Artur Brzeskot: Balance of power is back to the front

If you went to international relations course and the academic teacher never mentioned the balance of power, you should go to your alma mater to claim a refund. We can find this idea in Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War, Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, Carl von Clausewitz’s On war  and the ancient Indian writer Kautilya’s Arthashastra (transl. “Science of Politics”). This question is also central to the consideration of modern realists like Edward. C. Carr, Hans. J. Morgenthau, Robert Giplin, Kenneth N. Waltz… etc.

Despite its long and well documented history this elegant idea is forgotten or rejected by Polish elites. When we ask them why do Russia and Belarus have good relations? Most of them is reaching a conclusion it is the result of shared authoritarianism by Putin and Lukashenko, which reflexive anti-Polonism, or some other form of ideological solidarity. This presentation of collective amnesia encourages a lot of experts, journalists and political leaders to see our policy in ways that unwittingly push foes closer together and to miss chances to drive them apart.

The basic logic balance of power is simple. There is no government over governments on the world, which would regulate international relations, states have to guarantee themselves survival and they have to rely on their resources and calculations to avoid the worst being conquered, blackmailed, or coerced. If a threatened state faces an aggressive neighbor it can mobilize all of its own force. If it is differently this state has to seek an alliance with other states that face the same danger, in order to shift the balance more in its favor.

Furthermore, in extreme conditions forming a coalition might require a state to fight alongside another country it previously regarded as an enemy or even to take account of help from a great power that we assume it would be a very dangerous rival in the future. So, we should not be expected this fact that two the most democracies the United States and Great Britain allied with the genocidal beast the Soviet Union during World War II, because defeating Nazi Germany took precedence over their long-term and foggy concerns about tyranny of communism. Winston Churchill described this logic perfectly “If Hitler invaded hell, I would at least make a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke about this problem with the same sentiment “I could hold hands with the devil” if it would help beat the Third Reich. Another words, when you really need allies, you can’t be too choosy.

Of course, balance of power logic also later played an important role in U.S. foreign policy, especially when concerns about national security were apparent. In times of the Cold War America’s alliances (NATO – North Atlantic Treaty Organization and alliances in Asia) were formed to balance and contain the Soviet Union. The same motive led America to back an array of authoritarian regimes in Asia, Africa and Latin America. After all, Richard Nixon came open to China in 1972, of course he was inspired by a threat of the Soviet Union’s hegemony. In result he considered that closer relation Washington-Beijing would put Moscow at a disadvantage.

Although balance of power has a long history and an unquantifiable intellectual primacy over another paradigms, policymakers and pundits often fail recognize how it drives the behavior of both allies and adversaries. Part of the problem stems from that both America and Poland are strong tendencies to assume that every state’s foreign policy is shape by internal attributes for example: aspirations, concerns, calculations, domestic politics, economy, values, ideology as well eccentric leaders than by external factors for example: structural causes, anarchy, system self-help, polarity, external threats and finally by a balance of power.

From this point of view the United States’ natural allies are states, which shared its values. When some nations speak of America as a leader of free world, or when they describe NATO as “transatlantic community” (we should add: liberal democracies), they are suggesting that considering a steadfast affection to common vision of the world order. Of course, shared values are relevant, some empirical studies even evidenced that democratic alliances are more stable than one between autocracies or between democracies and non-democracies. But, it is worthy to sight, if we assume a priori, that states always are driven by motives from level an individual or a nation, i.e. determine their own hierarchy both friends and foes base on internal attributes, it can lead us astray in several ways.

First, if we consider that shared by us values are a unifying force, we are likely to overstate cohesion and durability any alliance. NATO is a good example, implosion of the Soviet Union to obliterate the most important cause for its further existence. Yet despite herculean efforts to give the alliance a new set of missions regressive scratches and stresses were not removed. These questions might be different if NATO’s wars in Afghanistan and Libya were a success, but they did not.

Of course, Ukrainian crisis slows down a tendency of decomposition and decline NATO temporarily, but this modest reversal merely underscores of validity theoretical hypothesis that external threats, i.e. fear of Russia, play in holding NATO together. In sum shared values are definitely insufficient to survival any coalition consists of nearly 30 states located on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, all the more, when part of its members evidently reject liberal axiology like Poland, Hungary and Turkey. There is no doubt about values in the preamble of Washington treaty 1949.

Second, if whoever ignores balance of power politics he may be surprised, when the others allied forces against him. The George W. Bush junior administration was shocked even blasted when France, Germany and Russia joined efforts to block Uncle Sam in the UN Security Council during an attempt authorization invasion on Iraq 2003. Paris, Berlin and Moscow took this step, because they consider rightly that overthrow Saddam Hussein it is a risky play and may be a threat for themselves (if we look at current deconstruction of the Middle East in sum Schröder, Chirac and Putin were right). American leaders were not able to understand why close their allies Germany and France did not agreed to overthrow Saddam, a brutal dictator, and transform the region along democratic line. As Bush’s national security advisor Condoleezza Rice said later that America did not understand this problem.

It worth to sight that American officials were equally surprised when Iran and Syria joined forces to help Iraqi insurgency. These hard facts should suggest that any efforts of U.S. administration has to fail. We have to realize that Iran and Syria would be next on the United States’ list if war and occupation in Iraq were succeeded. On the other hand Teheran and Damascus behaved just as balance of power predicts, i.e. threatened states join forces, to deter and finally to defense against any aggression. Conclusion: from a political point of view neither Americans nor Poles should tangle into the stupid wars and later to be surprised that events turned tragic.

Third, if we focus on political and ideological affinities and ignore a role of shared threats by our foes, it encourages us, to see our adversaries as more unified than they really are. Instead of recognizing that our opponents are cooperating with each other largely for instrumental or tactical reasons, policymakers and commentator quickly assume that enemies are bound together by deep and common goals. In an earlier era of international relations Americans saw the communist world as unified monolith, they mistakenly considered all communists everywhere were reliable agents of the Kremlin. This mistake not only led them to miss or even to deny rancorous conflict between Moscow and Beijing, but also U.S. leaders mistakenly assumed that non-communists leftists were likely favorable to Moscow as well. The same mistakes were made by Soviet leaders, and strongly disappointed, when their efforts towards non-communist Third World socialists frequently backfired.

This strange instinct functions also current, in phrases like “axis of evil”, it allegedly suggested that Iran, Iraq and North Korea were part of unified front, in false terms like “islamofascism”, whether the most stupid hyperbola makes a comparison Putina and al-Assada to Hitler. Instead of seeing extremist movements as competing organizations with a variety of worldviews and objectives, policymakers and pundits routinely act and persuade as if our foes were operating from an identical playbook. These groups are often far from a common doctrine and suffer deep schisms and ideological fractions, personal injuries and rivalries, and they join their forces more only from necessity than conviction. Of course, extremists still cause trouble for world peace, but assuming all terrorists are loyal soldiers in a single global movement makes them look scarier than they really are.

Let’s go into our backyard in Europe. Poland also should know to divide its rivalries, unfortunately instead of it, our policy drives our enemies closer together. We can take an obvious example, although there may be some modest ideological common ground between Belarus and Russia, each of these states has its national interests and agendas. For this reason their collaboration should be analyze as a tactical alliance rather than as a cohesive or unified front of authoritarian regimes under the name of the Union States of Russia and Belarus (in Polish language acronym of this name means “bully”). If we will leverage on Belarus, it seeks help in Moscow, it merely gives both regimes a motive to help each other.

Last but not least, ignoring balance of power dynamics squanders one of Poland’s chief geopolitical advantage. As the middle power in the Central Europe, our country has enormous latitude when choosing allies and thus enormous potential leverage over them. Given this asset, we can sometimes play harder ball, to take advantage of regional rivalries when they occur. It can let us to be watchful for opportunities to drive wedges between our adversaries. Of course, this approach requires flexibility a sophisticated understanding of regional affairs, an aversion to special relationships, and most of all rejection policy of demonizing countries with which we have differences.

Unfortunately, Poland has done exact opposite for the past few decades especially in the Eastern Europe. In result we have frozen relations with Russia, cold attitudes towards Belarus, Lithuania and currently also towards Ukraine. Instead of exhibiting political insight our elites have rigidly stuck at especially relations, Germany and France were once, now we deepened an exotic alliance with Great Britain, further Hungary, Romania and Croatia – Three Seas Initiative. In sum with certain exceptions, and outside Europe (vide: China), we have treated our adversaries like pariahs (vide: Lukashenko), we threaten them and impose against them sanctions or give them the empty promises, instead of taking serious their aspirations and concerns. The results of this policy, alas, speak for themselves. Thus I postulate may a balance of power is back to the front not only our strategy, but all the West, and especially the United States, because rest of the world has already broken to ignore a realistic dictum.


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Polish version: Równowaga sił powraca na front

Artur Brzeskot: It is time to buy U.S. Patriot air defense missile system

The U.S.-Poland relation remains the cornerstone of Central Europe security. And with the new defense guidelines that Washington and Warsaw singed in 2016, the alliance has never been stronger and more capable of contributing to security around the region. The Pentagon is operationalizing the military part of the strategy on lethal weapons sales to Poland which will help our country’s armed forces get the equipment it needs.

During President Donald Turmp’s first state visit to Warsaw, the White House confirmed status quo Poland. That time the Polish Ministry Defense and the United States signed a memorandum on the delivery of U.S. Patriot missile systems. The designation does not mean a change of balance of power (as some observers see it), but only to facilitate defense trade and technology sharing with the country on a level that the United States reserves for its closest friends and allies. As a result on November 17 of last year the government of American decided to sell an advanced missile defense system Patriot to Poland – at the earliest possible date.

On that occasion we found out the price $ 10,5 billion. Although the first phase of negotiation has not yet ended it is difficult to hide Polish confusion. Some experts say the price is unacceptable. Actual value is much more than financial means at the Polish Ministry Defense’s budget plans in 2018. May be it is more than Polish state’s capabilities. In my opinion Poland’s ambitious aims are in a simply imitation of Great Britain and France’s strategies during the 1950s and 60s. It is very important that we are discerning this need, however, this question is open: will we be able to conform our actions to the patterns?

We have known for ages that research-intensive and modern weaponry have raised the barriers that states must jump over if they are to become members of the great powers club. For this reason unable to spend on anywhere near American, Russian or Chinese level for research, development, or production, small and middle powers who try to compete find themselves constantly falling behind. They are usually in the second ranking powers’ position of imitating the more advanced weaponry of their wealthier allies as well rivals. In sum this problem will not be resolved even If we abandon short of the extreme electronic, the cost and compilation of conventional warfare exclude middle states from developing the full range of weapons for land, air, and sea warfare.

Great Britain wished to bypass this problem by building a nuclear force, but Britain became more dependent on the United States. France did not want to lose independence so it decided to go ahead with its own nuclear program. France may have done so believing that missile-firing submarines were the world’s first permanently invulnerable force, that for them military obsolescence had ended. For the sake of argument that the French had the right given the small numbers of submarines France has planned, however, only one or two will be at sea at any given time. In the face of technological advance it makes their detection and destruction increasingly easy.

What am I getting? There are here two aspects. First, we have to agree that by the purchase of U.S. Patriot missile system Poland constrains its own independent. By virtue of it that the American are likely to refuse us an access to the top-secret technology so we will find in this situation just as the British during the Cold War – without strategic independence. Second, I think about the scale of the technological employment. Eight batteries of U.S. Patriot missile system will certain not sufficient for the complete defense. In a case of limited or unlimited aims war those systems will play a supporting role. In the same way like French submarines and missiles would not play much more the meaning in the face of war between NATO and Warsaw Pact. It is very important to note that both the British and the French despite unbearable difficulties they have taken some efforts in order to imitate the best military system in the world – the United States. Poland is in the same conditions nowadays.

Our country has no a principal influence on the objective facts of structural causes and military effects in Europe, such as Great Britain and France have not had since 1945. No third great power could lie between the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia (e.g. European Community, European Union, Germany, Three Seas Initiative … etc.). So, by these external conditions is only one of possible choices it is ever closer relation with the United States, alternatives are a buffer state or Russia’s domination. For this reason Poland should not drag out the purchase of U.S. Patriot missile system. Furthermore, international politics is not only a realm of socialization, but also as a competitive realm. The latter domain depends on construction solid deterrence and defense by copying of the best players. Otherwise, Poland will be doomed to strategic autarky and as a last resort to military deviancy.

We may look at the map of Europe our country is not outside the immediate arena of competition like America and Great Britain in XIX century – reversely Poland is in the middle of the area. Thus, it means simply that we have to conform to accepted and successful practices to rise to the top and to increase our chances for survival. The purchase of U.S. Patriot missile system does not give us guarantee to achieve this destination, but it gives us only warrant to the best pattern –  organization, procedures, technologies and arms.

In sum, these behaviors are returned by all history. Bismarck’s victories over Austria in 1866 and over France in 1870 have considerably exposed it and quickly led the major continental powers and some Asian states (e.g. Japan) to imitate the Prussian military staff system. Adolph Hitler’s victories in the early years World War II with blitzkrieg strategy were pattern for Israel in wars in the Middle East. After all America’s doctrine RMA Revolution Military Affairs (dance like butterfly sting like a bee) has taken much from German strategists.

We should remember about it, that is nothing new that contending states imitate the military innovations contrived by the country of greatest capability and ingenuity. Poland should go the same road, because it may give an opportunity to achieve the most important aim – national security. The purchase of U.S. Patriot missile system is a next step in order to copy the greatest military pattern in the world.

Photo: Raytheon


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Polish version: Czas kupić amerykański system obrony powietrznej Patriot

Artur Brzeskot: Military strategy and conventional deterrence

What do military strategy and conventional deterrence have common? It seems to me that these both things are directly related to the matter of how a nation’s armed forces are employed to achieve specific battlefield goals. Therefore we say exactly about military strategy. From strategic perspective all decision makers want to determine how their armed forces are going to be used on the battlefield. They are concern with getting to know probable outcomes when the attacking forces meet the defending forces. Thus decision makers attempt to project primarily the nature of the war. Does the plan of attack – or defense  – the proposed strategy, promise success at a reasonable cost? In sum, such cogitations are fundamental questions of the decision-making process.

In a sense military strategy help us to understand deterrence failures and successes. Thus, all decision makers stand in the face of choice three distinct and narrowly defined strategies: a) the attrition; b) the blitzkrieg; and c) the limited aims strategies. We have to realize that each has different implications for deterrence. If we consider a definition of military strategy at the most general level, an attacker can pursue either limited or unlimited military goals. In more concrete terms, unlimited military objectives can mean total defeat of the opponent’s military forces. However, we should note that unlimited war may not be define as total war. We might accept the cornerstone of total war is unconditional surrender. In other words, we can say that the attacker is pursuing unlimited political objectives.

This situation took place during World War II when the Great Alliance defeated the Axis Powers – Germany, Italy and Japan in 1945. On the other hand it is possible for a state to disarm an opponent completely on the battlefield and not to seek unconditional surrender. In contrast to the first example in 1967 the Israelis decisively defeated the Egyptian military forces (Six Days War), but were well aware that they would not be able to impose political terms on Egypt. Another kind of military strategy is pursuit of a limited objective. It requires the attacker to seize a portion of the opponent’s territory. Of course, a capture is well done when the attacker defeat some of enemy’s forces. However, the principal aim is to conquer territory, not to defeat the opponent’s army. The difference between limited and unlimited goals is clearly reflected in the writings Carl von Clausewitz, Liddell Hart, Giulio Douhet and other military strategists.

If we are going to achieve a specific goal, as an attacker, we have to know how employ our forces so as to do it the best. If an attacker’s goal is to defeat the opponent decisively, an attacker can choose between the attrition and blitzkrieg strategies. In other words, by the attrition strategy, the attacker seeks to defeat his opponent by engaging a lot of battles of annihilation – or set-piece battles. The ultimate success depends on wearing the defense down until resistance is no longer possible. On the other hand, the blitzkrieg, base on the mobility and speed inherent in an armored force to defeat an opponent decisively and to avoid a series of bloody battles.

The massive victories achieved by Germany in the early years of World War II for example: Poland 1939; France 1940; Balkans 1941 … etc. and nearly three decades later by Israel in the Middle East, present that an opponent can be disarmed without numerous battles of annihilation. In my opinion, on the modern battlefield, the blitzkrieg strategy is still the ideal tool for achieving a quick victory at a low cost. In this sense deterrence is likely to fail when a potential attacker considers that he can start a successful blitzkrieg. On the other hand, the attrition strategy can render at best a delayed success at a high cost, but also may very well fail to bring a decisive victory. In this context we can claim that deterrence is greatly strengthened when a potential attacker foresees war as a series of set-piece battlefields.

We try to consider theoretically an armed conflict in which military aims are limited. In this situation an attacker attempts to analyze the best strategy for seizing a slice of the opponent’s territory. It suggests us that neither the attrition nor the blitzkrieg strategies are an optimal choice. Although it is possible to use those strategies, the attacker is very unlikely to do so. Instead he will rely largely on surprise. Why is it? Because the aim is to strike before the victim can mobilize his defenses. This nearly ideal strategy, which is named the limited aims strategy, it gives importance to minimizing contact with the defender If the attacker is able to achieve surprise. We can assume generally that this strategy is likely to be successful and also not very costly.

The blitzkrieg and the attrition strategies are invariably riskier because they are almost always employed in pursuit of a more ambitious objective and because they both involve directly engaging the defender’s forces. From this perspective an attacker has three options. The first two the blitzkrieg and attrition strategies might be used when the aim is to inflict a decisive defeat on the enemy. With the limited aims strategy, on the other hand, the attacker seeks to capture some portion of opponent’s territory.

If we want to theorize generally base on these above definitions we can claim that Putin’s move to seize the peninsula Crimea in 2014 is to be matched to the pattern of the limited aims strategy. First, Russia did not have to concentrate much resources before military action – the invasion had rather a low cost. Second, Russia obtain the effect of a surprise minimizing the contact with the defender. Third, Russian Army is not going to defeat completely Ukraine’s armed forces and to seek unconditional surrender. Fourth, Russia succeed in capturing some portion of Ukraine’s territory and achieving specific political aims, that is to prevent Ukraine’s access to the European Union and NATO. If we analyze wider political factors Russia’s preponderance in this conflict is much more than Ukraine.

In reality, each military strategy has different implications for deterrence. So, likelihood an operation of the latter is connected not only with the defender’s correct choice, but it also depends on which strategy the potential attacker is considering.


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Polish version: Militarna strategia a konwencjonalne odstraszanie

Artur Brzeskot: What are Poland interests?

The overriding goal of Polish foreign policy is to ensure the safety and prosperity of the Polish people. In pursuit of that end, Poland has always considered the security of its territory to be of paramount importance. In recent decades, after ending the Cold War, Polish policy makers should also consider two another regions to contain strategic interests important enough to fight and die for: a) Central and b) Eastern Europe. These areas are important because they contain either concentrations of power and critical natural resources, and who controls them has profound effects on the European balance of power.

The Republic of Poland has three distinct strategic interests in the Eastern Europe. Because this region transfers a large percentage of global energy supplies, the most important interest is maintaining access to the critical oil and natural gas located in Russia and post-soviet republics. This objective does not require Poland to control the region itself; it merely needs to ensure that no other country, including Russia, is in position to keep Eastern Europe oil from reaching the Central Europe market. To do this, Poland will have to seek to prevent Russia and any local power from establishing domination in the Eastern Europe to deter outside powers from establishing control of region.

A second strategic interest is discouraging Eastern Europe states from acquiring Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) – especially Ukraine and Belarus. The risk here is not the remote possibility of deliberate nuclear attack, nuclear blackmail, or deliberate “nuclear handoff” to terrorist, because such threats are not credible in light of Poland’s membership NATO and America’s own nuclear deterrent. Rather, Poland opposes the spread of WMD in the region because it would make it more difficult to project power into the region and thus might complicate Polish efforts to keep Eastern Europe oil flowing. Furthermore, WMD proliferation also increases the danger of accidental nuclear use. Given the potential for instability in some countries in the area, it also raises the risk that nuclear weapons or other WMD might fall into the wrong hands in the event of a coup or revolt, or be stolen by terrorist from poorly guarded facilities. So, the above arguments, inhibiting the spread of WMD in the region is an important Polish objective.

Third, Poland has an obvious interest in reducing terrorism. This goal requires dismantling existing terrorist networks that threaten Poland and preventing new terror groups from emerging. Both objectives are furthered by cooperating extensively and effectively with countries in the region, mostly in terms of intelligence sharing and other law enforcement activities. It is also imperative that Poland takes all feasible steps to prevent groups like ISIS, al Qaeda and its branches from gaining access to any form of WMD. Terrorist armed with WMD would be more difficult to deter than states with WMD, and they are likely to use them against Poland or its allies. Encouraging political reform and greater democratic participation can assist this goal well. Of course, this requires good relations with key regional powers. Although Poland should be wary of humanitarian interventions, rapid transformation and certainly should not try to spread democracy at the point of a gun.

I believe that Poland should support Ukraine’s existence, because Ukraine’s security is ultimately of critical strategic importance to our country. In the event that Ukraine was conquered, which is extremely unlikely given its considerable military power and its national backlash, Poland’s territorial integrity, its military power, its economic prosperity and its core political values would be jeopardized. By contrast, if oil exports from Russia were significantly reduced, the effects on Poland’s well-being would be profound. Thus, Poland does not support Ukraine’s existence, because the Polish recognize the long history of Ukrainian suffering and believe that it is desirable for the Ukrainian people to have own state, but rather because it makes Poland more secure. There is a strong moral case for supporting Ukraine’s existence, and I believe Poland should remain committed to coming to Ukraine’s aid. But the Polish should do this not only because they think it is morally appropriate, but in the first place, because it is vital to their own national security.


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Polish version: Jakie interesy ma Polska?