With neighbouring Ukraine in turmoil, Warsaw is more acutely aware of its vulnerability than at any moment since the end of the cold war. The defence ministry recently decided that it only wants systems that have been deployed by other NATO members in its tender to build a modern short and medium-range air defence system. This leaves just two bidders: America’s Raytheon with its updated Patriot system and France’s Eurosam, a consortium of Thales and MBDA.


When Poland went for the F-16s over rival European bids more than a decade ago it also had to choose between America and a member of the European Union. Today Warsaw is making even bigger efforts to find the right balance between its strong security relationship with America and the closer economic and political ties it has forged with other EU countries.


The definitive choice of system will probably be made this year instead of 2015, as had been planned. The government will dodge EU rules on open tenders (which is allowed for contracts affecting national security) to speed up the process. “There is clearly urgency,” says Andrew Michta at Rhodes College in America. “The Poles are looking at the likelihood of a protracted confrontation between Russia and NATO and they are now a front-line state.”


A similar sense of pressure for rapid results is guiding Poland’s multi-year 140 billion zloty ($46 billion) military modernisation programme, one of the largest investments in new military kit by any European NATO member. The original plan called for a tender on supplying about 30 attack helicopters to begin only in 2018. But replacing Poland’s ageing Soviet-era Mi-24 “Hind” helicopters has now been pushed forward to 2016; possible suppliers have until August 1st to announce their interest. Again, the choice is going to be between America and the EU. The American bids are likely to be Boeing’s well-regarded Apache helicopter and the Viper from Bell Helicopters, whereas European offers will come from British-Italian AgustaWestland and Franco-German Airbus.


Poland wants to make its forces significantly more lethal in case of an attack. The government is pushing hard for America to sell it upgraded stealthy JASSM cruise missiles, which have a range of almost 1,000km (625 miles). The missiles, which can be launched from F-16s, would give Poland the ability to counter attack by striking deep into Russia.


The need for such a system may have seemed in doubt when Poland first announced its military modernisation programme, to be completed in 2022. But Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its support for the insurgency in eastern Ukraine and its aggressive Russian-Belarusian war-games in recent years, not far from Poland’s eastern border, have made policymakers much more aware that the country faces a real security risk.


Russia’s actions on its post-Soviet periphery are likely to result in a more heavily armed Poland. Poles’ worries about their vulnerability have grown owing to the reluctance of western European countries to base NATO troops in Poland permanently. Radek Sikorski, the foreign minister, wants two heavy brigades shifted to Poland, but recent opinion polling shows that three-quarters of Germans oppose such an idea. There is an old Polish saying, “if you have no one to count on, count on yourself”. Though Poles know they are much safer since joining NATO, history reminds them to rely as much as possible on their own efforts.


Żródło: The Economist