News Poland Politics & International

What the Patriot defence system saga tells us about Polish-German relations

patriot-air-defence

Warsaw, Poland – On November 20, in the wake of the Przewodów missile strike, Germany offered Poland two Patriot air defence systems. While at first this gesture of solidarity was well received by the Polish Defence Ministry, Warsaw quickly reversed course and rejected Berlin’s offer.

What could easily have been a sign of European unity and easing ties between NATO allies has instead become an embarrassment and an indication of lasting division.

This debacle is only the most recent test of a strained relationship between Poland and Germany, showing that even in times of crisis, political concerns still dominate the field.

What went wrong

On November 21, only a day after Germany made their offer, Poland’s Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak responded cordially that “I accepted with satisfaction the proposal regarding the deployment of additional Patriot missile launchers in our country.” At first, this open reception suggested that German-Polish cooperation may be improving, a welcomed change in wake of recent tensions over war reparations. Given the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine that would have also been an invaluable display of unity within both NATO and the EU.

Yet only days later, Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, snubbed the offer and questioned Germany’s trustworthiness as an ally, stating “the current attitude of Germany gives no reason to believe that they will decide to interfere, to shoot at Russian rockets.” As a result, the Polish government suggested that Germany supply the defence system to Ukraine.

Not surprisingly, Germany rejected Poland’s counter-proposal on the grounds that the systems were only intended for NATO use. Rather than ending the negotiations, Polish decision makers acquiesced albeit grudgingly as Błaszczak announced that Poland would receive the systems. Yet even in accepting the offer, the Defence Minister leveled accusations at his German counterpart Christine Lambrecht of leaking details of the negotiation to the press.

More than anything else the result of this saga has demonstrated the deep-seated animosity held by the Law and Justice government towards Germany, and the degree to which political talking points can impact the Polish government’s decision-making process.

Why this is not surprising

Since Russia’s invasion, the Polish government appears to have stepped up its hostility towards Germany, this controversy over the Patriot systems being only the most recent example of this antagonism.

On September 1, the Polish government issued a high profile statement claiming reparations from Germany estimated at $1.3 trillion. Apart from demanding an ‘eye-watering’ amount, and being in breach of several previous settlements, the claim was announced at a critical juncture, as Europe settled in for winter overshadowed by the ongoing energy crisis.

In the same time period Law and Justice ramped up their anti-German rhetoric, blaming Germany for the energy crisis, and insinuating that Germany and Russia work together in undermining Polish independence.

While Polish parliamentary elections may only be a year away, scheduled for autumn 2023, Law and Justice’s electoral platform and their political approach to Germany have come under the international spotlight as an indicator of unity and cooperation within the EU and NATO.

What remains to be seen will be the extent to which Poland’s ruling party continues to favour their own ideological agenda over the increasingly prescient realm of realpolitik.

By Nathan Alan-Lee

Nathan is a research assistant working with the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and a PhD student at the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies. He completed his Masters degree in European studies at the Jagiellonian University, focusing on party politics in Central and Eastern Europe. Currently, he is pursuing a study of politicisation and partisan influence in society, emphasising memory and historical revisionism.