Poland faces tough questions over its foreign policy.

21-11-2003

Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller was in Iraq last week, paying tribute to the first Polish soldier killed in action. Major Hieronim Kupczyk, shot in an ambush, was the first Polish combat casualty since World War II. Poland has been leading a force of about 9,500 international troops in the central part of Iraq since September. But the longer the troops stay in Iraq, the more the military commitment is being met with opposition at home, and the death of Major Kupczyk has fuelled the debate.

Iraq, photo: CTKIraq, photo: CTK When in Warsaw a few weeks ago NATO's secretary general Lord Robertson was full of praise for the involvement of Polish troops.

"If we don't go to Afghanistan then Afghanistan will come to us. So I salute and I praise the Polish troops who have gone to these troubled spots and who are in Iraq today. They are not only protecting peace and freedom but they are to make sure that problems do not spill back into our own doorsteps."

While many people in Poland have sympathy with human rights arguments and are keen to increase the country's prominence in international affairs, public support for Warsaw's military presence has dwindled to 55 percent and will surely fall further after the death of the Polish officer.

PERSON 1: "I think everyone knew that one day when a Polish soldier would be killed and this one who was killed lately, he won't be the last, there will be more unfortunately."

PERSON 2: "Iraq is a very dangerous place now - its not Poland's business - its America's business, in my opinion."

It can be expected that opinions like the last one will become more common. But despite growing opposition to the Polish involvement and its scope, the mission will continue. According to political analyst Jacek Kucharczyk it serves well Poland's state interests.

"So it would be a big disaster if Poland were forced, for example, to abandon their mission in Iraq under the pressure of public opinion. I think that not only Poland would worsen its relations with the U.S., but also the relatively strong international position that we now enjoy would be jeopardised. And we would probably not improve the relations with the European Union. Rather we would be seen as a country whose foreign policy has failed completely and who is not to be reckoned with."

Six months before Poland is due to join the European Union, the public debate on Iraq is inevitably placed in a broader context of the country's integration with the EU and its role in an enlarged bloc. Krzysztof Michasek, a prominent expert on Polish-US relations, believes that the shape of these relations will depend a lot on how Poland's mission in Iraq will proceed.

"If in our section of Iraq, which we control now, we got success it means a condition of life of Iraqi people will be better than in other sections. There will be no riots; there will be no demonstrations or significant guerrilla actions, so we can call it as a success or as a minimal success. Then our position, not only in relations with the U.S. or Great Britain, but also with relations with other European countries will be better. But if we fail then definitely our position in the European Union will be weaker."

Many a speaker in the debate on Washington-versus-Europe in Poland's foreign policy stresses that it is very much like asking someone - do you love more your mummy or your daddy... There's no doubt that Poland has to find a way of loving both, at the same time securing her diplomatic interests and pleasing the voter at home.

21-11-2003