Transatlantic Take

With a Biden Administration, Poland Expects Continuity in Security and a Return of Democracy

November 16, 2020
Photo Credit: De Visu / Shutterstock
In Poland, there were different reactions to Joe Biden’s victory.

In Poland, there were different reactions to Joe Biden’s victory. The state media and some members of the governing Law and Justice party emphasized that the results were not yet official and showed concern that a Biden administration might be less favorable toward Poland than that of President Donald Trump.  Meanwhile, the opposition and the expert community touted the return of the United States to stronger engagement in NATO and closer relations with the EU, and they engaged in a frank discussion about Poland’s position vis-à-vis the next administration.

Poland’s top priority is maintaining and potentially enhancing security and defense cooperation with the United States. Trump’s presidency has been fruitful in this respect, and there are high hopes in Warsaw for maintaining this. The United States is militarily present in Poland through the European Reassurance Initiative and as the lead nation of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence. To emphasize the hope for continuity in this realm, President Andrzej Duda ratified the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which provides for a further increase in the number of U.S. troops stationed in Poland, on November 9. He expressed the hope that this was “a symbol of contemporary Polish-U.S. relations, calm, independent of all political storms and political processes.”

Having enjoyed a very close and beneficial relationship with President Trump, the government is in the process of figuring out a bilateral agenda with a Biden administration. Poland will welcome strong U.S. engagement in NATO and a U.S. president who does not question or qualify Article 5. For Warsaw, this should be coupled with the strengthening of deterrence vis-à-vis Russia on NATO’s eastern flank.

While Joe Biden has declared his will to approach Russia from a position of strength, there is a degree of worry in Warsaw about his administration’s eventual policy and the degree to which it will be coordinated with Central European allies. One recent open letter signed by 103 U.S. foreign-policy experts suggests a policy that would not be good for Poland. The unease with which Poland’s government and opposition view a possible U.S.-Russia reset is lessened by Biden’s criticism of Russia’s interference in U.S. elections and of the destructive role it is playing in Ukraine and Belarus. Biden’s team has also signaled skepticism of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, though they are likely to use persuasion rather than sanctions to stop the project, given the simultaneous goal of rebuilding relations with Germany.   

The future U.S.-Polish partnership will focus on security, economic, and energy cooperation, but it will also be impacted more severely than in the past by Poland’s adherence to the principles of human rights, freedom of the media, and rule of law. Poland and the United States see eye to eye on supporting the democratic processes in Ukraine and Belarus. Biden has voiced support for Belarus’s opposition in its campaign against President Alexander Lukashenko and understands the need to support Ukraine’s territorial integrity and independence. Poland is well positioned to be a linchpin of regional security in Central and Eastern Europe, and it can be a pillar of support to the next administration in its approach towards Ukraine, Belarus, and the region. It can also continue to be a partner in strengthening NATO and in deterrence on the alliance’s eastern flank.

France and, in particular, Germany rejoice over Biden’s declared multilateralism and his goal of reengagement with NATO, the Paris climate agreement, the World Health Organization, and Iran. However, once the honeymoon period is over, Europe will face the resurfacing difficulty of agreeing on a common stance on European sovereignty and defense. Divergent views on the degree of involvement of the United States in European defense and security, coupled with upcoming elections in Germany and France, will make it difficult for a Biden administration to engage with allies, despite his best efforts. Therefore, Paris, Berlin, and Warsaw should all be asked to come closer to a common stance on these key issues.

The government in Warsaw fears that it will be unfairly treated by Washington and is braced for challenges, especially when it comes to respect for democratic norms. It would like to have a relationship with the United States that is purely based on common interests and geopolitical realities. The majority of the opposition, though, acknowledges that the relationship has to be built on the common values and democratic norms underpinning the transatlantic alliance. In fact, many are critical that over the past four years of the Trump administration these have not been a significant topic of Polish-American discussions at the highest level. It is actually a reason why relations with the United States has for the first time become a polarizing issue in Poland’s domestic politics. The Biden administration will have to manage talking to Poland as a friend about the challenges of Polish democracy and being received as an unwanted voice that does not respect the country’s sovereignty.

This is part of our series on the policy implications of the 2020 U.S. elections for U.S. allies—you’ll find the rest of the series HERE.