November 19, 2008
Transcript: Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski Talks to Council
Transcript by Federal News Service, Washington, D.C.
FREDERICK KEMPE: Welcome to the Atlantic Council. I’m Fred Kempe, president and CEO.
Minister Sikorski, Ambassador Kupiecki, representatives of the Warsaw and Washington diplomatic communities, Atlantic Council board members, and friends, it’s an honor for us to be hosting today this installment of the global leadership speaker series. Let, me first off, give my thanks to a board member, Torkel Patterson, and his company, Raytheon, for supporting this event.
Minister Sikorski, many prominent individuals have proceeded you on this podium, heads of state and government, European ministers, leading policy-maker, and it gives me my pleasure to greet you as a continuation of this important string that has included Chris Hill, Bob Kimmitt, Nick Burns, President Saakashvili, President Yushchenko, but not only to introduce you and greet you here but to congratulate you on the 90th anniversary of Polish independence.
Let me just make a personal statement here first before introducing you. I was in Poland, as you know. We met in those days, 1980, 1981, and it changed my life in two respects. It changed my life, first of all, because I saw a courageous people who took on the burden of changing their history against almost what looked then to be impossible odds. In fact, I must say many of the journalists covering the country at the time sometimes thought the Poles were just being a little crazy. How could they ever really accomplish what they were trying to accomplish. But they of course got us all caught up where many of us covering the country at that time lost our objectivity absolutely.
The second thing I learned was the role of the U.S. and its European allies can be decisive when we’re principled, when we’re focused, when we’re consistent, and when we’re determined. And, conversely, when we lose that focus, when we lose that determination, a lot of history does not go in the right way, and in Poland, there were times when it went both ways. There were times of determination and focus and there were times of lack of focus. And I think in the end Poland and its Western friends took crucial decisions at critical moments and the history is we’re sitting here now with a minister of a democratically elected country which is part of the European Union and the alliance, NATO alliance.
The title of your speech, Mr. Minister, could not be more relevant: “The Barack Obama Promise: A European View.” The expectations of this U.S. administration are enormous in the world and in Europe of course and the challenges are daunting.
I’ll give you only a brief introduction because I think you are a person who’s well-known to this crowd. Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, foreign minister of Poland, chaired the student strike committee in Bydgoszcz in March 1981, worked at a time when I was doing this as well as a war correspondent in Afghanistan, won the World Press photo prize in 1988 and had a number of government positions leading up to the position he has now as foreign minister having served also as defense minister and in other responsibilities.
Most of all I think we can say here that you are one of the strongest, most principled Atlanticists anywhere in Europe. It’s an honor to have you here and we look forward to your comments.
H.E. MINISTER RADOSLAW SIKORSKI: Thank you very much for having me. President Kempe, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for inviting me to this forum. I’m proud to be speaking as the first European politician in the global leadership series on the future of the EU-U.S. relations since the U.S. elections. I’m glad to note that the Atlantic Council will host the new Bronisław Geremek Distinguished Lecture Series to start next year. Bronisław Geremek was the person who first brought me into the foreign ministry. He was my boss for three years and his departure is a very sad loss to Poland and to the trans-Atlantic community. And I’m glad that he will be commemorated in this way.
Much of your campaign was dedicated to financial gyrations that were felt and are being felt not only in the United States but also in Europe and Asia. The international crisis shows once again the interdependence between our countries. But empathy in this regard has its limits as Ronald Reagan once put it. Recession is when your neighbor loses his job; depression is when you lose yours.
Let me congratulate you on electing your new president. The campaign beats every record in generating interest in political debate and in voters’ mobilization. I was privileged to speak with both candidates during the campaign and I agree with The Economist magazine, which welcomed the choice of the candidates on both sides with the words, “America at its best.” Yes, both of them represented the best qualities of dignity, talent, and ideas that America has to offer.
The outcome of the elections was generally met with a cheerful reaction across the globe, including in Poland. America’s image, America’s authority, and America’s capacity to lead have been restored. Ladies and gentlemen, much has recently been said about the trans-Atlantic partnerships. To me it seems that the cornerstone of this relationship is our joint faith in freedom and human rights. Because of our history and our experiences, Poland and the United States are countries that feel this in their bones. I come to you from the land of solidarity and would like to thank you again that you stood by us in our hour of darkness.
America and Europe should remain advocates of freedom and hope at home and beyond our borders. Of course, in the increasingly interdependent world, we have to be prepared to deal with issues with prudence. At times, it requires pragmatism and flexibility. But because we are strong in our principles, we can sometimes seek compromises without undermining our values. America can count on Poland in promoting liberty in the contemporary world.
Despite our misgivings, we supported the United States in Iraq, which was unpopular both in Europe as a whole and domestically in Poland. All together, we sent 15,000 of our troops during the five-and-a-half-year period, which was longer than the U.S. participation in the Second World War. We took command over one of the stabilization zones, and we let the international division Central South with troops from 24 countries. We are proud to have completed our mission and to have handed over a secure area to Iraqi authorities.
Today we face global economic distress, new challenges to security and adverse impact on climate change, to name just a few. They called for quick and decisive steps to prevent fundamental disorder. The world urgently needs stabilizing forces. Together, the United States and Europe acting on the basis of a renewed partnership are such forces.
We can pursue our policy successfully even when we collaborate across the Atlantic and keep our alliance solid. We Europeans share a strong belief that the trans-Atlantic partnership, firmly rooted in our history reflects our common future. It remains the key factor in safeguarding not only our security and well-being but also the security and well-being of other nations around the globe.
Therefore, vision and resolve are badly needed on both sides of the Atlantic. Americans and Europeans should think in terms of common goals, both hard- and soft-power assets are at our disposal to deal with global challenges. Coordination of policies will enable us to meet them effectively. There will be differences of views and there will, on occasion, be competition, as is natural among free nations. Nevertheless, we must not let these differences be played off against us by others.
On numerous occasions, your president-elect emphasized deep understanding of the need for a close cooperation with allies. He reiterated that America cannot meet new challenges alone. And he underscored that the world cannot meet them without America. In Europe we agree. Some people in this town used to talk about a unilateral moment or even, in a more hubristic tone, of a unilateral era. That was hubris, but Europe does not need America as a leader who sets high standards for policy and conduct.
Barack Obama, speaking as the Democratic candidate, said that, “To lead the world we must lead by example. I will make clear that the days of compromising our values are over.” The unilateral moment may have passed but the dawn of an Obama presidency could be a transformational moment, when things that are impossible in ordinary times become possible. It should be seized.
Ladies and gentlemen, over two weeks ago, the chief diplomats of EU countries and high-ranking EU officials met in Marseille and agreed on a package of proposals for cooperation with the next administration. Poland participated in crafting these proposals. Europe has agreed to assume its share of leadership and responsibility for the most complex and challenging issues. Poland combines its traditional affinity to the United States with a strong European identity. Anti-Americanism is alien in my country. We have stuck with the U.S. even in difficult times. This makes us natural advocates for a strong link spanning the Atlantic.
Middle East remains the main source of security concerns. Iran’s ongoing uranium enrichment program constitutes a threat to stability in the region and undermines the international system of non-proliferation. As long as Iran refuses to act responsibility, we have to exercise pressure.
We have no time to waste in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The stakes are very high. As Americans and Europeans, we share the same goals and join forces in helping to build a viable Palestinian state as well as to enhance the security of Israel? The upcoming presidential elections in the Palestinian autonomy pose an opportunity for the EU to step in with new practical measures to strengthen the moderate forces within the Palestinian political leadership. At the same time, we Europeans strongly believe that there is need for an early and full engagement by the new American president.
Afghanistan, we know that the situation in that war-torn country is severe. There is an urgent plea on coordinating allied efforts in order to use our resources more efficiently. Europe needs to be ready to respond to American expectations. It can also support the American military efforts with its experience in reconstruction and our resources of soft power. Even though, unlike some allies, we have no national interests in the region, Poland has contributed – (inaudible) – today NATO-led ISAF operation. This year we have increased the size of our contingent from 1200 to 1600 troops and sent additional helicopters. Our engagement derives from the understanding that NATO’s credibility is at stake. When NATO goes to war, NATO has to win.
We all know that military means are not sufficient to achieve a satisfactory settlement. The key to success lies in our ability to persuade the Afghan people that our aim is to bring them security and improve their living conditions. The international assistance in building roads, schools, water treatment plants, should accompany the military and political efforts on a larger scale, but it should be targeted politically with the aim of co-opting regional elites to the project of democratic Afghanistan. There is a need to seal the borders and dedicate more forces of military police to train the Afghans. I have suggested to my colleagues among other things that the way to engage, by Europe and Afghanistan, is to create more provincial reconstruction on the EU supervision.
Let me now turn to what we in Poland think is one of the greatest challenges for the trans-Atlantic community, which is our neighbor to the east, Russia. Over the last years, Russian leaders have tried to reconstitute Russia as a major world power. And that in itself doesn’t have to be a problem from Russia’s neighbors. But it all depends on what means are used, whether 21st-century means or 19th-century means.
As you now, Poland had difficult, sometimes very painful relations with Russia in the past, but we don’t want a confrontation with our neighbors. The government of Donald Tusk has restarted a pragmatic dialogue with Russian authorities. We lifted objections on Russia negotiating its entry into OECD. We think it would be good for Russia and for all of us for the accountancy rules to apply; therefore, Russian companies, Russian governments, statistics to be more transparent.
Poland was also helpful in restarting the partnership and cooperation agreement talks against some significant internal opposition in our country. I have already visited Moscow twice. Warsaw is the first NATO capital visited by the Russian foreign minister after the war in Georgia. We had good, frank discussions. We have a number of bilateral issues to deal with and we search for opportunities to cooperate on the international level. We also clearly communicate to the Russian partners our interests, and we don’t shy away from defending them.
We will shortly put forward written proposals for confidence-building measures related to missile defense on the basis of transparency and reciprocity. We would like Russia to have the confidence that whatever we declare might happen in those facilities is indeed the case. And I think the best earlier example of us doing that was the decision by the governments of the United States, Poland, and the Czech Republic to publish the agreements that we have signed on the Internet.
Our bilateral trade with Russia amounts actually to $14 billion, which is quite a lot for us. In fact, Poland is the last country on earth that wants a return of the age of East-West confrontation. That was not a happy time for us. And we know that a return to such a confrontation would mean that Poland would pay a price. On the contrary, we would like to see Russia as a partner, a member of the broadly defined West, in dealing with issues to do with the North-South divide. We would like Russia to become a stakeholder of the European stability and prosperity on the basis of a genuine partnership. It could be, Russia, a crucial partner in preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, tackling international terrorism, as well as other global challenges.
Nevertheless, we cannot pretend that nothing has recently happened. When the Russian president, just a day after the American elections, threatens to deploy Russian missiles as a countermeasure to the plans to field elements of the U.S. missile defense system in Poland, we cannot turn a blind eye on Russia’s actions in Georgia. The recent developments in South Caucasus demonstrated breech of international law and commitments that Russia undertook within, for example, the OSCE process.
More worrying even than the Russian activities is their justification. The Russian president stated his doctrine as follows, if I’m summarizing it correctly. Russia will protect its compatriots – and the compatriots is defined rather broadly – and infrastructure projects outside of its territory if necessary by force.
That justification was given in the case of Georgia. Unfortunately it is not new. Searching for a rationale to invade Poland in 1939, Moscow also claimed that it had to protect non-Polish residents of Eastern Poland. Even further back into history in the 18th century, Russia invaded Poland under the pretext of rescuing religious minorities.
The “Medvedev Doctrine” has implications for many of the former Soviet Republics and can have far-reaching consequences. We should take the Russian leaders seriously because it seems that they mean what they say. In April, the previous Russian president, Vladimir Putin, speaking at the NATO-Russian council in Bucharest alluded to Ukraine as an artificial creation with a large Russian-speaking minority on its territory. Should the Georgian scenario be emulated in Ukraine, we would have a large-scale European crisis. The security of Europe would be shattered.
Georgia is a pivotal energy corridor but Ukraine is much more than that. Ukraine is a genuine, if messy democracy, but is also a swing country for the balance of power on the Eurasian landmass. As Professor Norman Davis, the British historian put it, Russia plus Ukraine equals the Russian Empire. Poland would not be able to ignore such a development.
So here’s a doctrine for a doctrine: Any further attempt to redraw borders in Europe by force or by subversion should be regarded by Europe as a threat to its security and should entail a proportional response by the whole Atlantic community. We cannot afford to sit back in complacency when the post-Cold War European order is being question. Russia started with contesting the OSCE then withdrew from legally binding operations under the CFE treaty. Then she suspended its commitments under The Hague Code of Conduct and recently invaded Georgia.
Step by step, there is a constant attempt to undermine the cornerstones of European security. Now the Russian president offers a new security architecture that should replace the existing one. If it means a good strategic discussion with Russia, then we should grab it, but I hope it doesn’t mean replacing the Atlantic alliance.
We heard President Medvedev say that NATO had no longer the capacity to provide security of the European continent. Russian leadership does not hide from the fact of its preference to push America out of Europe. We in Poland would not be in favor. Russia power has been like a glacier cast over Eastern Europe for the last several centuries, sometimes advancing, sometimes withdrawing, always leaving behind a debris of ill-feeling, tragedy, and missed opportunities. The glacier may not advance again; after all, we are supposed to be facing a global warming, and glaciers are supposed to disappear.
On the contrary, we wish the Russian people for their glacier to melt away for underneath it a Greenland can emerge, a Russia that is part of the broadly defined West, that inspires respect for its wealth, for its culture, for its scientific prize, and not fear for its tanks.
As the West, do we have any means to discourage Russia from reconstituting itself as a 19th-century empire? Well, at the EU level, we have some instruments to use if we only choose to do so. We are 400 million people and the largest economy on earth. We create 12 trillion euros of GDP, between 10 and 15 times more than Russia. And we compose together the biggest market for energy also for Russia. We should be able to regulate because the European Union excels at regulating access to its internal market. If we could regulate Microsoft, why shouldn’t we be able to regulate Gazprom.
We expect the European commission to negotiate the new partnership and cooperation agreement with Russia that ensures reciprocal rules for the transit of energy from and through Russia. The result of the negotiation should be equitable for Russia and for Europe, for industry and consumers. The PAC-2, as it’s known in the jargon, have to be approved unanimously by the EU Council, in which member states have their seats, and ratified by parliaments in all member states.
NATO has been the cornerstone of the trans-Atlantic partnership for nearly six years. Not only was the alliance successful in deterring the Soviet Union but also helped in reintegrating the former captive nations with the Western democratic community. For the last 15 years, NATO has transformed itself to meet new challenges for the security of the trans-Atlantic community. It has expanded its mission beyond the treaty territory taking new commitments in places like the Balkans, Iraq, and most notably, of course, Afghanistan.
Developing new expeditionary capabilities has been a part of NATO’s transformation. Poland supported these efforts, understanding that it is the right thing to do in the face of new threats. While ware ready to continue our engagement in Afghanistan, we feel that the time has come to renew the essential role of NATO. NATO should recover its traditional role, not just as an alliance, but as a military organization, and once again devote a portion of its energy to the treaty area.
What made NATO different from alliances of the past was that it had its own military committee, its own staff, and its own intelligence-assessing instruments. A part of NATO’s strength stemmed also from common exercises so that the military personnel knew one another. We need sound intelligence and gaming. We need contingency planning that is not immobilized or gutted by political correctness. We need to make the NATO guarantee credible again.
Since the ’90s, we had acted as if there was no possible threat that would require action on the basis of article five provisions. But with Russian tanks rolling into Georgia territory, we have seen this era come to an end. NATO should continue to fulfill its primary responsibility of providing security for its members; sober realization that the rules of the game have changed makes a compelling case for launching a serious debate about NATO collective defense capabilities, the debate that seems to be long overdue. It must lead to a new strategic concept for the alliance.
The 60th anniversary of NATO provides a good opportunity to come up with new ideas for the alliance so that it will be better equipped to meet the security challenges of the 21st century. Regaining Central and Eastern Europe for democracy and market economy has been one of the greatest achievements of the trans-Atlantic cooperation, a success of historic proportions.
Next year we will be celebrating 20 years of the “autumn of the peoples.” Twenty years ago if you asked me whether it was possible that Eastern Europe would not just be free, democratic, but also be members of the EU, of NATO, it would seem too much to hope for, and yet here we are, we have achieved it. This was a successful policy and it’s a policy that should be continued in the future. And we certainly hope that the new administration will commit itself to bringing the rest of the region closer to Euro-Atlantic institutions. It is important for NATO to continue its open-door policy, which has already proved to be so successful in changing the geopolitical landscape so profoundly.
The EU also has peaceful instruments to shape relations with its neighboring countries, for example, through its European neighborhood policy. Poland together with Sweden conceived the idea of Eastern partnership, which aims a deepening and accelerating integration with the EU of the six Eastern partners: Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, and hopefully Belarus. Russia would also be welcome, if she so wishes. Since the political system in Eastern Europe and Southern Caucasus has changed, there is an urgent need to put forward far-reaching projects of cooperation that will help the six, or more, to better prepare them for the EU are key. The EU can play a crucial role in helping to introduce stability and prosperity in these countries through promoting European values, standards and norms.
One of the key issues is to base the Eastern Partnership on two strong pillars: deepened bilateral cooperation between the EU and its Eastern partners and multilateral cooperation between the EU and the east European region, complementary to the existing regional cooperation schemes. As part of the partnership, we hope for a deep, free trade area, and also for visa-free regimes and a structure of supporting partners in adjusting to EU standards. We gratefully remember that the U.S. government has been a champion of stabilization and development of Eastern Europe since the collapse of the Soviet Union. I hope that the Barack Obama administration will continue this successful policy.
I’d like to conclude by saying that Poland negotiated a deal regarding the building of a base of missile defense interceptors on our territory in response to an American request. Actually, we would like to see this project to be continued, but we understand the internal American ramifications. We see our participation in the project as an opportunity to enhance Polish-American strategic and military cooperation. It can enhance American presence in Europe and produce strong ties between Central Europe and the U.S. Let me also note that NATO has agreed that such a system will be useful for the protection of Europe against a possible ballistic missile threat. In fact, we in Poland think we are doing a favor to the entire trans-Atlantic community by exposing our territory to greater risk for the sake of a greater security for all.
Ladies and gentlemen, President-elect Barack Obama put it in his victory speech, quote, “The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.” End quote. We, in the trans-Atlantic community strongly agree. This constitutes the basis for a new era of collaboration between Europe and the United States. After all, as the European security strategy phrases it, “Acting together, the European Union and the United States can be a formidable force for good in the world.” We look forward to working with the new administration to make this promise a reality. Thank you very much.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Minister Sikorski. As one could have predicted ahead of time, that was an enormously articulate presentation, but also frank and, I think, hitting many of the points that are most swirling around right now – what Europe and the U.S. and the U.S. and Poland have to deal with. Let me start with a question and then we’ll get to the audience. And as you ask your own questions, please identify yourselves.
If I were still in my reporting shoes, I think I might have seized upon your doctrine for a doctrine – to write something – that Europe should answer the, now, stated Russian doctrine with a doctrine of its own that a proportional response should come, should there be a threat to security or a testing of borders or violation of borders – you probably restate that better than I’ve scribbled it down, here, but I did scribble it down – we can’t afford to sit back in complacency when the post-Cold War order is being questioned. It’s a very clear statement.
Question growing off of that: President Sarkozy has been quite open to Russian discussion of a security conference – meeting of some sort – next year; has also, perhaps, made some comments regarding missile defense that Prague and Warsaw might not consider particularly helpful at the moment. My question growing that is more, how together do you think Europe is right now on its policy toward Russia? In other words, how much of a chance would you have for the embracing of such a doctrine? And if it’s not together, why isn’t it, where isn’t it and how does one achieve that?
MR. SIKORSKI: Well, we have just taken a unanimous decision to restart negotiations with Russia. We are free nations; there’ll always be a dialogue and there will always be different points of view, but we have taken a formal decision to start negotiations on a new partnership and cooperation agreement. These negotiations will not be easy, and they’ll take at least a couple of years. The European Commission has been charged with conducting them, and I think this is good, because we need to talk to the Russians, but we need to talk on the basis which maximizes our strengths.
You know, we are the largest economy on Earth, and when the Commission negotiates on our behalf, the Commission can be much more effective than individual European countries on their own. So Russia now has an option to be associated with this very – with its, actually, largest market. But it – we have to set down some rules. And I think it’s a – when oil is at 55 (dollars per barrel) is a better time to negotiate than when oil was at 150.
MR. KEMPE: (Chuckles) – and on President Sarkozy, specifically, did you have problems with his open door on this idea of a conference and his comments on missile defense?
MR. SIKORSKI: Well, we all love France, don’t we? (Laughter.) I believe President Sarkozy has backtracked on what he said to a common position, which was stated at NATO – by NATO at Bucharest, which is that NATO takes note, with acceptance, of the Polish and U.S.-Czech plans for MD. President Sarkozy is very keen to engage Russia in a strategic discussion, and there is nothing wrong with that. But we believe there is already an institution which spans North America, Europe and Russia and it’s OSCE. And this is the best formula, because there are already some institutions that work on behalf of security and procedures in institutions. For example, election monitoring – I mean, I was struck in the last few months that Belarus accepted OSCE election monitors and Russia did not. So we have such an institution already; we should take full advantage of it.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, and one more question from me before I turn to the audience: missile defense. We have a situation where there are some noises from around the Obama administration questioning the technology – whether things are ready. One can start hearing the potential of a deal postponement against pushing things forward with the Russians, in some form or another.
Can you – Medvedev’s announcement about the idea of putting missiles in Kaliningrad: A, How does this affect you? And B, Can you imagine a deal that comes with Russia, now, which would be somehow bringing them into the system – bringing them in tighter – a deal that might even involve some cooperation on Iran against a postponement of deployment in Prague and – excuse me, in the Czech Republic and Poland?
MR. SIKORSKI: Well, I think to welcome the new U.S. president with a speech in which you threaten your neighbors and NATO allies of the U.S. with missiles was a mistake. To use the words of a famous Georgian, some people in the Russian leadership have become dizzy with success. The MD is an American project, and I’m not going to pretend to you that we have more control over it than we do.
We have agreed to site the missiles out of friendship, but in fact, negotiations are continuing because our Parliament requires for us to append, for ratification, of the surrounding documents, such as the Status of Forces Agreement and some other agreements. And those will still take some months to negotiate. But we are prepared to be transparent. We believe that Iran is preparing – building longer and longer-range missiles. But it’s really up to the U.S. to make up its own mind, and that’s why we will tread carefully, here, and not – and wait until the new administration makes its assessments.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you very much. Please? Oh, just, can you wait for the microphone, sir?
Q: Martin Walker (sp), UPI. Radek, welcome back to Washington. The context in which you put your new doctrine for a doctrine was immediately having spoken about Ukraine, citing Amy’s (ph) remark that Russia plus Ukraine equals the Russian Empire. Can you give us your current perspective on how you see Russian-Ukraine relationships? And, if you have time after that, also on Russian-Belarus relationships and what prospects there seriously are for Belarus, Ukraine to become much more closely tied to the Atlantic alliance?
MR. KEMPE: And then, perhaps, also touching on the MAP issue, which is – Membership Action Plan issue – which is either coming up or not coming up ahead of the NATO summit in April.
MR. SIKORSKI: Well, look, Ukraine is a genuine democracy – a country in which the outcomes of elections is uncertain ahead of them. It has a constitution, which splits executive branch between the president and the prime minister and some lively discussion there. I believe Ukraine’s orientation has some very solid foundations; Ukrainian businessmen will tell you that the Russian economy is competitive to their economy, whereas what they have to offer for the European market is actually competitive for them. So they have to earn their keep, if you like, by exporting to the West.
And I think if freedom means anything, it means the right to determine your alliances and your – the way in which you want to integrate yourself with your neighbors. Ukraine, of course, has some historic relationships with both Russia and Poland, but it really is up to the Ukrainians to decide these things. Poland is very happy with its membership in the EU; it’s been enormously advantageous to us, and we’re a little bit like Germany in the old days – we will be a normal European country when we have normal European neighbors on both sides of our borders. And by the way, that includes Russia; Russia is also a neighbor.
We believe that Russia has some internal problems – infrastructure, demography, the state of even the extractive industries – that require some investment, some attention that the kind of policy that was demonstrated in the Caucasus will be bad for Russia itself. But that’s for the Russian authorities to decide. But to try to change borders by force, in as important a country as Ukraine, would simply not go – I mean, the crisis would be of a different magnitude than what we’ve seen in Georgia.
MR. KEMPE: For those who didn’t hear, the question is a question of force, you said force or subversion – what do you mean by subversion?
MR. SIKORSKI: I think you’ve answered your own question.
Q: I’m Fred Hyatt from the Washington Post’s editorial page. Minister, you mentioned the drop in oil prices. I’ve heard theories that they could have political effects in Russia, which would cause Russia to become more aggressive, but also theories that it would reduce Russia’s capability to enforce what you call the “Medvedev Doctrine.” Would you talk a little bit about what effect these lower oil prices, you think, are likely to have, if any, on Russian foreign policy?
MR. SIKORSKI: As you say, it can go either way. Authoritarian regimes, on the whole, have a temptation to externalize internal strengths onto their neighbors, so that’s one – that would be the worst-case scenario. The best-case scenario would be for Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev to do what Prime Minister Putin put in his own document at the start of his premiership, which was that Russia needs to nurture its own society – to attend to its health system, to its demography, to its infrastructure.
Russia has, prudently, put away money for a rainy day. She has a fund for exactly such a contingency, so – and we don’t know how the oil price – how long they will last, but we have to hope that reason prevails and that the Georgian adventure will be seen as just that – something that, I believe – let me start with this: Soviet strategies had this wonderful concept, correlation of forces, by which they meant, all material and immaterial factors that determine a country’s ability to affect events. And on that basis, I think the – as an outcome of the Georgia crisis, the correlation of forces is worse for Russia than it was before.
In other words, that Russia may have gained some points – it was a short, victorious war and war is sometimes popular, domestically. But I think the overall effect has not been advantageous to Russia, and therefore, it should be a discouragement to try it again on a bigger scale; but, you just never know. You know, if only countries, like people, always acted in their best interests.
MR. KEMPE: Please, one in the back – I saw the first one.
Q: I’m Brian Beary from Europolitics. President-elect Obama has said he’s going to make good his promise to close Guantanamo. I’m just wondering if you have any advice or suggestions as to how he should go about doing that, and whether Europe could possibly help him out in doing that, and how it could help?
MR. SIKORSKI: This is an internal U.S. decision. Certainly, my personal view is that using due process from the start, or even the provisions that – under the Geneva Convention – that are there for military tribunals – much of what was achieved in Guantanamo could have been achieved without paying the price in image. So, yes, I think most people in Europe will be supportive and grateful for such a decision.
Q: Charles Gotti (ph), Johns Hopkins University. Nice to see you again. You said, and I think I have it exactly right, in your words, “We need to make the NATO guarantee credible again.” And yet, at the same time, Poland has been pressing the United States for a special relationship. Particularly, President Kaczynski has been very anxious to make Poland different from some of the other NATO members and go beyond Article 5 guarantees. How should we reconcile what you just said and what has been, I think, a Polish intent, now, for a couple of years?
MR. SIKORSKI: Well, I would have thought that’s quite easy. If you look at Europe, the United States has bilateral agreement that are additional sinews of the alliance with Turkey, with Italy, with Spain, with Germany, with Britain. The United States has major military installations in all of these countries. And in Poland we will be members of NATO for 10 years next year – all we have is one unfinished conference center.
So what we are saying is that the NATO infrastructure should be more evenly spread over its territory. And this is not to provoke anybody, but it’s just that that’s the way an alliance should grow; there should be no areas of higher and lower security. And we certainly feel that NATO has neglected us.
MR. KEMPE: But it isn’t because you trust a U.S. guarantee in a time of crisis, but you don’t trust a NATO guarantee or at least you don’t believe NATO will move quickly enough?
MR. SIKORSKI: Come on! You spend more on military than the rest of the world put together. Of course you have unique credibility as regards security measures. So of course everybody assumes that countries that have U.S. soldiers on their territory do not get invaded.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you for that frank answer.
Q: Ed Brown, a retired officer and former arms controller. What is the degree of severity of the financial crisis in Poland as compared to the United States? I understand you didn’t have the housing bubble, but you do have a credit crunch. Is your market down 40 percent like ours and you have similar problems or is it less severe?
MR. SIKORSKI: It’s much less severe. The stock market is down, but that’s mainly because of the withdrawal of foreign capital. But as regards the banking system, we haven’t had any problems at all. Our banking supervision has been very tough and we didn’t allow ourselves this – these exuberant and sophisticated financial instruments. The only problem may be that we have just above 20 percent of our mortgages are denominated in Swiss francs, but it is just over 20 percent. So if there was a large-scale devaluation, which I don’t expect, that could be a problem, but nothing like here.
Our economy has grown very steadily, depending on which – whether it’s purchasing-power parity or – but we are between 420 and $550 billion in economic – in GDP, which puts us just on the threshold of the G-20 group – (chuckles) – twenty-one or 22nd position in the world’s stakes. And we expect to grow next year, even if the euro zone falls into a recession. Our working assumption is that we are always 3 percent ahead of the euro zone. So if the euro zone goes into minus half (one-half), we still expect to grow by two-and-a-half.
We have several anchors of development, economic development. Number one, we get about 1 billion euros of transfers from the EU per month. And this is guaranteed until 2013. We get huge foreign direct investment amounting to about 10 billion per annum and we get remittances from Polish – from Poles working all over Europe: in Britain, in Ireland, in the countries that opened their labor markets. So this is all – oh, and also we privatized our pension system. We have a Chilean-style – every Pole has a private pension account and the pension funds are obliged to invest in the stock market.
So those are all sources of financial stability in Poland. Thank you.
MR. KEMPE: In – toward the back there, sorry. I’m trying to take people as much in the order as I saw them.
Q: Garth Trinkl, Department of Commerce. You spoke of the Eastern Partnership, which hopes to encourage the six non-EU countries and perhaps also Belarus. It’s an initiative of Poland and Sweden. Could you talk about the organizations, working groups on Crimea and Transdniester? Do they have a separate working group on Ukrainian national consciousness in eastern Ukraine?
Could you talk a little bit more about – well, let me go back. Zbigniew Brzezinski a year ago thought that Ukrainian national consciousness was enough to protect it from subversion and that the economic and political elites were strong enough to protect nationalism in Ukraine. What’s either your government’s position or the position of the working – of this Eastern Partnership organization?
MR. SIKORSKI: Well, they are not directly related because Eastern Partnership works with states and not with regions, for obvious reasons. But Eastern Partnership is literally in the works right now. The European Commission is just about the publish what we as the European Council asked them to do, namely, particularly projects that will be effected. And we expect infrastructure projects, we expect the time scale for the deep free-trade area and we expect the time scale for visa facilitation and eventually visa-free regimes for all of these countries. It’s very attractive.
Those countries are particularly interested and you might be interested that the country that was most active on this, the training of its bureaucrats in EU law. And EU law is, as you know, a seventh wonder of the universe; it’s 80 pages of legislation. Even Belarus now sends most of its exports to the EU. Belarus needs to earn the money to pay Russia for its energy imports in the EU. So they need to know about EU legislation. And Belarus was the most active in seeking this, which is, I think, a good sign.
And these are projects that we hope will cost some – several hundred million euros over the next few years, which is to say, a big program, but very light on structures. The most we expect in terms of managing it would be a coordinator at the commission. Think about it as a complementary project to what France and Spain created in the South. First it was Barcelona Process; now you have the Mediterranean Union, which addresses the Mediterranean periphery.
And I think this is exactly right, that Europe should be this concentric ring of states that have privileged relationships with it and so that stability and prosperity spreads around Europe as those rings grow. And I hope all of our neighbors, including Russia, take advantage of it because I imagine Russia would like the Russian citizens, at least in the Kaliningrad Oblast, to take advantage of visa-free travel to the EU. The border crossings there should be modernized, the environmental standards should be raised. Those are things that Belarus, Russia can join.
But that’s – but it’s a project for states, not for regions.
MR. KEMPE: I see two questions right next to each other so let’s take both of these.
Q: Thomas Berkovsky (sp), American University. Minister, coming back to NATO for a minute, enhancing security, what are your views on NATO enlargement? There’s discussion of a possible northern enlargement to include Sweden and Finland, possibly, and, of course, there is still older issues under discussion of the southeastern states like Ukraine, prospects for eventually joining NATO. Since you talked a lot about enhancing security, perhaps we’d like to hear your views on that.
MR. KEMPE: And let me take the second question right behind you.
Q: Thank you.
MR. SIKORSKI: Well, in Finland, as you know – sorry, go ahead. In Finland, as you know, it’s the subject of lively internal debate. Sweden also – we would love to have Sweden in NATO. But, you know, I was recently in Sweden and they said, well, you know, we’ve been neutral for 300 years; it’s actually served us quite well. And in that geographic position, you can understand it. But if they applied, Poland would vote in favor. (Laughter.) Please.
Q: I’m Susan Cornwell with Reuters and it’s a related question. What do you think the NATO foreign ministers should do in the near term on the membership-action-plan issue for Georgia and Ukraine, given what’s happened in Georgia? And, secondly, on your doctrine, can you elaborate any more on what you would mean by “proportional response?” It sounds to me almost like you’re already trying to extend a NATO Article V guarantee to some countries that haven’t joined, perhaps, if you’re talking about meeting, possibly, force with force in a country like Ukraine before it’s joined NATO.
MR. SIKORSKI: Well, we shouldn’t go back on what we promised at Bucharest. In Bucharest, we said two things: that both these countries will join NATO, but not yet. If you asked me today whether we have consensus on MAP, I don’t think so. And, therefore, we need some discussion about how to maintain the relationships, the cooperation with these countries so that, eventually, one day, the promise may be fulfilled. But we must find imaginative institutional ways to help them get there.
The two countries are different, of course. In Georgia, there is widespread public support, but the latest event haven’t improved Georgia’s chances. In Ukraine, look, we are in an alliance of free nations. We do not want to drag anybody into NATO; it has to be Ukraine’s own decision. So there has to be a clear commitment by the government and then some years of hard work to fulfill the standards before we can consider Ukraine for a candidate.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Radek.
MR. SIKORKSI: I have to be diplomatic. (Laughter.)
Q: Thank you. Andre Sita (sp) from TAS (sp). The talk of the town here, of course, is who will be driving the U.S. foreign policy under Obama. So maybe you could tip us off on who you –
MR. SIKORSKI: (Chuckles.)
Q: No, onto who you are meeting. So I am asking you about your trip, about your plans for this visit, who you’re going to talk to. And also you mentioned in your speech that you will be announcing shortly new transparency measures, confidence-building measures for the ballistic-missile plans. Maybe you could say a few words about that. Thanks.
MR. KEMPE: And whether or not those would also include Russian personnel in these installations.
MR. SIKORSKI: Well, look, I am actually meeting some prominent Democrats during this trip here, but given the fatwa that went out on meetings with foreign officials, I really don’t want to destroy their appointment chances by mentioning their names. (Laughter.)
As regards the confidence-building measures, I’ve said this before in my conversations with Sergei Lavrov, with Minister Kislyak, who visited us in Warsaw and there is no secret about it.
We are willing to go almost but not quite to the permanent stationing of Russian personnel in Poland, not quite because, you know there are historical issues between our countries and the permanent stationing of Russian troops in Poland is something that our public is sensitive about. But we would like to give you the kind of inspection rights and the kind of monitoring by technical means that to any reasonable person would give you a complete assurance that nothing that was not declared was going on in the facility, that there would, you know, some of your journals have spoken of exchanging the warheads from – I mean, as you know, the interceptors don’t have actually a warhead; they just have a lump of metal in them. Some of your journals have been incorrectly scaring people of these lumps of metal being replaced with warheads or any increase of the number of interceptors.
I think with industrial monitoring and frequent inspections, you could have complete confidence and therefore we don’t understand your objections because Russian experts and high-level officials have said that this kind of configuration of the base is not a threat to Russia. Well, if that kind of – if the proposed configuration is not a threat and you would get the assurance that it would not be changed then we don’t quite see what you’re getting so excited about.
But perhaps it’s a kind of psychological testing of the new administration. I hope the test is passed.
MR. KEMPE: Well, I think rather than, you know, trying to outdo that closing, I think I’m going to thank you for your time. We’ve reached the end of our time. I do want to just note to the audience that we’ve talked about some of the most important issues going forward, but we’ve also talked about them in a different way; we’ve talked about them in a new light. Minister Sikorksi talked about new opportunities going forward in the U.S.-European relationship, but it only happens when the people in the institutions are all working in the same direction. So we’re very glad that we’ve had you here. You’ve played an enormously important role in the history of your country, but, most of all, you’re playing an enormously important role for the future of your country, for the future of the alliance. And thank you very much.
MR. SIKORKSI: Thank you.