POLAND’S FOREIGN POLICY AND THE CENTRAL ASIAN REGION AT THE TURN OF THE 21ST CENTURY
Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland
The counterterrorism campaign shows that the new security threats and challenges that have emerged in the Euro-Atlantic area at the beginning of the 21st century call for a closer involvement by European states, even in far-off regions, which in the past were seen as peripheral. True, even before, Poland’s diplomatic relations with Central Asian countries were quite satisfactory although they lacked linkage to security and economic matters. After 11 September, the international community took a closer interest in Afghan problems as well as in Central Asian and Transcaucasian states, which provided a fresh impetus to invigoration of our bilateral relations with these countries.
This past spring and summer, as head of Polish diplomacy, I participated in the preparation and conduct of several visits and return visits at various levels as part of the aforementioned invigoration of contacts. The present article, however, aims to throw light on Poland’s foreign policy and its approach to matters that are of critical importance to Central Asia. It, therefore, presents some general considerations about the future and is not a record of our diplomatic efforts, arranged in chronological order.
A New Poland
After 1989, Poland found new, broad opportunities to translate its aspirations into reality. Internal reforms, which began back in the second half of the 1980s, made for an effective transformation of the political, social, and economic system in a direction that coincided with the expectations of the Polish people. Thanks to the accords between the authorities and the opposition at the time, known as roundtable negotiations, we reached a nationwide, fundamental consensus on the need to build a democratic state based on the rule of law, civil society, and a free market economy.
The past decade has shown that internal changes are irreversible while there is no reasonable alternative to the course chosen at the time. The latest parliamentary elections and the success of a coalition that formed my government also show that although the Poles’ political sympathies are shifting, their commitment to the fundamental principles of a democratic republic is immutable, even though internal reform involves strenuous efforts, and oftentimes self-sacrifice, on the part of society.
It is a proven fact that to pursue an effective foreign policy, any country needs a sound, firm internal base. Such a base enabled Poland to play an appropriate role in the drastic changes that have taken place on the continent. Sure, a contributory factor here was a favorable international situation both on the global level, when the bipolar world order had outlived its usefulness, and on the regional level—as of the moment the Warsaw Pact and Comecon structures were dissolved.
Polish State Interests
In the new conditions, Poland was able to freely define its geostrategic orientation. I am proud to say that it was a correct choice, consistently exercised by the country’s successive governments. The geostrategic choice found its reflection in a new approach to state interests, translating itself into a system of foreign policy priorities, strategy, and concrete guidelines in line with this policy.
Polish foreign policy is built on four priorities that coincide with the vital, strategic interests of my state. First of all, it is its security and allied relations, especially with NATO; second, integration into the European Union; third, excellent, partnership relations with all of its neighbors; and fourth, advancement of Poland’s economic interests in the region and in the global economy.
Internal security is an overriding objective of any state. The tragic events of 11 September, 2001, made this fact all of the more obvious, even to those who are not directly concerned with security matters. To Poland, the efforts to strengthen regional security arise from its membership of the North Atlantic alliance. Poland joined NATO in 1999, making its contribution to this exceptional alliance of countries, peoples, values, and assets. Participation in this organization is very important to our state since it enables us to work closely together, on an equal-to-equal basis, in modernizing and adapting national and allied forces in the face of challenges and threats that could arise in the 21st century.
It is this viability and exclusiveness of NATO, not only the possibility of classic deterrence, that is the reason we favor further enlargement of the Euro-Atlantic alliance. The past decade has seen an expansion in both the alliance’s geographic interest and the scope of tasks that Poland sets before itself, seeing NATO and the system of its institutions (such as, e.g., the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council, the NATO-Ukraine Commission, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), and NATO’s Mediterranean Dialog Program) as auxiliary cooperative-security mechanisms.
Naturally, Poland will continue to support the development of NATO’s partnership with Central Asian countries. Having said that, I believe that NATO’s key role in Polish security policy is well in harmony with the pursuit of other interests within both such a universal organization as the U.N. and such a pan-European organization as the OSCE. Incidentally, the latter plays a highly instrumental role—say, in getting the United States and Russia involved in European affairs and taking an active part in adjusting various local conflicts.
Poland’s integration with the EU, participation in its political, social, and economic structures, is its second foreign policy priority. At present Poland is at the final stage of negotiations on EU membership, which accounts for our activism in debates on the EU’s prospects, its organization, and its global role. Future membership in this European structure will enable Poland to make its geostrategic and civilizational choice as well as to close the divide in economic development between Western and Central Europe.
The processes of parallel NATO and EU enlargement partially complement each other, providing firmer guarantees, making it possible to abandon the old, traditional dividing lines in Europe. EU enlargement presents a good chance to translate some long-standing ideas of European political thought into reality. Sure, the aspiration to join the Union involves strenuous efforts since it requires us to streamline state governance, explain EU problems to the people, and adopt thousands of specific standards—the EU’s aquis communitaire.
Furthermore, Poland seeks to play a supra-regional role in the EU. We would like to be a country that contributes its achievements and experience to this structure. This especially applies to relations with our Eastern neighbors who will in the foreseeable future stay outside an enlarged EU area. We are currently working on a more comprehensive idea of the Union’s future Eastern policy that could conveniently be called the EU’s Eastern dimension. I will not dwell on this subject, saying only that this concept focuses on relations not only with the next-door neighbors of an enlarged EU—Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova—but also with countries of Central Asia and the Transcaucasus.
Relations with Neighboring Countries
Poland’s third foreign policy priority is good-neighborly relations with all of its neighbors. Attainment of this objective is not in effect predicated either on the geopolitical configuration in the “near abroad” or on Poland’s membership in a particular international structure. To illustrate the point, it will be recalled that in 1989, Poland had land borders with the GDR, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union. In the following two years the number of our neighbors increased with a unified German state, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, and Russia, which we border via the Kaliningrad Region. Despite such dramatic, dynamic changes, we have managed to put in place an appropriate foundation for interstate treaties, detailed intergovernmental agreements and a whole system of cooperation on various levels with all of our neighbors.
The close, time-tested, good-neighborly relations with them are built on the Poles’ traditional respect for ethnic and religious minorities. Without going too far back into history, I would like to point out that we have a deep-rooted tradition of liberalism—ever since the time of religious intolerance in Western Europe. The fact is that generations of Poles, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Jews, Tatars, and Germans have for centuries coexisted and cooperated ever since the days of the Polish-Lithuanian Union—the so-called Rzeczpospolita, created in the late 14th century. Commitment to these lofty historical traditions and the gradual abandonment of old stereotypes and all sorts of psychological complexes constitute a unique value that actively impacts on our present and future policy toward our neighbors. We hope that this value will become a common asset of an integrating Europe.
The Economy—Last, but Not Least
Finally, the fourth priority—a complex of tasks that we describe as the economic dimension of foreign policy. Since olden times, diplomats and businessmen have been important representatives of our country—and this is still so today. Modern diplomacy is less about top hats and tail-coats and more about tenders, contracts, and loans. In short, diplomacy should serve not only security interests but also the advancement of economic interests of our state on the markets of both our next-door neighbors and on more distant markets. Poland seeks to promote economic contacts also beyond the scope of its close, traditional partners.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the world economy is acquiring a global character. Within this system of communicating vessels, not a single country can afford to stay outside market, financial, or technological interdependencies. At the same time the growing competitiveness of the global economy does not rule out specialization by particular countries. So Poland with its market economy, with its potentialities and capacities, directs its diplomacy to facilitate the presence not only of large and medium-sized but also small businesses on non-European markets. In so doing, we put a special emphasis on upgrading the personnel and organizational base for this diplomacy, designed to ensure a balanced and mutually beneficial economic cooperation.
Eurasia’s New Heart…
In light of the aforementioned, the question arises: What is the place of the Central Asian countries in Poland’s foreign policy? Before proceeding to discuss Polish interests and aspirations in this region, I would like to single out three important aspects. First, Poland seeks to pursue its policy toward Central Asia both by intensifying bilateral relations and through multilateral interaction at international organizations—NATO, the EAPC, the OSCE, U.N. specialized agencies, and soon also EU structures. Second, Polish policy in the region will be aimed to support the integrity, cooperation, stability, and security of Central Asia coupled with respect for the interests of its countries. Third, Poland is ready to become an active supporter of regional states at NATO and EU forums, on the assumption that Central Asian countries will for their part be interested in close interaction with us.
Central Asia has an exclusive geopolitical position on the junction with other regions of Europe and Asia, which has been a major factor in its strategic importance that has been steadily growing in the past decade. As this trend developed, it was further strengthened by the requirements of the counterterrorism campaign and the operation in Afghanistan. Central Asian countries have each made a great contribution to the success of this operation. In this sense the operation against the Taliban regime and international terrorist bases in Afghanistan not only posed a certain risk or challenge to Central Asia but also provided opportunities that all five states in the region were able to use to their advantage.
…and Its Stability
From Poland’s perspective, it is important that in connection with the ongoing instability in Afghanistan, the international public cannot afford also in the future to ignore the consequences of a long drawn-out civil war, drug trafficking and the spill-over of extremism from this country, which remains a kind of a black hole. When the military stage of the antiterrorist operation is over, the main goal of the international public will be to eradicate all niches and conditions conducive to terrorism, illegal drug production, and drug trafficking. In this context, nothing will be able to replace the U.N. (with regard to Afghanistan) or the OSCE (with regard to Central Asia).
We believe that there is now a growing awareness, with respect to both Afghanistan and Central Asia, that large-scale cooperation of all states and international institutions concerned is a key to a gradual resolution of many supranational and structural problems that can considerably affect the security and stability of Central Asia. Poland supports the programs of financial and other assistance to administrative, economic, and public structures in the region that were recently deployed by the World Bank, the European Banks for Reconstruction and Development, and the EU. It is not, however, only a matter of temporary support.
We would like market reforms, which have advanced especially in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, to translate into an influx of direct investment to Central Asia and its economic recovery, thus reviving Poland’s trade with countries in the region.
Caspian Resources and Europe
Poland is committed to the idea of interregional economic cooperation taking in the maximum number of states and regions. In this context, access for Central Asian countries to new communication and export routes takes on special importance, particularly considering that the region does not have an outlet to the sea.
The latest geological surveys and estimates, pointing to vast energy resources in and around the Caspian Sea basin, are highly encouraging. Kazakhstan’s rich resources are especially attractive to major investors. Moreover, unlike in the past, we are seeing an entirely different approach by Western and Russian oil companies to the issue of pipeline routes out of the Caspian region. Say, the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline project, originally designed for the export of oil from Azerbaijan, could now be extended to include a tract of Kazakh territory, thanks to which the republic will get additional opportunities to increase oil production and export.
The work on another route for transportation of Caspian oil—along the Odessa-Brody-Gdansk project—has also intensified. Further cooperation between Caspian oil exporters on the one hand and Poland and Ukraine on the other will enable the former to secure a kind of a bridgehead for their presence on enlarged EU markets. Therefore, this will provide an additional source of oil supplies for Poland and other Central European countries. I think that the European Commission’s intense activity and the ongoing negotiations between government officials and gas companies will in the foreseeable future open new opportunities also for the export of natural gas from Central Asia. We believe that considerations of rivalry are poor counsel for the aforementioned matters.
We support a cooperative approach toward the issue of energy security in Europe and Central Asia. Already now Poland is a necessary link in the transit of Russian natural gas—a link that is key to energy partnership projects between Europe and Russia. So we would like Caspian hydrocarbon producers also to become important partners of an enlarged EU, whose energy needs will be growing in the next few decades. Hence our support for the EU INOGATE program.
Not Only Raw Materials and Silk…
It seems, however, that the ruling authorities and peoples of Central Asia would not like to be seen only through the prism of energy matters. We believe that specific national and international projects will be implemented in the foreseeable future, based around the idea of a new Silk Road linking the Far and Near East and Europe. Here too, things are not confined to the export of famous, intricately patterned carpets or silk from Central Asia and China. Without going into details, I would just like to express confidence that development of modern communication lines across Central Asia will produce results going beyond the purely economic sphere.
As we all know very well, the historical Silk Road served not only trading interests. The fact is that the transit of people and goods has always been associated with the transfer of cultural values and ideas. And although the 21st century gives us new opportunities to exchange values on the Internet and use other modern technologies, virtual reality will never replace real-life communication.
So a new Silk Road through Central Asia could bring different civilizations, regions, and countries closer together, facilitating official interstate relations, above all, people-to-people relations. Poland feels this need in its contacts with countries in the region and so will—already as an EU member—support the regional TRACECA program as well as other projects designed to promote economic cooperation within the Caspian Sea-Black Sea-Baltic Sea framework.
Poland's Specific Contribution
Up until now Poland has been mainly associated in the Central Asian countries with the numerous diplomats and experts working at OSCE and U.N. missions in the region. I would like to highlight a few more aspects of our bilateral economic cooperation potential. Both Poland and Central Asian countries are still looking for new opportunities for such cooperation, a case in point being my recent visit to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. I am especially happy with the fact that a group of Polish experts providing assistance on reform programs, has been working in Central Asian countries for several years now.
We know all too well that transition from a centralized planned economy to a market economy is a long, tortuous process involving tremendous efforts. I believe that Polish state and non-state experts have a certain advantage over experts from countries that have never lived under a centralized economy. The success of fundamental macro- and microeconomic reforms in Poland gives us ample cause for satisfaction and provides extra leverage to our foreign policy. Our partners in Central Asia can continue using Polish know-how on matters of reform, adapting it to their own national and regional specifics.
There is good reason to expect that the existing system of interdepartmental agreements and contacts on the expert level will facilitate bilateral economic cooperation, taking it to a new level, compared to previous years. I will only add that I was accompanied by a fairly large group of Polish businessmen who had numerous meetings and negotiations. I hope that these contacts will translate into concrete forms of cooperation between large, medium-sized and small enterprises in Poland and Kazakhstan. Such contacts enable us to look optimistically into the future of bilateral and multilateral relations.
In Lieu of Conclusion
I know that it is impossible in such a short presentation to cover all global matters that are key to the situation in Central Europe and Central Asia as well as to the evolution of bilateral relations. And still, I believe that despite the distance and the different historical experience, we are already now becoming closer to each other, and our contacts will continue to strengthen. The younger generation is called upon to play a special role here. Present-day students are the political, economic, and cultural elite of the future. I hope that in the global village that the world has now become, not even the ongoing developments will distract us from our long-term goals. In fact, young people always have a very good sense of perspective.