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Poland Table of Contents


Strategy and Tactics

Until 1990 Polish strategic missions were determined by the country's assigned role in the Warsaw Pact. The overall theme was prevention of war in peacetime and defense of the Soviet Union and its allies in wartime. Through the mid-1980s, the alliance emphasized strategic offense over strategic defense, with a single strategic plan integrating the two aspects. The plan heavily emphasized overlap and cooperation of strategic missions in a combined arms format. The Soviet Union initially used the Warsaw Pact primarily to retain military and political control of its East European allies beneath a facade of collective decision making. Soviet dominance began to diminish in the 1960s, however, and by the 1980s the alliance had become a forum for debate and bargaining over issues of national independence and autonomous decision making. Until 1989, Poland's military leaders remained cautious in expressing independent views on questions of strategy.

By mid-1990, international events fully revealed the obsolescence of Poland's Warsaw Pact membership. The anti-West German rationale behind the alliance seemed especially dated in view of Soviet approval of German reunification and Germany's approval of the Oder-Neisse Line as the permanent border with Poland. In the summer of 1990, Czechoslovak and Polish proposals for substantial reform in the alliance structure brought no constructive response from the Soviet Union. Shortly thereafter, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs began making public reference to Poland's withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact and the pact's impending disintegration. Meanwhile, internal strife in the Soviet Union weakened the argument that deviation from Warsaw Pact strategic planning would provoke Soviet retaliation (an argument that in reality had been hollow at least since Gorbachev's reform programs began in the mid-1980s).

Beginning in 1990, Polish military strategists and tacticians shifted toward defensive techniques over offensive operations. Their theories promoted a mobile, nonlinear defense based on enhanced force maneuverability. The new strategic defense plan included creating conditions favorable to a war of maneuver, constructing tactical and permanent fortifications, protecting the military communications network in wartime, and preparing to destroy key objectives to prevent their use by the enemy. The context of this program was defensive battle against superior forces, using terrain features to channel the enemy into areas vulnerable to a Polish counterattack. If this goal were not possible, the mission would be to extend the engagement long enough to raise the political cost to the aggressor by making the conflict a threat to general European security. Partisan resistance after defeat of Poland's conventional forces was rejected because of projected human and material losses. New strategies featured defensive combat in the forested and flooded areas that predominate in the eastern border region--a strong indication of Poland's new threat perception. Air defense, although labeled a top priority by Polish planners, remained very poorly defined and equipped in mid-1992 (see Armed Services , this ch.).

Strategic writings in the early 1990s contemplated no action outside Poland. In keeping with Poland's shifting threat perceptions involving Kaliningrad and Ukraine, the military establishment agreed on a shift of force concentration to the eastern borders. Military districts were redesignated accordingly in 1991. Budget constraints and the lack of military basing infrastructure limited implementation of this policy by preventing large-scale force shifts, however. In 1992 about 65 percent of Polish forces remained west of the Vistula River (compared with 75 percent in the Warsaw Pact alignment), and Polish defensive lines remained static, deep, and echeloned, in keeping with standard Soviet practice.

Data as of October 1992