and military administration and to include civilians more closely in the process of defense decision making. The reform program sought to extricate the Polish Army from the constraints of Sovietdominated Warsaw Pact military doctrine and training standards. Reform leaders also sought to reestablish the prestige of the armed forces as a national institution separate from and above politics. The quasimilitary forces that the Ministry of Internal Affairs had used to quell civil unrest during the communist era were abolished or redirected against genuine threats to the welfare of society.

Data as of October 1992

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