Barack Obama has been to Prague twice, but he arrives in Warsaw today for the first time. No matter how important his visits on the Vltava, however, their theme was neither Prague, nor the Czech Republic, nor Central Europe, but rather Obama’s agenda of global nuclear disarmament.
Prague was an honorary stage, but by no means the subject of Obama’s visits. His first real Central European destination, to which he has arrived for the sake of Central Europe itself and also because it is a key locale in the region, is now Warsaw.
Shale gas is more valuable than fighter jets
Poland, with its population of 40 million, has, objectively speaking, an influence far exceeding that of the other states of the new Europe. Czechia has nearly 500 soldiers in Afghanistan, which, in proportion to the size of our army, is one of the largest contingents. The Poles, of course, can offer about 2,500 soldiers. Moreover, freshly discovered shale gas, of which Poland has the largest reserves in Europe, adds considerably to Warsaw’s economic and energy-strategic weight. American oil companies Exxon Mobile and Chevron are chaffing at the bit to start drilling in Poland.
The Poles, then, shouldn’t even need a squadron of American F-16s, whose future placement at a base near Łodż the American president is to negotiate in Warsaw. Neither should they any longer need the SM3 anti-ballistic missiles, which are supposed to be deployed in Poland within the framework of Obama’s proposed European defense umbrella. Because the basic plan — to have on its territory an American military presence — would be replaced by American capital and companies, including their drilling and manufacturing infrastructures.
From Prague we can follow it all and sigh that the Poles simply have more luck. They are big and favored by geology. Only Warsaw has actively accommodated its own genuine strength within the EU framework and in trans-Atlantic relations. The Donald Tusk administration took power in 2007 and, after the Euro-skeptic and anti-Russian self-definition of the Kaczyński brothers, went to work systematically on warming relations with Moscow and at the same time on improving relations with Berlin. The first of these steps coincided with Obama’s U.S.-Russian “reset”; the second, in regards to Russia, made Poland into a catalyst of German intentions, which in many respects set the tone for the entire European Union.
No illusions, but activity
And this Polish policy, which is no longer a result of some objective realities, contrasts sharply with Czech positions. The Czech Republic, beginning with the administration of Mirek Topolánek, has rejected Obama’s “reset” as naïve and, for us, dangerous engagements with Russia. Only the Tusk administration itself never had any illusions that Moscow would give up its ambitions of power overnight and isn’t planning on skirting the issue by any means, as follows not only from the diplomatic cables on WikiLeaks, but also from Warsaw’s public statements and concrete steps. An example is the Polish-Swedish Eastern Partnership initiative, which tries to press EU influence into Moscow’s spheres of interest (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, etc.).
Unlike Czechia, Poland has figured out that the only tactic which pragmatically adjusts to the given situation, does not rule out the defense of clear principles on the other, no less important, political and diplomatic track.
And if today we regard Warsaw with a bit of envy, it is not only because they are a large country with gas reserves, but also because they are pursuing a more active and purposeful foreign policy.