Last year we commemorated the one-hundredth anniversary of Poland regaining its independence. Like a phoenix, Poland was reborn from the ashes of European empires that went to war in 1914. We had been partitioned and did not have independence for 123 years. As a steadfast advocate of Poland’s cause, President Woodrow Wilson addressed the U.S. Congress in April 1917 proclaiming that “there should be a united, independent, and autonomous Poland, and that, henceforth, inviolable security of life, of worship, and of industrial and social development should be guaranteed to all peoples who have lived hitherto under the power of governments devoted to a faith and purpose hostile to their own.” His words are as relevant now as they were a hundred years ago because today the Euro-Atlantic community is menaced by governments that are devoted to a purpose hostile to our faith in freedom and democracy. This year, as the United States and Poland celebrate the centennial of the establishment of diplomatic relations, it is important for us to reflect on lasting peace in Europe.
Apart from the past conflicts in the Balkans and Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine, Europe has enjoyed peace in the decades following World War II because of two pillars: NATO and the European Union. The unity and resolve of both of these communities is vital to safeguarding lasting harmony and Poland is wholeheartedly committed to this mission, especially since we are witnessing an increase in Moscow’s “revisionist probing,” pertinently described in The Unquiet Frontier by Wess Mitchell and Jakub Grygiel. Poles see NATO as the embodiment of our transatlantic bond and an irreplaceable system of security where all allies are dedicated to each other’s safety. The world witnessed this dedication and unity following the attacks in New York on 9/11. The attack on the United States was an attack on us all. In order to be able to defend ourselves and our allies (in the unfortunate case that the need arises), each member should meet the NATO benchmark of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense. Poland is going above and beyond by adopting legislation to increase our defense expenditures to 2.5 percent of GDP in the coming years.
Aside from NATO, the European Union is one of most ambitious and praiseworthy projects in recent history. Poland sees its rightful home in an EU, built on common values. Poles are ardent euro-enthusiasts: 72 percent view it favorably (10 percent more than the EU average). Any talk of “Polexit” is absurd. Poland won’t leave a united Europe because Poland is Europe. We are dedicated to the Single Market and the four freedoms: freedom of movement of goods, services, capital, and people. In this regard, the EU should be even more integrated because, as opposed to immigration policy, this is in line with the Union’s treaties. The EU underlines that its motto, In varietate concordia (United in diversity), “signifies how Europeans have come together, in the form of the EU, to work for peace and prosperity…” This is the essence of our European project, our “ever closer union,” and we must deepen this cooperation.
Nevertheless, we must remember that In varietate concordia is not the same as E pluribus unum (Out of many, one), the motto of the United States. We are not and should not become the United States of Europe. Instead, the European Union should respect and embrace its diversity. It should recognize that Member States have different interests and different visions of what the EU should be—often arising from geopolitical factors, historical sensitives, and national traditions. But if we are committed to the European project, EU member states have to constantly ask themselves one fundamental question: is my pursuit of national interest aligned with fostering peace and prosperity in all of Europe? I would argue that the Nord Stream II pipeline does not meet this criteria, given that the Kremlin uses energy as a neo-imperial political weapon; nor do recent protectionist revisions to the posted workers directive, which undercut free competition within the EU. Strengthening our economies and trade advances European prosperity; diversifying the flow of energy advances peace. Americans, who helped rebuild postwar Europe and safeguard her against the Soviet Union, can help us advance both prosperity and lasting peace.
The one-hundredth anniversary of diplomatic relations between the United States and Poland should be used as an opportunity to strengthen our transatlantic partnership based on cooperation in the intertwining fields of energy security and defense. In addition to being the largest global crude oil producer, the United States is well on its way to becoming a top liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter. Several major contracts have been signed by American and Polish companies for the import of LNG and we are expanding the LNG terminal in Świnoujście—named after former President Lech Kaczyński—to increase its regasification capacity. The recently created U.S.-Poland Strategic Energy Dialogue is one forum that will help us enhance our partnership in developing energy infrastructure and connectivity. With increased exports of American LNG to Europe, we envision that the Three Seas Initiative will be the driving force for the north-south energy corridor between the Baltic, Adriatic, and Black Seas. Our security depends on having reliable partners that won’t turn off gas flows to disrupt our industries. It also depends on our defensive capabilities, which is why Poland is modernizing its army by dedicating billions of dollars for the purchases of the U.S.-made Patriot anti-missile system, the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, and fifth-generation fighter jets. Given the aggressive policies of our rivals, we cannot put a price tag on security.
“No peace can last, or ought to last, which does not recognize and accept the principle that governments derive all their just powers from the consent of the governed, and that no right anywhere exists to hand peoples about from sovereignty to sovereignty as if they were property,” President Wilson proclaimed. Poland has all too often been treated like property divided among hostile empires. We are committed to our allies in the EU and NATO to make sure those dark days never return.
Adam Bielan is the Deputy Speaker of the Senate of the Republic of Poland and former Vice President of the European Parliament.