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Security Environment of Poland Today and in 15 Years

National security must be understood in a broad sense.

Defence Concept

It is composed not only of factors influencing national defence, but also other aspects, such as the security of energy supplies. The Ministry of National Defence is fully aware of this fact. Although the Polish Armed Forces remain ready to cooperate in countering diverse types of threats, the Strategic Defence Review focused on the most threatening challenges to our national interests. First of all, they include a potential aggression against Poland, or one of our Allies, as well as countering irregular hostile operations below the threshold of an armed conflict. The military must also be ready to react to non-military crisis situations, or to take part in operations abroad in a constructive manner.

The following chapter is divided into two sections. The first one presents general assumptions concerning perspectives of global security. The SDR Team had to accept principal guidelines on this issue. The second section shows some main threats and challenges to the nation’s defence.

Global Context

The recent series of events in Poland’s security environment has been the greatest since the fall of the Soviet Union. We observe more and more dramatic changes, not only political, but also economic, social and cultural in their nature.

The global trends listed below significantly influence the shape of specific challenges and threats presented in the next section:

  • The dissonance between globalisation and national interests is becoming more and more visible in many aspects. Globalisation processes cause increasing resistance from elements of societies in various parts of the globe, both in the developing and in the developed countries. This resistance takes various forms and more and more often it becomes an engine for popularity of new political and social movements. They often have diverse agendas, including contesting the liberalisation processes in international commerce or opposing the sense of existence of supranational integration structures.
  • The status quo based on international law has undergone a series of shocks. This has been the result mainly of individual countries to play more important roles in the regional or global orders. Although their motives differ, they usually voice postulates to restrict the domination of the United States. These narratives arguing for a revision of the international order often go along with ambitions for territorial expansion.
  • Changes stemming from a relative decrease in the significance of Western countries and the rise of new economic powers are inevitable. Yet, we can state with high probability that the United States will remain the strongest global power. However, some modifications in US policies are to be expected. They will result from the need to commit more US assets to the Pacific region and to address emerging challenges (e.g. the clash of interests in the Arctic) as well as a change in the balance of power in regions such as the Middle East.
  • State actors still play a dominant role on the internationalstage. Depending on their goals, they are sources of stability, or constitute new threats. Their decreasing significance should not be taken for granted. The governments of certain states more and more cleverly use non-state actors to accomplish their own objectives.
  •  Non-state actors (multinational corporations, non-governmental organisations, social movements, or extremist groups) are a very large and diverse group with varying motivations, resources and goals. In the future, the monitoring of their activities will become progressively more difficult. These actors will attempt to obtain modern technologies and some of them could develop their own advanced solutions, inaccessible to state institutions.
  • Social trends in developing countries, such as the rising level of urbanisation, repeated migration waves, or increasing tensions in poorly governed authoritarian regimes may eventually cause crisis situations which will require to deploy international humanitarian missions.
  • The results of dynamic technological development will not always have positive implications, but they may become a source of instability. The popularisation of new means of communication, the lack of control over extensive databases, the decreasing costs of new technologies (e.g. 3D printing), or the application of machines using artificial intelligence for military purposes are only some of the phenomena posing challenges of unprecedented character and magnitude for the armed forces.

Main Threats and Challenges

What should the Polish Armed Forces be ready for in the perspective of 2032? The above listed global trends have a direct effect on realities in our region. They are the source of local threats and challenges. The list below is not exhaustive, rather, it presents the main challenges for our national defence identified during the SDR.

The Russian Federation aims at enhancing its position in the global balance of power by using various means. They include breaches of international law, the regular use of force and coercion in relations with other states and various attempts to destabilize Western integrated structures. It poses a threat mainly for Poland and other countries in the region, but also for all other nations desirous of a stable international order. Russia openly declares NATO to be the main threat to its security, despite numerous actions by the Alliance emphasising its defensive character. It is especially worrying in the context of constantly rising military spending and the modernisation of Russian Armed Forces.

The ultimate goal of Russia is to create a new international order based on the so called “concert of powers”. We assume that by 2032 Russia will maintain its aggressive stance in its foreign and security policies. Taking into account the asymmetry of military capabilities between Russia and NATO’s eastern flank members, such a situation creates a direct threat for Poland and the region. We are not alone in this assessment and it is confirmed by the strengthening of NATO’s Eastern Flank by the United States and maintaining sanctions against Russia by the European Union.

A source of special concern are the cases of committing Russian Armed Forces to pursue political goals, such as the 2008 aggression against Georgia, the illegal annexation of Crimea and the aggression against Ukraine in 2014. Russia is ready to destabilize the internal order of other states and to question their territorial integrity by openly violating international law. Russia’s actions are often camouflaged and conducted below the threshold of an armed conflict. It is not unrealistic that Russia could incite a regional conflict and drag into it one or several NATO countries. Russia is also likely to provoke proxy wars in various parts of the world in order to exert pressure on the Western countries.

At the same time, Russia conducts a vast programme of technical modernisation of its armed forces, pursues an intensive schedule of military exercises, and continues to militarise its society. Russia’s defence expenditures are treated as a priority and will be sustained at the current high level even during periods of long-term economic stagnation. This policy is highly coordinated with the operations of Russia’s special services, including the deployment of such instruments as disinformation campaigns against other countries. Moscow uses instruments allowing it to decrease NATO’s advantage of forces by conducting cyber-attacks, or threatening the use of force against individual states, including the use of tactical nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries.

Unstable Neighbourhood on NATO’s Eastern Flank

The Russian Federation remains the main source of instability in NATO’s eastern neighbourhood. Moscow influences the situation in the states of the former USSR by employing various methods, such as stimulating political conflicts, corrupting the elites of those states, and striving to gain control over weak state governance. This notwithstanding, there are other worrying trends in the region which are not linked to Russian activities.

Ukraine is in the most precarious moment of its modern history. A part of its territory is occupied by Russia and another part in the east of the country is riddled with conflict continuously fuelled by the same aggressor. At the same time, Kiev must undertake reforms that are costly to the society or target powerful interest groups. We also observe internal problems which will hinder the development of Ukraine, including the need to undertake reforms of its security sector. We hope that the Ukrainian identity, which is currently being renewed in the fight with the aggressor, will eventually strengthen the governance of the state.

Belarus, despite periods of distancing itself from Russia, slides into ever- deeper dependency on Moscow. It is especially visible in the security domain. For many years, the armed forces and special services of both countries have been strengthening their ties, holding joint exercises and cooperating at every level. It is highly likely that this trend will continue and will even be reinforced in the coming decade. The difficulties in the introduction of structural reforms, high level of corruption and a frozen conflict in Transnistria are the most important problems plaguing Moldova. Effective integration with other European countries and a potential cooperation in the sphere of security are hindered by the fundamental choices still faced by Moldavian elites. They must determine which path of development the country should take and where it should orient its foreign policy objectives.

A potential source of instability for our region is the situation in the Southern Caucasus, which is perceived by Russia to be in its alleged sphere of influence. In the perspective of 2032, it is highly probable for Moscow to incite social tensions and frozen conflicts in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Unstable Neighbourhood of NATO’s Southern Flank

Although the situation in Eastern Europe is the main security concern for Poland, we also recognize serious challenges connected with a deep, multi-faceted crisis at the southern border of NATO. The dynamic situation in the Middle East and Northern Africa makes any attempt to predict future developments in these regions highly problematic.

In order to stabilize the situation in the area, not only must ongoing conflicts need to be terminated, but the political and administrative systems of the countries involved need to be reinforced, and some new development opportunities, for young people in particular, have to be created. The chances for effective actions in these areas are still slim, mainly because of the contradictory interests of the crucial actors in the region. Additional tensions are created by the Russian Federation, which treats its interference in this part of the world as another opportunity to put pressure on Western countries. Such a situation creates concrete threats for all NATO member states, including Poland.

The Middle East and Northern Africa will remain affected by tensions and contradictory interests of both state and non-state actors over the next 15 years. The demographic situation, unstable perspectives of economic development (especially in oil producing and exporting countries), in combination with a weak legitimisation of their political systems, can foster new crisis situations and conflicts.

There is high probability of the emergence of new migration waves, which pose multi-dimensional challenges, predominantly in the security domain. We are still searching for a comprehensive solution to this problem, including addressing aspects related to crisis management.

The security situation in the region remains conducive to the development of extremist organisations, which not only act in line with their ideology, but are also in search of support from state actors. Terrorist attacks will remain one of the main manifestations of their activity.

In such circumstances, we assume that Poland will be obliged to support Allies in various endeavours, including stabilisation, humanitarian and military operations. Unlike in the past, we want Polish contributions to be significant, but with no enduring negative effects to our national defence capabilities.


In spite of the successes of the counter-ISIL coalition, the threat of religiously-motivated terrorism towards, among others, Western European countries will remain high. We can expect the emergence of new terrorist organisations with territorial ambitions. It is also possible that some terrorist cells will emerge within the area of the European Union. Terrorist organisations can also be used by some state actors.

A potential terrorist attack on the territory of Poland, a member state of NATO and the EU which is associated with Christianity, can be used by ISIL not only to broaden the scope of “the fight against infidels”, but to intimidate the members of the counter-ISIL coalition.

Close international cooperation, including information sharing – also from military sources – will be an essential aspect of our fight against terrorism.

Evolution of the Western Integration Structures

Poland is a member of NATO – the most powerful military alliance, and significantly contributes to the economic prowess of the European Union. Being anchored in Western integration structures constitutes the basis of the security of the Republic of Poland and benefits the welfare of our citizens. As both organisations evolve in the perspective of 2032, it is in Poland’s interest to participate actively in these processes.

Poland’s membership in NATO is a key to our policy of collective defence. In the next 15 years, the Alliance will require the determination of its members to achieve consensus, design a catalogue of common threats and reinforce allied solidarity. After the period of focusing on out-of-area operations, collective defence and deterrence returns to the forefront of NATO’s considerations. The new reality requires the adaptation of the NATO Command Structure. Nevertheless, adopting these necessary changes should not compromise the coherence of the Alliance. Tangible contributions to collective security, such as adequate levels of defence spending and the modernisation of armed forces, will grow in significance. A key challenge will be adopting a common position regarding an outbreak of a regional conflict in NATO’s close vicinity, if such a conflict occurs.

The European Union has been undergoing dynamic changes since its inception. It is expected that by 2032, the organisation is due to experience structural changes resulting from the creation of new mechanisms attempting to deal with economic crises, the stabilisation of the Euro zone, as well as finding a solution to the dilemma of further integration, of which security issues are very much related. All EU actions in the security domain should complement and enrich NATO operations in a non-competitive manner.

Deep political transformation in NATO and EU member states, particularly in major states, can directly affect the future of both organisations. Many outside players, especially the Russian Federation, will continue its actions aimed at stimulating internal conflicts within NATO and the EU in order to weaken their coherence. These efforts will be evident in attempts at diminishing transatlantic cooperation and decreasing U.S. military presence in Europe.

The upcoming years will also bring opportunities to strengthen the position of Central and Eastern European states, both in NATO and the EU. A prerequisite for this should be elaborating common positions on crucial policy aspects and effective cooperation in many areas, including security.

Economic and Social Environment

The capabilities of the Polish Armed Forces are linked to the overall condition of the state, its economic situation and the well-being of its citizens. Even though national security is of fundamental importance and its financing will be guaranteed notwithstanding economic trends, the plans for the reforms in the defence sector are nevertheless dependent on the effectiveness of the Strategy for the Responsible Development. The main assumption of the Strategy is to finance defence expenditures at the level of 2,5% of GDP by 2030, measured according to NATO’s methodology. Such resources have to be allocated not only to effectively defend the country. Achieving the SDR’s goals will ensure the freedom of economic and social development of Poland.

Diversification of the energy supplies constitutes an important factor in strengthening the position of Poland on the international arena. In 15 years, we assume to have implemented – or at least partially – transport infrastructure improvement projects (both road and water routes), which will enhance manoeuvre capabilities of the armed forces. The key challenges in this context are safeguarding the security of critical infrastructure and ensuring coordination between military and non-military systems.

A continuous strategic challenge in the development of Poland, including its defence sector, is the issue of reversing negative demographic trends, which can directly affect human resources of the Polish Armed Forces. Programmes such as the „Family 500+” are the first step in the right direction. We are aware of the fact that a positive impact of such initiatives reaches beyond the SDR time framework.

Technological Progress and the Future Battlespace

Progress in such areas as communication, transportation, medicine and energy production will significantly affect the functioning of societies over the next 15 years. Armed forces will follow suit, not only in the most visible form of new weapon systems, but also with respect to the management of planning processes.

The future battlefield will be much more chaotic than the current one. The growing effectiveness of systems that integrate sensors and fires will be countered by increasingly modern jamming devices. Fire exchanges will become more intensive and remotely controlled platforms will operate to a much higher extent, executing autonomous tasks using dedicated algorithms. In the perspective of 2032 and beyond, conventional military equipment – such as tanks, armoured vehicles, and multirole manned aircraft – will still play key roles on the battlefield. Modern new reconnaissance (including satellites), camouflage and assault systems will be cheaper to develop and easier to implement. The importance of automated systems will increase.

The growing significance of the anti-access and area denial systems (A2/AD) will be advantageous to the defensive intentions of Poland. We are convinced that the implementation of A2/AD systems, which transforms the general approach to defence operations, can provide security in a more effective manner than costly investments in power-projection systems. In 15 years, directed-energy weapon systems should be much more developed. Our intention is to prioritise research in this area, as well as other technologies which are today in the early stages of development, since their future procurement should bring significant cost reductions. We are aware of the high costs of such research and the long-lasting development/implementation process.

In the next 15 years, unauthorized organisations will gain broader access to lethal technologies. Progressively more advanced encryption methods will not only provide extremist groups with better communication, but they will also facilitate their finances and arms trafficking. The same will be true about collecting and distributing information through commercially accessible equipment and software that will have potential applications for military purposes.

Although future wars will still be conducted mainly by kinetic actions, the importance of other methods of fighting will increase. Cyberspace and information warfare have already become a new type of front, in which many limitations (e.g. legal regulations) do not apply. They will also allow to level the playing field between two adversaries with asymmetric military capabilities. Cyberspace is a domain where the line between peace and war can easily blur. The robust development of electronic and information warfare will be maintained. The enhanced capabilities in the area of big data processing will revolutionise many aspects of the national security management.

Fledgling technologies, such as 3D printing, machine learning, nanorobotics, high-power batteries or smart materials, will increasingly be implemented for military purposes. Due to the involvement of private sector, new and cheaper methods of space exploration will be developed faster. Progress in these areas will directly affect the economic and social environment of the armed forces. Our analyses point to the threat of uncontrolled access to the same technologies by non-state actors.

It is most likely that the imbalance in development between individual states will increase. Competition in the technology development will grow, in particular between the main global economic powers. Nevertheless, we assume that by 2032, the U.S. will still be dominant in terms of military and technological power.