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Will Poland create a “territorial” defence force – or will its role be as guardian of the country’s conservative political revolution?

Euro-View: Janusz Onyszkiewicz on Poland’s new territorial army

Janusz Onyszkiewicz

BRUSSELS – The radical change in the Central Europe’s security environment resulting from Russia’s aggressive policy and military build-up has forced the region’s countries to seriously rethink their defence posture – and Poland is at the forefront of this shift.

Warsaw has not only increased its defence spending from 1.95 percent of GDP to 2 percent, but the country’s new right-conservative government has launched a programme to create a Territorial Defence Force (TDF). How this force might be used raises some serious concerns in policy circles.

Territorial defence as a concept has always hovered in Poland but was never implemented on a sizeable or practical scale. That has now changed: the proposed TDF will be part of much wider plan to raise Poland’s armed forces from 100,000 (plus 20,000 reserves) to a total of 150,000 soldiers.

While there is wide consensus within the country about the need to have some kind of TDF, there are also concerns about how its creation could impact the modernisation of Poland’s operational force. Why? Because a considerable number of profession soldiers might have to be transferred from the army to it to train TDF personnel and the considerable cost which may affect the program of modernization of Polish operational forces

However, the main worry centres on the TDF’s planned mission.

Poland’s Ministry of Defence presented a document in June 2016 to the Sejm (parliament) entitled “Information on the Present State of Preparations and the Concept of the Organisation and Functioning of the TDF”. The document lays down a wide-ranging list of missions and goals for the TDF. Apart from the more predictable ones such as crisis management or anti-terrorism, there is the disconcerting goal of “fighting with disinformation in defence of civil security, and the cultural and spiritual heritage of the Polish nation”.

This raises a number of very serious questions.

What does “defending civil security and the cultural/spiritual heritage of Poland” mean in practice? Is there – should there? – be any role for the TDF in a situation where allegedly false information is spread by the media or during a demonstration? Who decides when the TDF would get involved: military commanders or another authority and, if so, which? And how would TDF personnel be trained to carry out such duties, and by whom?

Another, equally disturbing goal for the TDF in the MoD’s document is “the enhancement of the patriotic and Christian foundations of our defence system and defence forces, therefore making the patriotism and faith of Polish soldiers the best guarantor of our security”.

Given the frequent declarations of the ruling Law and Justice Party that it is the oversee to a fundamental revolution aimed at restoring traditional Polish values, one cannot help but see some resemblance between the TDF’s proposed profile and that of Iran’s “Guardians of the Revolution”. Do we really want that comparison to be drawn? Does this imply we consider soldiers who are non-Christian as being less trustworthy and less motivated than others?

Another comparison that comes to mind is Oliver Cromwell’s “New Model Army”, that revolutionary force of fervent Protestants and partisans of the English Parliament. This analogy is even more relevant because the TDF is seen as a model for the entire Polish Armed Forces. Indeed, the MoD’s document to parliament states that the TDF “should […] in a couple of years make a very significant generational and civilizational change on every level of command and leadership in the Armed Forces of the Polish Republic”.

Moreover, the TDF is intended as a fifth service (after the Navy, Air Force, Special Services and Land Forces), with a separate command that is subject neither to the armed forces’ general command nor to its operational command.

Taking all into account, it appears quite strongly that the TDF will be, from an ideological and purely political point of view, a new kind of “citizens’ army” that can be used internally for non-combative political purposes, with its cadres having a proper ideological backbone. These would soon replace the present officers’ corps within operational forces, who could be stigmatised for having been formed during “pre-revolutionary” times.

For the time being, the TDF’s formation is still in a preliminary stage, meaning it is too early to say what the ultimate nature of this force will be.

Nevertheless, the serious questions it raises demand serious answers – and sooner rather than later in the hope that the TDF’s final shape will be more in line with the generally accepted role and place of armed forces in a democratic state.

     Serving twice as Poland’s Minister of defence (1990-1993 and 1997-2000), Janusz Onyszkiewicz is currently a member of the European Leadership Network and is a chairman of the Executive Council of the Euro-Atlantic Association, based in Warsaw. He can be reached at onyszkiewicz.j@gmail.com

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