Poland’s Démarche: Warsaw Buys South Korean Tanks Instead of American Ones*

*Editor’s note: On March 4, Russia enacted a law that criminalizes public opposition to, or independent news reporting about, the war in Ukraine. The law makes it a crime to call the war a “war” rather than a “special military operation” on social media or in a news article or broadcast. The law is understood to penalize any language that “discredits” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calls for sanctions or protests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It punishes anyone found to spread “false information” about the invasion with up to 15 years in prison.

Last week, Poland signed the largest tank purchase contract in its history. The deal will allow Warsaw, which hopes to make its army the most powerful in NATO, to buy almost 1,000 tanks.

Poland’s Démarche

According to Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak, Poland is going to purchase 980 K2 tanks, 648 self-propelled K9 howitzers and 48 FA-50 fighter jets.

At first glance, it might seem that there is nothing special about this deal: Warsaw has repeatedly mentioned its plans to modernize the army after it had donated almost all of its obsolete Soviet-era tanks and armored vehicles to Ukraine. However, this deal remains a rather controversial issue because Poland isn’t going to buy tanks from the U.S. but from South Korea.

Let’s not forget that Poland had earlier signed a deal with the U.S. to buy 116 decommissioned and 250 brand-new M1A2 Abrams.

That said, the Poles had their doubts about whether the brand-new tanks would really be “fresh off the assembly line.” Many assumed that the U.S. would send the tanks that were decommissioned after the Marine Corps had eliminated its four tank battalions.

Why Did Poland Stab the U.S. in the Back?

Some political analysts believe Warsaw has decided to buy armored vehicles from Seoul to demonstrate its political independence. Moreover, Warsaw aims to show Brussels that Poland does not intend to follow anyone’s orders and will defend its national interests.

Even though Poland is an EU member, it has long been at odds with other EU countries, defending its legal system and refusing to adopt the LGBTQ rights agenda.

In this context, the tank purchase deal can certainly strengthen Poland’s independence. However, the U.S. has been enjoying good relations with Poland for a long time and it’s not going to look kindly on Warsaw’s recalcitrance.

Washington in Confusion

U.S. officials have not yet commented on Poland’s démarche. Apparently, they are at a loss, wondering how to set the troublemakers straight. After all, Poland is not the Philippines, which Washington managed to intimidate with the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

Fearing U.S. sanctions, Manila agreed to reconsider its decision to buy 16 Russian Mi-17 helicopters, dropping a $322 million deal. That said, the Philippine government has already made an advance payment and now it’s trying to figure out how to break the contract so that it can get its money back.

This tactic won’t work with Poland because South Korea is America’s ally.

Warnings Won’t Work

U.S. military expert Daniel Gur has criticized Poland for buying South Korean tanks because they are incompatible with U.S. and NATO military technology and equipment that the Polish army already operates.

However, Warsaw either didn’t listen to American experts or didn’t want to listen to them. After all, South Korea will provide Poland with fresh-off-the-line tanks at a good price.

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