On January 20, GMF, in cooperation with the Warsaw Institute of Public Affairs (ISP) hosted a discussion in Berlin focusing on "Germany, Poland, and the Obama Administration." Jacek Kucharczyk of the ISP presented his newest policy brief, entitled, "The new transatlantic agenda - a view from Poland." Jan Techau of DGAP and Jeffrey D. Rathke of the U.S. Mission to Germany provided comments from a German and American perspective.
With regard to Polish foreign policy and expectations toward the new Obama administration, Kucharczyk offered four main points:
- Polish attitudes - both public opinion and government policy - toward the United States changed significantly over the course of the Bush-administration and became more critical. However, Poles and in particular the political elite continue to believe in a need for the United States and Europe to cooperate on global issues.
- Polish priorities for the transatlantic agenda are regional rather than global. Russia is increasingly seen as a threat, in particular following the conflict in Georgia in August 2008 and the recent gas stand-off with Ukraine. Furthermore, NATO-enlargement to the East is an important policy objective. However, there is also a clear - and new - recognition in the current Polish government that EU unity on the Eastern neighborhood is important.
- Security has once again become a major concern, spurred by recent conflicts involving Russia. From a Polish perspective, NATO should again become more of a provider of hard security than a political forum. With regards to the post-soviet area, Poland, together with Sweden, has contributed the idea of an "Eastern Partnership" to the transatlantic agenda.
- While primarily concerned with regional issues and security, Poland is willing to contribute its part to addressing global challenges such as combating terrorism as long as they do not conflict with its own security priorities.
Jan Techau took up Kucharczyk's point that security has resurfaced as a major issue and voiced his concern that security could be the big divider - both in intra-European terms, and across the Atlantic. Polish expectations with regard to Russia policy, NATO expansion, and NATO as strong security provider, for example, are directly linked to Polish interests, and different from German priorities. Germany, according to Techau, still likes to see itself as a post-security society. It defines its expectations toward the Obama administration in a more blurry, more global way, less linked to national interest. Topping the list of German expectations toward the Obama-administration are policy changes with regard to Guantanamo, climate change, and American diplomatic style in the world. While united in its desire for American credibility and leadership, Europe might find itself facing a structural divide with regard to concrete security issues, so that the quality of transatlantic relations could be decided by the European response in face of U.S. demands.
Jeffrey Rathke went on to point out that - as far as one could tell by inauguration day - the new administration demonstrates a clear desire to strengthen alliances and provide the leadership and vision that Europeans are waiting for. He also stressed that Obama may receive credit for a change that was begun during Bush's second term. Rathke disagreed that the current transatlantic agenda is primarily a security agenda: in times of a financial crisis, the economic challenges ahead loom large. With regards to aforementioned issues of NATO and Russia, he highlighted that both the EU neighborhood policy as well as the Eastern partnership initiative offer ways to help countries such as Ukraine and Georgia to meet their aspirations. Russia is a concern, but the United States hopes that constructive relations are possible and that arms control and non-proliferation may be potential areas for cooperation.
The ensuing discussion focused primarily on the future of the missile shield, Iran and the nuclear threat, energy security and democracy promotion. All these issues offer renewed potential for transatlantic cooperation, however, the big question remains Russia, and how divisive a factor that may be - transatlantically, and within Europe.