Why you should care
No one thinks the West’s conflict with Russia is going to end anytime soon. Poland is an important buffer.
Don’t look now: A new military power may be rising on the plains of Central Europe. According to data recently released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a leading tracker of global defense spending, Poland’s military outlays last year jumped higher than any other country in Europe bar Ukraine, which is in the midst of a full-blown war. That includes Russia, which is on the other side of that war in Ukraine. In 2015, Poland’s plans for military spending top
This is part and parcel of a 10-year, $36 billion modernization plan Warsaw launched in February to bulk up its defenses. In 2014, its spending rose 13 percent. A big part of its motivation: Russia’s meddling in Ukraine (Poland’s neighbor to the east), which continues to destabilize the country, despite a cease-fire agreed to in February. But even before Vladimir Putin decided to seize Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula a year ago, “Poland, for historical reasons, has always been more concerned about Russia” than many of its neighbors, notes Dr. Sam Perlo-Freeman, head of the SIPRI military expenditure project, and “they’ve always wanted to show themselves to be a serious emerging NATO partner.”
Polish leaders have also been keen to woo American support, joining the fight in Iraq in the previous decade and allowing the United States to station parts of its Europe-wide missile defense shield system on its turf. Warsaw also announced on April 21 that it was purchasing American-made Patriot missiles for its own national missile defense system, which could cost up to $5 billion, all told. The U.S. State Department responded by declaring Poland “a stalwart NATO ally” and said in a release that its defense modernization program and commitment to spending 2 percent GDP on defense investments “directly fortifies the military strength of the Alliance.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Poland was the one country in Europe that didn’t get whacked by the financial crisis and ensuing recession that ravaged the continent. Countries like Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia — which are also nervous about Moscow’s intentions — haven’t been in nearly the same economic health. After plummeting in 2008, their defense spending started picking up only in the last couple years, according to SIPRI’s report.
But Poland still has a long way to go to catch up to the biggest military powers in Europe — Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Germany — which all spend anywhere from roughly $50 to $90 billion a year on defense. Still, at the rate it’s going, it could pull even with next-tier countries like Italy, whose spending continues to sink, in the not-so-distant future. Industrial power, it seems, is hard power too.