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Poland in NATO - more than 20 years

Poland in 2019 celebrated the 20th anniversary of accesion to NATO. According to the majority of Poles, our membership in NATO has direct impact on the improvement of our country’s security (70%). Similarly, two-thirds of Poles have a positive opinion about NATO’s activities aimed at peace keeping and armed conflict prevention over the last couple of years. For almost 70 years, NATO has been the most important pillar of European security by providing a necessary link between Europe and North America in the political and defence sphere. With successive waves of enlargement, 30 countries are now members of the North Atlantic Alliance, while others actively seek accession to the Organisation.


Poland's road to NATO

The democratic transition of 1989 allowed Poland to define its own security policy without interference. During that time, Polish security was still based on the foundations of the Cold War. Indeed, the Warsaw Pact (WP) was still in effect. Therefore, the full reorientation of Polish security policy towards the Atlantic was effected gradually.

In 1990, Minister Krzysztof Skubiszewski paid a visit to NATO Headquarters, and a few months later the government of Tadeusz Mazowiecki established official relations with NATO. At a summit in London, heads of state and governments of the alliance adopted a declaration that promises the transformation of NATO, expressing their will to develop partner relations with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Shortly thereafter, on 31 March 1991, the military structures of the Warsaw Pact were dissolved. In July the WP ceases to exist.

In the same month a visit was held by President Lech Walesa at the headquarters of NATO. The Polish president said that Poland wants a safe Europe, which is guaranteed by NATO. A similar declaration was also made in the exposé of Prime Minister Jan Olszewski in December 1991, which marked a significant change of emphasis in Polish statements, which had so far been cautious in terms of joining Poland’s future to NATO.

The alliance’s answer gave hope. In March 1992, NATO Secretary General Manfred Wörner said during a visit to Poland that “the door to NATO is open.” This was an important declaration, signalling the beginning of changes in the alliance’s approach to the prospect of enlargement. In April, defence ministers and chiefs of staff from countries in the region participated for the first time in a meeting of the NATO Military Committee—the most important military authority and the oldest body in the structure of the Alliance.

Another milestone on the road to NATO was Poland’s accession to the Partnership for Peace program. This was a proposal by countries of the Alliance presented at the summit in Brussels in January 1994. The PfP program created the possibility of joint exercises, participation in operations and consultations with NATO partners in case of a threat to their security. While the Partnership did not yet guarantee the country’s entry into the Alliance, in February Poland decided on accession and was very active during its implementation. This activity was expressed in numerous proposals for joint undertakings. Poland was the first PfP country to adopt an individual partnership program. The first military exercises within the framework of the PfP were held in Biedrusk outside of Poznan, with participation by 13 Member States and partner countries.

In July 1994, during his first visit to Warsaw, Bill Clinton said that NATO enlargement was not a matter of "if" but "when and how". In 1995, the US House of Representatives adopted a resolution providing for the expansion of NATO to include the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary. At a speech in Detroit, President Clinton gave for the first time a specific date for the enlargement of NATO—not later than by 1999, on the 50th anniversary of the Alliance.

The NATO summit in Madrid in July 1997 decided to invite Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary for talks on membership in the Alliance. The negotiations started in September 1997. The talks were held in four rounds and touched on such areas as defence cooperation and financial issues related to Polish membership. At the end of the year the North Atlantic Council signed the accession protocols for Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. At this stage, representatives from Poland were included in the work of most NATO bodies. The first Polish ambassador to NATO was Andrew Towpik.

In January 1999, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana issued a formal invitation for membership in the Alliance. Poland’s road to NATO ended on March 12, 1999 in the US city of Independence, Missouri, where Poland’s foreign minister Bronisław Geremek presented the US Secretary of State the act of Poland’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty. At that moment Poland formally became a party to the Washington Treaty and a member of NATO.


The calendar of the Polish accession to NATO

31 March 1991
Dissolution of the Warsaw Pact military structure. In July 1991, the Warsaw Pact was officially dissolved.

11–12 March 1992
During a visit to Poland, NATO Secretary General Manfred Wörner said that “NATO’s door is open.”

10 April 1992
The first meeting of the NATO Military Committee, which was also attended by defence ministers and chiefs of staff of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

1 September 1993
President Lech Wałęsa, in a letter addressed to NATO Secretary General, stated that NATO membership was one of the priorities of the Polish foreign policy.

10 January 1994
The NATO summit in Brussels provided the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, including the countries formed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, with proposals for cooperation with NATO under the Partnership for Peace programme (PfP). The PfP created the possibility of joint military exercises, participation in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, and consultations with NATO partners in the event of threats to their safety.

12 January 1994
The presidents of the Visegrad Group (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland), at a meeting with President Bill Clinton in Prague, accepted the Partnership for Peace programme.

2 February 1994
During his visit to NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak signed the Framework Document of the Partnership for Peace.

5 July 1994
Poland and NATO adopted the Individual Partnership Programme (IPP). Poland was the first of the PfP programme countries to agree this programme with the Alliance.

12–16 September 1994
In Biedrusko near Poznań, in the framework of the Partnership for Peace, the first joint military exercises, which involved units from the 13 NATO member states and partner countries, were held (codenamed “Cooperative Bridge”).

16 February 1995
The U.S. House of Representatives adopted the National Security Revitalisation Act providing for the extension of NATO to include the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary.

8 February 1996
The Ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs in a joint letter to NATO Secretary General officially adopted the invitation to start individual dialogue with NATO issued by the Alliance on 29 January 1996.

4 April 1996
Poland submitted the NATO Individual Discussion Paper presenting Polish arguments in favour of NATO enlargement, visions of the European security architecture and the future role of NATO.

7 May 1996
The first meeting within the framework of the individual dialogue between Poland and NATO was held in Brussels. In addition to individual meetings (1 July, 30 July, and 10 October), two more sessions of the joint dialogue between NATO and PfP countries were held in 1996. The last individual dialogue meeting was held on 25 April 1997.

22 October 1996
President Bill Clinton in his speech in Detroit for the first time presented the specific NATO enlargement date: he stated that the first new member states from Central and Eastern Europe should be admitted to the Atlantic Alliance in 1999 at the latest (the 50th anniversary of NATO).

8 July 1997
At the Summit of Heads of State and Government in Madrid, NATO decided to invite Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to talks on NATO membership. This decision was included in the “Declaration on the Euro-Atlantic Security and Cooperation.” Furthermore, the declaration stated that the Alliance's goal was to sign the Accession Protocol during the next session of the North Atlantic Council (16 December 1997) and complete the ratification process at a date enabling the invited countries to obtain 'effective' membership by April 1999.

16 September 1997
Accession talks between NATO and Poland were commenced.

29 September 1997
The second session of the accession talks between Poland and NATO was held. It was devoted mainly to the defensive aspects of the Polish membership in NATO.

9 October 1997
The third session of the accession talks between Poland and NATO was held. It was entirely dedicated to financial issues, particularly regarding Polish intentions to maintain the appropriate level of defence capability and the planned Polish participation in jointly funded ventures.

23 October 1997
The fourth and the last meeting as part of the Polish accession talks with NATO was held in the NATO headquarters in Brussels.

10 November 1997
Polish Foreign Minister sent a letter to NATO Secretary General, in which the Polish party officially accepted the contributions (2.48%) both to the civilian and military budget of the Alliance and the NATO Security Investment Programme (NSIP).

14 November 1997
Polish Foreign Minister Bronisław Geremek sent a letter to NATO Secretary General expressing the will of the Republic of Poland to accede to the North Atlantic Treaty. The document affirmed the will of the Republic of Poland to receive an invitation to the Alliance and its readiness to assume obligations of membership.

25 November 1997
Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek paid an official visit to Brussels. The Prime Minister met, among others, with NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, and WEU Secretary General Jose Cutileiro.

16 December 1997
The foreign ministers of NATO countries signed Protocols of Accession for Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary in Brussels. In 1998, these protocols were subject to ratification in sixteen countries of the Alliance. The moment of completion of the ratification procedure by the State is deemed the provision of the instruments of ratification to the U.S. government—the depositary of the Washington Treaty.

28 December 1997
Representatives of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary for the first time participated (as observers) in a weekly meeting of the North Atlantic Council at ambassadorial level.

2 February 1998
Canada as the first NATO country ratified the Accession Protocols and sent the instruments of ratification to the U.S. State Department on 4 February.

17–18 December 1998
A meeting of NATO defence ministers, attended by defence ministers from Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, was held in Brussels. 

29 January 1999
NATO Secretary General Javier Solana sent formal invitations to Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to join the North Atlantic Treaty.

17 February 1999
The Sejm and then on the same day the Senate adopted the Act on the ratification of the North Atlantic Treaty prepared in Washington on 4 April 1949. On 18 February 1999, the act was signed by the President; it entered into force on publication on 19 February, in the Official Journal of the Republic of Poland (Journal of Laws No. 13, item 111). The Act of Accession to the North Atlantic Treaty was sent by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the President's Office on 19 February 1999.

26 February 1999
The President signed, after previous countersignature of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland, the Act of Accession to the North Atlantic Treaty.

12 March 1999
In the Independence (Missouri - USA), the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof. B. Geremek, handed to the Secretary of State, Ms. M. Albright the act of Polish accession to the North Atlantic Treaty. On that moment Poland became a formal party to the Treaty - a member of NATO.

Prepared by the Permanent Representation of Poland to NATO in Brussels

Benefits of Poland’s NATO Membership

The most important benefits of Poland’s NATO membership are as follows:

1. An increase in the security and prestige of Poland

Membership in the most powerful military alliance in the world has given Poland not only security guarantees in the form of Art. 5 of the Washington Treaty, but has also led to an increase in the position and prestige of our country on the international stage. The need to adapt to NATO standards, the participation of Polish soldiers in missions and exercises, and training with soldiers from other NATO countries, has led our Armed Forces in reaching a high level of interoperability (the ability to interact) with other Alliance Members. Our contribution to and involvement in NATO operations, has made Poland a reliable partner both for our Allies and third countries.

2. The transformation of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Poland

Poland’s accession to NATO has resulted in the need to adapt the Polish Armed Forces to NATO standards.

It became a catalyst of change for the most significant changes in the Polish Armed Forces: technical modernization, the transition from a military force based on conscription to an all-volunteer force, and thorough reform of its command system. NATO did not dictate specific solutions, but rather stimulated transformation.

NATO membership has contributed to the professionalization of Poland’s military personnel. The curriculum was revised in schools and military academies. Many soldiers are being trained in Allied centers, among others, in the United States, Great Britain, Germany and Italy. For many, an important career stage is military service in multinational formations.

Participation in Allied missions serves in identifying the capabilities necessary for conducting Allied operations, including especially collective defense, such as control and command of combined forces in a complex operating and informational environment (network enabled capability); reconnaissance and intelligence; logistical matters and medical security. During NATO operations, our soldiers and officers serve in multinational command structures, gaining experience that could not be otherwise acquired during proving ground and staff exercises. Thus, if necessary, they shall be prepared to lead the Armed Forces of the Republic of Poland and the adoption of the strengthening of the Alliance in the event of a hypothetical crisis.

3. Infrastructural investments

Poland’s membership in the Alliance is associated with the payment of contributions to NATO’s budgets: military (for NATO's command structure, finances and their participation in operations and missions of the Alliance), civil (covering the functioning of NATO's Headquarters) and for the benefit of the Alliance’s NSIP program (NATO Security Investment Program, financing infrastructure investments).

Poland is a beneficiary of the NSIP. During the years 1999–2015, Polish contribution to the program’s budget amounted to about 1 billion PLN, while NSIP budget investment in our country during these past 17 years of membership in the Alliance amounted to about 1.55 billion PLN. This means that Poland is a net beneficiary of this program in the amount of approximately 550 million PLN. As part of the NSIP, 10 investment packages were realized, among others the modernization of airports, fuel depots and naval bases.

The most important examples of Poland’s involvement in the work of NATO:

1. An increase in the Alliance's collective defense capabilities in the context of a changed security situation in Europe

Throughout the entire period of Poland’s NATO Alliance membership, it has successfully sought to maintain NATO's ability to carry out its vital mission—the territorial defense of its Member States. This has been accomplished by our raising the issue of fundamental importance, i.e., of the principle of Allied solidarity, the need to organize exercises related to Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, and by the maintenance of relevant quantitative and qualitative military capabilities of individual Member States of the Alliance.

Russia's aggressive actions in Ukraine, increased activity of the Russian armed forces along NATO borders and instability in the area of the Mediterranean have created an urgent need for the Alliance's adaptation to these new challenges. Measures to improve NATO capabilities to deter a potential aggressor and effective defense in the event of an armed attack constitute an essential part of this adaptation.

One of the processes carried out was the reform of the NATO Response Force (NRF). The decision to appoint the NRF was made during the NATO Summit in Prague in November 2002. Under the provisions of the Summit in Wales in September 2014, the force has been completely revamped and the number of its units increased. Within its framework, the VJTF (Very High Readiness Joint Task Force) was established. It will be able to deploy within a few days of a decision taken.

Poland’s contribution in the adaptation of the Alliance includes among others:

• The strengthening (along with Germany and Denmark—the other Member States within this framework) of structures and the assumption of functions by the command of the Multinational Corps Northeast in Szczecin, Poland;

• The placement in Bydgoszcz of the NATO Force Integration Unit (NFIU), a staff structure which among others, fills coordinating tasks and planning for the Allied Forces deployed on Polish territory;

• Becoming a framework country for land-based forces included in the VJTF in the year 2020.

Also, in response to the potential threat coming from the east, from 2014, Poland is protected by Allied assurance measures, within the framework of which, sub-units of allied forces (from among other countries, the USA, Canada, Great Britain, France and Germany) remain in Poland on a rotational basis. These forces are involved in national exercises (among others, Anaconda—14, Dragon—15, Anaconda—16) and NATO exercises organized on Polish training grounds (ex. The VJTF exercise Noble Jump 2015). In 2015, more than 16,000 troops from 18 countries took part in military training in Poland. In 2016, in only one exercise, Anaconda—16, there will be over 10,000 foreign troops involved.

2. Participation in Alliance operations and missions

Since 1996, first as a partner and as of 1999, a full member of NATO, Poland has taken part in 14 missions and Allied operations. We contributed in this way to stabilize the security environment in Europe (in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia), neutralizing the threats coming from other regions of the world (Afghanistan and Iraq), as well as by carrying humanitarian disaster relief in stricken areas (Pakistan). A special expression of our responsibility for common security is playing a regular part in the Alliance's collective defense-related activities.

Polish fighter jets have already performed six air policing assignments in the framework of “Baltic Air Policing” missions, in defending the airspace of the Baltic States, while our six ships patrolled the Mediterranean Sea within the framework of the anti-terrorist “Active Endeavour” operation, established after the terrorist attacks in NYC on 11 September 2001. It is also worth noting, that even though we did not send our troops to take part in other missions, such as “Unified Protector” in Libya and “Ocean Shield” near the coast of Somalia, in practice, Polish officers did take part, as they were involved in the tasks of the Allied command.

The most important foreign assignment of the Polish Armed Forces was the ISAF mission in Afghanistan (which ended in December 2014). During its peak presence (2010–2012), the Polish contingent amounted to 2,600 soldiers and military personnel along with a 400-strong rearguard in Poland. Only a few contingents in Afghanistan were as fully-equipped as the Poles, with transport aircraft, helicopters and heavy artillery. Significantly, operational restrictions or “national caveats” were not imposed on the contingent, limiting the scope and area of its operations, used by many Member States participating in the ISAF.

In the years 2008–2013, the Polish contingent was made responsible for the security of the province of Ghazni, including the training and mentoring of Afghan army and police forces. The training effort of the Polish contingent has gained the highest rating by the Allies, and most importantly, it allowed the Afghan side to officially takeover total responsibility for security in the province in May 2013. Thus, as a result of the activities of the Polish Military Contingent in Afghanistan, 11,000 Afghan soldiers had undergone training along with police and civilians.

Thanks to our participation in NATO operations, we have increased interoperability with our allies operating under different conditions, both of a tactical and operational nature. During NATO operations, our soldiers and officers have served and continue to serve in NATO and multinational command structures. This experience cannot be obtained during proving ground or staff exercises. Thanks to this, we have gained people resources that can, if necessary, play an important role in the strengthening of the Alliance in the event of a hypothetical crisis.

Participation in NATO operations was undoubtedly a challenge to Poland, for which the scale provides the size of the forces involved. Approximately 27,000 soldiers took part in the ISAF mission, in the KFOR operation, over 8,100, in “Active Endeavour”—approximately 600, and in “Air Policing,” approximately 700.

Currently, in 2016, the staff of the Polish Armed Forces is involved in operations in Afghanistan, in the “Resolute Support” mission and in Kosovo (KFOR).

3. Start-up in Poland of NATO-related structures (MNC NE—1999, JFTC—2004, 3NSB—2010, MP COE—2013, NFIU— 2015, CI-COE—2015)

The Multinational Corps North East (MNC NE) in Szczecin was called into being in 1998 by Poland, Germany and Denmark. It constitutes an element of the so-called NATO Command Structure, i.e., the national or multinational military command structures made available for the Alliance. In the context of NATO's adaptation to current challenges, the importance and role of the Corps has grown. By the time the Warsaw Summit will take place, the Corps will have the capacity needed to implement tasks arising from the Alliance’s Readiness Action Plan among other tasks, for the command of the NATO Response Force and augmentation forces, the coordination of NATO Force Integration Units and by assurance measures being implemented in the region.

By 2017, the MNC NE will reach the capacity required for the multinational NATO High Readiness Forces. In addition to the three founding representatives at MNC NE Headquarters, officers from 18 NATO countries (Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey, the United States, Hungary and the United Kingdom), as well as Finland and Sweden also work there.

The NATO Joint Force Training Center (JFTC) in Bydgoszcz was formed in 2004 and is the first element in the NATO Command Structure located within the territory of Member States that joined the Alliance after 1989. The Center is subject to the ACT-Allied Command Structure of NATO, with its headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia. Representatives of 18 Member States and one representative from a NATO partner country, Georgia, currently work there. The JFTC provides officer training for officers from other NATO countries and Partner States; in previous years, its activities focused on supporting the ISAF operations.

The Command of the 3rd NATO Signal Battalion in Bydgoszcz (3 NSB) has been in operation in Bydgoszcz since 2010. Just like the JFTC, the battalion is part of the NATO Command Structure, but is subject to the Allied Command operations in Mons, Belgium. NATO Signal Battalions provide means of communication for Allied Forces located in an area of operations. The 3 NSB has officers from 10 Alliance States.

The  NATO Military Police Centre of Excellence (MP COE) was formed in Bydgoszcz in 2013. It constitutes a network element of about 20 similar, multinational educational training centers located in different Member States of the Alliance. Officers from at least 8 NATO Member States will be working there.

The NATO Force Integration Unit (NFIU) has started its activity in Bydgoszcz in 2015.

The remaining NFIUs are located in Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Romania, and in the future, also in Slovakia and Hungary. Their creation is related to the adaptation of the Alliance to its current challenges. Thanks to the functioning of the NFIU, there will be an improvement in coordination within the scope of planning and exercises between the Armed Forces of the Republic of Poland and Allied troops that are in Poland. The NFIU will be responsible for improvement of the deployment process of NATO's rapid-reaction forces (Spearhead Force) on our territory, if necessary. The NFIUs in Poland and the Baltic States are subordinated to the Command of the Multinational Corps Northeast in Szczecin.

The NATO Counter Intelligence Centre of Excellence (CI COE) is in the process of establishing under an agreement signed on September 29, 2015 in Norfolk, Virginia. The framework Member States are Poland and Slovakia. At least 8 other Member States will later be included. Apart from COEs in Bydgoszcz and Kraków, Poland participates in the work of 10 other NATO Expert Centres.

4. Recognition ability from the skies: AWACS and AGS

Poland is a participant in the Air Early Warning and Control Force (AWACS) from 2007. AWACS aircraft provide observation and early warning capability during the Allied military operations. In addition to potential terrorist threat, it can serve to secure the airspace during large scale public and other important national events. AWACS were used in the sky overhead, among others, at the time of the funeral of Polish President Lech Kaczyński in April 2010, as well as during the course of the European Football Championships in 2012 (EURO 2012), and in 2014, in connection with the deterioration of the security situation in Eastern Europe.

Poland is also taking part in the construction program for the Allied Ground Surveillance System (AGS). The cornerstone of the AGS will be a few unmanned aircrafts, which will enhance the Alliance's ability to depict the operational land and sea area situation in real time. The data obtained from the system will complement the information provided by AWACS aircrafts. Polish participation in the AGS will allow indigenous capabilities, which would otherwise independently prove difficult or even impossible, and will provide operational and industrial benefits.

5. Allied missile defense system— Polish contribution

Work on the construction of an Allied missile defense system (ballistic missile defense—BMD) is being carried out since 2002. Initially, its only goal was to create a system for the protection of NATO forces operating outside the Alliance. During the NATO Summit in Lisbon in 2010, it had been decided to extend the system with the feature of the scope of protection of the territory and its population. It will be integrated into the systems of the Member States, including, in particular, the American system. It is currently in a transitional phase of development. Work is ongoing in the development of these capabilities.

The Polish contribution to the development of an Allied missile defense system is based on two pillars. First, our country jointly with the Americans is involved in the construction of a base in Redzikowo (Poland as a host country, the United States in the role of developer, with construction beginning in 2016), where elements of the system will be deployed, capable of protecting the territory of Poland and Allied countries. The system should achieve operational readiness in 2018. Secondly, Poland has decided to develop its own national missile defense capabilities, which will also be integrated with Allied systems.


Source: The International Security Policy Department (Ministry of National Defence)