Poland is one of several new U.S. allies who are not as big or powerful as our traditional teammates, such as Britain, Germany or Turkey. With limited resources, the Poles have more of a “niche” role to play in the war on terror. But Poland has demonstrated that it is willing to get in the game in a big way. Recently, it decided to acquire U.S.-made F-16 fighters thereby not only upgrading its air defense capabilities but also increasing interoperability with the U.S. Air Force and enhancing the attractiveness of Eastern European bases for U.S. forces.
Poland defied “Old Europe” by sending combat troops to Iraq. It was not until five days into the war, when a Reuters’ photographer snapped a picture of elite GROM (Thunder) Special Forces in Umm Qasr, that many Polish citizens were even aware of their country’s combat role. Ultimately, Poland deployed 200 troops, including a decontamination platoon, logistic support ship, and, of course, the photogenic GROM commando unit. In many ways, Poland is the archetype of what Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld referred to in January as “New Europe;” a newly-liberated country willing to commit what few military capabilities they have to protect the security of the community of democratic nations.
How refreshing, particularly after hearing so many of our pool of more established allies express reservations about committing troops without U.N. backing. Even Italy and Spain, both full supporters of the U.S.-led intervention in Iraq, have been reluctant to commit troops to the region. Italy now has 2,800 soldiers in the region, while Spain recently sent 1,300 soldiers to Iraq. The Poles have stood with the Coalition from the beginning. It is not surprising that the 9,200-man, 19-nation Multinational Division that assumed command of the south central quadrant of Iraq on September 3 is led by Poland, which is represented with over 2,000 soldiers.
The United States is considering rebasing forces currently deployed in “Old Europe” eastward into some of the nations of “New Europe.” This reflects a changing strategic calculus necessitated by the global war on terrorism. According to this new calculus, what matters most in determining a nation’s status in this new war is not the number of soldiers, aircraft or warships a nation possesses but its willingness to commit whatever forces it has to the defense of the community of democratic states. In the new security environment commitment often counts for more than raw military power.
The Bush Administration has been wise to appreciate the niche contributions from committed, like-minded, and willing countries like Poland, and to foster ties with them. Poland is not America’s oldest ally, and certainly not among the most powerful. But these are new days and experienced heavyweights are not the only ones in the game anymore. Niche players have important roles to play too.
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