The trend of nations purchasing Raytheon Patriot missile defense systems at the behest of the United States has continued, with Poland announcing the signing of an agreement under which it would pay $4.75 billion to massively overhaul national defenses which have been long in need of upgrades.
Poland, a nation which knows all-too-well the peril of being unprepared to combat aggression, whether it has come from the East or the West, needs no excuse to install such missile defense systems. However, considering increasing Russo-vilification resulting in strained tensions between NATO and Russia, and other recent installations of Patriot missiles by NATO-aligned nations, Russian leadership has made it clear that it views such moves as more than micro-aggressions.
The latest announcement that Poland has begun the steps of installing the Patriot system – the invention of Raytheon, an American-owned company which frequently fills government defense contracts – is only the latest in a string of such announcements. America has made a concerted effort to ensure that allies with ties varying in strength are equipped with weaponry it sees as the best of the best. Naturally, this benefits the recipient nations, who feel secure in their modes of self-defense with top-flight, American-made missile defense systems. But, in the case of global conflict, it also behooves America, and by extension its citizens, to have nations who will presumably ally with American causes be adequately equipped.
In May 2017, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency issued a release which announced the United Arab Emirates, one of our firmest – albeit controversial – allies in the Middle East would be purchasing $2 billion worth of Patriot PAC-3 and GEM-T missiles. The move is one that can presumably only help American interests, as America has more long-running ties with the UAE than most may realize, and the Middle East has proven (as you likely know) to be a veritable powder keg.
In November of the same year, Romania, once a bastion of Cold War-era Communism which has edged slowly back toward Western values and would also be a considerable domino in any land battle against Russia, shelled out $3.9 billion for the Patriot missile defense system. Then in February 2018, Sweden was reported to have purchased its own set of Patriot missile defense systems for an estimated $3.2 billion. Sweden is a nation which lies across the Baltic from Kaliningrad, Russia’s highly-strategic exclave lying between Poland and Lithuania, and the site of Russia's only Baltic sea port that remains ice-free year-round.
It’s understandable why Russia has interpreted these American-sold armaments, especially in the cases of Romania and Sweden, to be aimed at counteracting any Russian aggression or serving as valuable centers of American allegiance in the hypothetical, regrettable case that `NATO would make a first move. There’s no power in the region that serves as a greater threat to American interests than Russia, and the latest rise in tensions means that this is truer than ever.
Vladimir Putin has made clear that he feels the West has unfairly and inaccurately continued to portray Russia as a menace, which it officially does not consider itself to be. According to Reuters, a Putin representative has referred to perceived threats to NATO-aligned nations by Russia as nothing short of ‘mythical’.
‘Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov told state-run Sputnik news website in November that Patriot deployments were part of a U.S. plot to surround Russia with missile defense systems "under the pretext of mythical threats to security".’ (Reuters)
Still, the American-facilitated arming of Romania and Sweden and the generally provocative tone taken toward Russia by several Western nations – including the expulsion of over 100 diplomats by numerous countries – has not gone without response from Russia.
Putin spent a large chunk of his State of Russia address in early March boasting of Russia’s perhaps-unrivaled military technology, including missiles he claimed could out-maneuver modern defense systems. He has also continued to sanction, if not order, military drills at full-scale in locations clearly meant to send the message that Russia will be prepared to meet any aggression on behalf of NATO member nations.
The latest sale of Patriot missile defense systems to Poland is a logical next step for both America and Poland, and Polish leadership have expressed their gratitude and excitement to have modern defense systems of their own, systems they did not have in place prior to World War II, when the nation fell victim to Nazi occupation.
‘"It is an extraordinary, historic moment; it is Poland's introduction into a whole new world of state-of-the-art technology, modern weaponry, and defensive means," President Andrzej Duda said during the signing ceremony.’ (Reuters)
The collaboration, though self-serving on some level for both the United States and Poland, also serves as a symbolic gesture that may indicate a cooling off in what had become uncomfortable relations between the allied countries. The issue creating this discord was a law passed by Poland which made it illegal to claim that Poland collaborated with Nazis during World War II. Polish leadership felt the law was justifiable because, despite the presence of Nazi concentration camps often being associated with Polish people and Poland itself, the fact that Poland was forcefully occupied by Nazis – not willingly given up – often gets blurred by quasi-historians.
Israel predictably lambasted the law’s passage, and then-American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson followed suit. It was an issue that, while divisive, boils down to a matter of fact. Regardless of how you feel about outlawing speech, or the value of not forgetting the Holocaust, it remains fact that Poles were, with exceptions, largely victims of Nazi occupation. To suggest otherwise is simply inaccurate and a smear on the nation of Poland.
The term ‘Polish death camps’, in particular, is the type of phrase which Poland felt necessitated a law banning such lazy phrasation. The law professed to prevent direct comments or implications that the nation of Poland and its leadership sanctioned the events of the Holocaust. The leader of Yesh Atid, an Israeli political party, continues to insist that Poland was, in fact, complicit.
'“No Polish law will change history, Poland was complicit in the Holocaust. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered on its soil without them having met any German officer,” said Yair Lapid, Chairman of Yesh Atid.’ (Times of Israel)
A statement from the Polish embassy in Israel responded by stating how “badly Holocaust education is needed, even here in Israel”. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, it had driven a wedge between Poland and the United States, who officially sided with Israel’s sentiments.
Now, it appears that the nations have, at least for now, put the issue behind them. The law is passed, and clearly they feel that the need to unite against the potential threat of Russian aggression, perceived or real, is of utmost importance.
For the sake of all, it is in the world’s interests not to test the boundaries of what actions will warrant the use of these Patriot missile defense systems, whether as an offensive of defensive measure.