December 1, 2016
Unlike most of its NATO and European peers, Poland has consistently viewed defense as a priority issue. A call earlier this week between President-elect Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May — in which they agreed on the need for more NATO member states to commit two percent of their GDP on defense spending — brought European security debate back into the limelight.
Although Trump gained notoriety in Europe for his skepticism of America’s alliances, there has been a surge of high-ranking politicians and government officials on both sides of the Atlantic saying that Europe is not doing enough for its defense. Earlier British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that Europe should “step up to the plate” to meet NATO defense spending targets, and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg noted that “more defense spending in Europe is important for the transatlantic bond.” A resurgent Russia and an increasingly inward looking political mood in the United States have prompted this reassessment.
The good news is that new key players such as Poland have emerged ascendant in Europe’s security architecture.
Unlike most of its NATO and European peers, Poland has for the past two decades consistently viewed defense as a priority issue, and as a result, has been slowly but steadily emerging as the bedrock of European security. Neighboring the highly militarized Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, Poland has reason to worry, and has defied the notion that all Europeans are simply “free riding” off the American taxpayer.
Poland is one of the few countries on the old continent that never cut its defense spending by a large margin after the collapse of the Soviet Union, keeping it at an average of around 1.9 percent of its GDP for the past two decades. During the 2008 global financial crisis, Poland’s military spending dipped to 1.7 percent of GDP, but following Russia’s incursion into Ukraine in 2014, it rapidly rebounded to a respectable 2.2 percent of GDP in 2015.
These spending habits contrast greatly with neighboring large and small NATO member states like Germany and the Czech Republic. Over the course of the last twenty years, Germany — Europe’s foremost economic power — has spentan average of around 1.3 percent of its GDP on defense, while the Czech Republic spent around 1.4 percent.
To date, apart from Poland, only Estonia, Greece, the United Kingdom and the United States meet NATO’s agreed two percent criteria. These countries will soon be joined by Latvia and Lithuania, as they have pledged to spend at least two percent of their GDP for defense by 2018…