|Written by Patrycja Rodzinska|
|Thursday, 13 September 2007 17:43|
With Radoslaw Sikorski, former defense secretary, former director of the New Atlantic Initiative at the American Enterprise Institute, war correspondent during the Afghan-Soviet war and winner of the World Press Photo award, currently senator of Poland speaks Patrycja Rodzinska.
Started his political involvement during the ’81 Bydgoszcz Strikes. Oxford graduate, he is known for his reports during Afghanistan and Angola wars; advices on investments in Poland and helping Poland with NATO accession. His later posts were with Ministry of Foreign Affairs, American Enterprise Institute of Washington D.C. and as a Director of The New Atlantic Initiative. He is a leading figure on Polish and Transatlantic Affairs.
- Which is more dangerous – to be a politician or war correspondent?
Radoslaw Sikorski: Definitely a politician because in war you know who the enemy is while in politics you never know who will stab you in the back. Paradoxically, even a guerrilla war is more predictable than politics.
- Is present foreign politics of Poland exposed to aggravated risk?
R.S.: For 80% of the last three centuries, we had foreign troops on our soil against our will. We are a very lucky generation.
- However, the last decade brought the participation of Polish forces in two dangerous international conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan...
R.S.: If we look back at our history we should feel privileged now because we can choose what operations to take part in. Iraq was an act of friendship towards the USA while Afghanistan is more of a compulsory participation in an Alliance operation. But we would not have sent our soldiers to these wars if the Polish government had said “no” in both cases. It is a political luxury.
- So Afghanistan is not our war but our duty. Am I correct?
R.S.: Afghanistan is our war, our NATO war. The Polish ambassador in Brussels instructed by authorities from Warsaw could have said “no” to this war but he voted in favor..
- Will the mission in Afghanistan be advantageous for Poland?
R.S.: We should not think in his way about Afghanistan. It is one of the poorest countries in the world. Our participation in the Afghanistan mission is the price we pay for having an alliance. Imagine a situation where Poland is in danger. Would we like our allies to calculate expenses or carry out a referendum whether or not to help us? Or would we rather expect them to send soldiers?
- If we do not gain any material advantages from this war, will Polish policy benefit from this after the mission in Afghanistan is finished?
R.S.: The political advantage of the operation in Afghanistan is the continuation of the North Atlantic Treaty as the real military alliance that deters potential opponents. It is of the greatest political advantages for Poland. Poland is a border country of NATO and its credibility is vital for us .
- Our society is concerned about how our participation in the NATO mission in Afghanistan will influence Polish national safety in the future. By engagement in the wars first in Afghanistan and now in Iraq we gain new enemies in Arabic countries. This question grew stronger after the last trial of bomb attacks in London, when it turned out that terrorists did not forget about the allies of the US in Europe.
R.S.: We are certainly advancing in Al-Quada’s hierarchy of targets. However, most Afghan people, who want peace in their country, are friendly towards us.
- In which direction does the policy of the government of Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński lean - in the direction of the US or European Union?
R.S.: This question may be answered by government representatives. In my opinion, the US and the European Union will always be important in Polish foreign policy. Choosing the US at the expense of the European Union would be disadvantageous. We should keep up good relations with both the US and the EU. We have to keep in mind that the European Union is a relationship of a different sort; it is a membership in a federation. The US, on the other hand is our main partner in the field of security.
- Poland wishes to be a real partner to the US…
R.S.: 200 countries in the world want to be the partners with the US.
- Indeed, but it is in Poland where the components of the anti-missile system will be built. Will negotiations on the shield change our position in the eyes of Americans?
R.S.: The eye of US attention opens towards Poland once every few years. Last time it opened was when we went to Iraq and in my opinion we wasted that chance.
- If we cannot be a real partner in the field of safety, maybe we can become the Israel of Central Europe?
R.S.: To become the Israel of Central Europe for the US we would need to have such organized and powerful Diaspora in the US as Israel does. I am afraid we can not expect that. One third of Chicago citizens are Polish but we have not yet had a Polish mayor there. I don’t this we van have a congressman. Politics is the art of the possible.
- Political losses resulting from the construction of elements of the shield on Polish territory are inevitable. Will profits compensate for the losses?
R.S.: It depends on the conditions we manage to negotiate. If the US does not strengthen our short-range anti-missile protection, nor makes an executive agreement that puts flesh on mutual security guarantees of safety real, then public outcry in Poland will be severe.
- How would you comment on this? The President of France Nicolas Sarkozy was quoted as saying by the daily newspaper “Le Figaro”: “The Shield may be something aggressive for Russia in a political sense but not in a military sense”.
R.S.: Really? Did he really say so? I doubt it. Said so... (consternation). I expect Nicolas Sarkozy to be cleverer than his predecessor Jacques Chirac.
- And this, in turn, is your statement on the shield given for Polish information TV called TVN24: „I have the impression that it has not been considered from the point of view of geo-strategy because when Iran gets warheads first and missiles first it will not drop them on the US or on the EU but rather - Iran leaders clearly state - they will attack Israel. And this shield cannot protect Israel. The situation is the same for North Korea who has bad relations with Japan, South Korea and the United States. However, North Korea would attack the US not over Europe but across the Pacific.”
If, in your opinion, the location of the shield has not been considered geo-strategically, where would you place it, as the former minister of national defense?
R.S.: You should ask the US about it because it is their offer. They say the shield is aimed at Iran. The exterminatory anti-Semitism of Iran is a real and if I were an Israeli I would take it very seriously indeed. But, as I say, the GBI base is useless in this regard.
- The participation of Poland in the anti-missile shield will influence the safety of our country. To be sincere, the shield will provoke the attack of those countries that feel endangered. Against who will the shield protect us and against who will it not?
R.S.: The shield will increase our safety with respect to countries that pose little risk to us, such as Iran. But Russia takes already executed legal and military measures, that increase uncertainty in our region. Building the shield without the supporting package would – in my judgement - bring us more disadvantages than advantages.
- So the threats made by Russian Vice-President Sergiej Iwanow referring to placing medium-range missiles in the area of Kaliningrad Oblast, in case the US does not resign from locating them in Poland and the Czech Republic, are truth?
R.S.: I think we should take them seriously because it is easy for Russia to do she promises. Why? Firstly, it has the funds to do it. Secondly, frightening former countries of the Eastern Block and dividing Europe and NATO into zones of lesser and higher security is an old Russian tactics.
- Can the offer of president Putin to build a radar in Azerbaijan influence American plans to install anti-missile systems in Poland?
R.S.: No, it’s pure PR. A Radar in Azerbaijan can only have a secondary operational role. This idea of president Putin’s concentrated public opinion on his person for one week around the time of the G8 summit.
- Russia perceives installing anti-missile system in Poland as a real menace from the US. Can ten defensive missiles really pose a threat to Russian strategic missile powers?
R.S.: Rather not. Russia has several hundred functional ballistic missiles. Ten interceptors canshoot down three, maximum four ballistic missiles.
- Russian fears are unjustified and its behavior is a psychological attack on the US and Poland?
R.S.: I think Russian authorities foment post imperial nostalgias as to look good in the eyes of their own society.
- And it tries Polish-American alliance…
R.S.: Russian threats towards Poland are a good test of American intentions. If Russia threatens to put medium-range missiles on the territory of Kaliningrad Oblast, which is near the Polish border, and the US does not offer Poland short-range Patriot missiles, why should we believe that the US would help us in case of a more general conflict? I think it is a very good test of alliance from time to time.
- The distrust of Poles towards American anti-missile shield results from disappointment on the part of the alliance with America in Iraq. Would a gesture of friendship in the form of Patriot missiles be sufficient to ease Polish worries?
R.S.: American should be aware that we think.that our relations have recently been one-sided and a gesture of reciprocity is needed. Otherwise, this shield may be viewed as the next gift that PolandUS. Polish parliamentary and public opinion will not bear it. makes to the
- In the March edition of the “Washington Post” we find your article in which you use many bitter words to address the US and especially the way how it negotiates with Poland. We read there: ”The United States may lose their last ally in Europe (...) If the Bush administration expects Polish and Czech people to jump for joy and agree to anything that is offered to them, they will be very disappointed”.
R.S.: It was a statement of concern for the of Polish-American relations which I think are important for both countries. Friendship requires honest words.
- According to the latest statistics, support for building the anti-missile shield in Poland is dropping. 60% of Polish people oppose this idea. What are the views among politicians?
R.S.: Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński says that in foreign policy you sometimes have to say “no” to the great powers.
- The Presidency of George W. Bush nears its end. Certainly, he would like the decision on the building of the shield to be made during his term, because this idea is supported by 70% of Americans. Are you not afraid that because this shield is so important to Bush he will make a significant concession to Russia?
R.S.: That’s up to the US, but Poland owns 600 hectares of fields situated in the appropriate area to build the shield and we should lease them at the best price. I hope that President gives Poland the short-range Patriot missiles we need and then I’ll be first to support the deal. Someone ill-disposed could think that you draw more attention of the US when you are its opponent not ally.
- How was the American-Russian summit in the private mansion of president Bush in Kennbunkport viewed in Polish political circles? Zbigniew Brzezinski, advisor for national safety during the presidency of Jimmy Carter, called this summit “miserable” and stated that it was completely unnecessary.
RS: When in September Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski had an appointment with president Bush, it took just 10 minutes. President Bush hosted president Putin for two days. Someone ill-disposed might suggest that you get more attention from the US when you define yourself as a competitor rather than an ally.
- The decision of the Polish government to support American intervention in Iraq in 2003, focused the attention of observers on Polish-American friendship. Because many of the traditional allies of Washington opposed this war, Polish politicians and citizens expected an improvement in relations and possible benefits resulting from it.
R.S.: Indeed, Polish politicians fomented these hopes but they did get any preferential treatment. They accepted the package the US gave to all members of the coalition.
- Is it possible that disappointment of Poles with the US and the growing integration between Poland and the European Union will influence the change in relations between Poland and the USA?
R.S.: It has already influenced our society. In the last 18 months the percentage of people who have a positive opinion of the US has unfortunately dropped from 60 to 38%.
- What is the greatest challenge for Polish-American relations in the following 5 years?
R.S.: In my opinion, the most important decision in this decade is the anti-missile shield. Not Iraq, not Afghanistan, but the shield. It will have major consequences in our geo-strategic surroundings and we will not be able to withdraw from the deal. In the case of Afghanistan or Iraq, one phone call from the president to the minister of defense would be enough to make our troops come home. The shield will be an obligation for several decades.
- You know how Polish and American administration operates. You worked as a vice-minister of national defense, then minister of national defense in Polish government and as the chief of the New Atlantic Initiative at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. What, according to you, is the greatest sin of Polish diplomacy in Polish-American relations?
R.S.: Poland’s failure to promote and lobby its interests adequately in Washington. It is incredible. Personally, as a minister I put forth an effort to support lobbying in the field of security with funds from the defense ministry. The US is susceptible to ethnic lobbying. We should take advantage of it.
- And the other way round?
R.S.: Diplomacy has not been one of George W. Bush’s strengths. But I don’t think we’ve been treated any worse than others.
- Our relations leave much to be desired. What should be changed in them?
R.S.: I was the first Polish minister of defense who presented a list of proposals for the Polish-US security partnership. I was surprised by the muted i interest in our offer but perhaps the new US defense secretary can look at the issue afresh.
- Why does the US not understand the issue of visas for Polish people, who are loyal allies of the US in Europe?
R.S.: Visas are less important for us now then before. The necessity to apply for a visa is a nuisance for Polish people and reminds them of communist times. We can now work quite legally in many EU countries, where we are appreciated, so visas have become a largely symbolic issue. Anyway, the USUS internal policy. clearly prefers immigration from Latin America and Arabi countries and we wouldn’t dare to question
- Iraq, Afghanistan, anti-missile shield. Is it enough for the Bush admistration to reward Polish liberalization of entrance policy?
R.S.: I have to defend the US. Visas are not intended to discriminate Poland but they are a matter of political climate. The post 9/22 climate favors closing borders rather than liberalizing entry conditions. Perhaps the EU should conclude a consular agreement with the US and that way everybody would get fair treatment.
- Who could play the role of Polish negotiator and be responsible for the lobbying of the Polish point of view on visas and the anti-missile shield in Congress?
R.S.: We have many friends in Washington. We should use Lech Walesa for presenting Poland’s success. He is the only Pole recognized worldwide, including US.
- We do not have professional, individual lobbying…
R.S.: Neither amateur...(laugh)
- Sociologist and professor of politics Jadwiga Staniszkis says of you: – “99 percent of members of Law and Justice may be jealous of his understanding of foreign policy, contacts and charm. He does not avoid strong words and his opinions, when published, are eagerly read—which is a gift. This gift is possessed only by those who climb high up the social ladder”. According to the British “Spectator” he is “a rising star of eastern-European policy”.
After you resigned from your position of minister of national defense in February 2007, the statistics from canvassing public opinion showed that if there had been a presidential election at that time, 16.5% of people would have voted for you. Although you are associated with sending Polish soldiers to Afghanistan, you are admired by people. Are you going to work actively in Polish politics when your seat in Senate terminates?
R.S.: I am going to fight for another term as a senator.
- Are you not going to use your public support in the battle for the president’s office?
R.S.: Suggestions as to my supposed presidial ambitions were not necessarily motivated by friendship towards me. It was a nuisance during my terms of office and did not help my relations with the current president.
- Are you going to be a senator in 3 years when Lech Kaczynski fights for reelection?
- Will there be anticipatory elections due to the present crisis in Jarosław Kaczynski’s government?
R.S.: As in war, the situation in politics is changing all the time. Two hours ago I thought there would be an early election. Now, I am not so sure.
- Will the proposal of the Democratic Left Alliance for self-dissolution be accepted?
R.S.: I really do not know. It is said that the strongest party in parliament is the party of the parliamentary salary.