Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk and President Andrzej Duda set aside their bitter disagreements on domestic issues to bring a shared message to Washington, DC. The rivals’ joint action signals Warsaw’s concerns about, and commitment to, increased security on NATO’s eastern flank.

Last week, President Biden began his State of the Union speech with a clear statement to his American audience that “freedom and democracy are under attack, both at home and overseas.” This week, Biden meets with the leaders of another country where this warning applies: Poland. 

For eight years, Polish democratic institutions—including the courts, the media, and civil society organizations—were weakened or dismantled. Many observers of European politics wondered whether Poland would follow Hungary down its illiberal path of no return. However, on October 15 last year, 74% of Poles of voting age came out to vote—the highest turnout since Poland regained independence in 1989—giving a strong, democratic mandate to the coalition led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk. 

Since the change in power, Poland has become a laboratory of illiberal detox, conducting a series of experiments in how to rebuild democratic institutions in a polarized society. The last few months have shown that the process is neither simple nor pretty. Several of Tusk’s attempts to restore Polish democracy have been checked by President Andrzej Duda, who hails from the other side of the political aisle in our bitterly divided country.

This week, both President Duda and Prime Minister Tusk are in Washington, DC, on a shared mission. Despite their deeply entrenched political differences on domestic issues, the two Polish leaders seek to stress to their American allies the stakes of this pivotal moment in European security.

The tide in Russia’s war on Ukraine is turning in Russia’s favor. As Biden emphasized in his speech, “If the United States walks away now, it will put Ukraine at risk.” But it isn’t just Ukraine. American allies on NATO’s eastern flank understand well that if Putin succeeds in Ukraine, he will not stop there. 

Although overall European assistance to Ukraine is greater than the United States’, US military aid cannot be easily replaced by Europeans in the coming months. Ukrainians cannot do without specific capabilities that only the United States can provide. Passage of the supplemental that has been languishing in Congress would keep military aid to Ukraine flowing and reassure European allies. Some of it could be authorized directly by the Biden administration without Congress, through the use of the Presidential Drawdown Authority—a measure the Polish leaders are likely to advocate for in the Oval Office.

Poland will make this case from a position of a strong and responsible ally of the United States. The country is now a bulwark of European security and the center of gravity of NATO’s eastern flank. Poland spends 4% of its GDP on defense, or twice the agreed benchmark and an even higher proportion than the United States’. This year marks the 25th anniversary of Poland joining NATO, and the alliance is stronger for it.

Poland works closely with all NATO members, but especially with the United States. More than 10,000 US troops serve on Polish soil. The US Army V Core from Kentucky now has a permanent command in Poznań, and Polish and American troops train together in several other countries on NATO’s eastern flank. Supported by other major NATO countries, Poland and the United States provide the bulk of the forces that deter Putin from threatening NATO.

Additionally, Poland buys more than half of its military equipment from the United States, including Abrams tanks, HIMARS rocket launchers, Patriot batteries, F-35 fighters, and Apache helicopters. These purchases have injected $34 billion into the American economy. 

Yet, the most important message of Tusk and Duda’s visit is not necessarily what they will say but how they will say it. The Polish President and Prime Minister are bitter rivals at home, but, despite their bitter partisanship, they will walk into the Oval Office shoulder to shoulder to speak with President Biden. Tusk and Duda recognize that certain vital national interests are bigger than even the biggest, most fundamental domestic differences. Against a revanchist Russia, both Poland and the United States must recognize the jeopardy posed by Putin’s war in Ukraine. When it comes to collective security, domestic political divisions must take a back seat.

President Duda and Prime Minister Tusk’s visit to Washington, DC, is a call to action from an ally that is similarly divided but also—like the United States—serious about defense. More importantly, their desire to speak with one voice on vital national interests despite their political disagreement at home is a vivid reminder of what used to be an American commonplace: politics ends at the water’s edge.