Since the Russian annexation of Crimea and aggression against Ukraine in 2014, we have seen a definite deterioration of the security environment in Poland’s immediate vicinity. Belarus and Russia have used the tools of migration pressure during this period, among others, so as to directly destabilize the borders of Poland, but also of Lithuania and Latvia. The finale of this process is the invasion of Ukraine (launched on February 24, 2022), which has already de facto fully subverted the European security landscape. Not only has Russia invaded Poland’s immediate neighbor, but its rhetoric also includes threats against other states, including in the realm of nuclear blackmail. Poland and its people are repeatedly the target of verbal attacks in Russian propaganda.
So we can see that as a state, as a society, but also as a system of alliance relations, we are currently facing unique challenges, and that we will be facing them in the near future. They are characterized by the combination of a very broad spectrum of means of influence, used not only against the armed forces themselves but also against society as a whole in conflict areas and far beyond them. Russia uses military force, but it also undertakes actions beneath the verge of war, such as informational and psychological operations or hostile actions in cyberspace against other states, including those belonging to the North Atlantic Alliance. Today, Poland must also assume again the possible influence of Russia and Belarus with the tools of migration pressure.
All this means that the North Atlantic Alliance states located in the immediate vicinity of Russia, including above all Poland and the Baltic states, should take measures to increase their resistance to potential aggression, which after the Russian attack on Georgia and the two attacks on Ukraine is no longer taboo in discussions on security. This makes it necessary, in parallel with strengthening the conventional defensive potential in cooperation with other NATO allies, to seek also measures to, on the one hand, make it difficult or even impossible for a potential adversary to have an effective impact and, on the other hand, to ensure the survivability of the entire state and society in the conditions of a possible conflict (not only an armed one). One should seek to learn from the experience of Ukraine, which was attacked by Russia, as well as countries such as Finland, Sweden (which are currently seeking to join the ranks of NATO by undertaking a breakthrough in their strategic thinking), by seeing their Cold War defense capabilities and their current ability to counter crises.
One way to balance the capabilities of a potential adversary is to adopt a total force or total defense strategy. It assumes that the entire state and society is engaged in defending the sovereignty of the state, and the armed forces are only one of many elements of the defense system. The strategy of total defence takes into account, among other things, appropriate shaping of the armed forces so that they are able to resist aggression on their own territory as effectively as possible, but also training of the society, preparation of modern civil defence and adaptation of particular institutions to functioning in a situation of armed conflict and other threats. A similar approach was pursued by the Nordic states (Sweden, Finland, currently aspiring to join NATO, but also Norway, already a NATO member) during the Cold War, in light of the threat from the Soviet Union. It is worth noting that in light of the increased threat from Russia in recent years the Nordic and Baltic states have seen a kind of “return” to the concept of total defense. It was strategically important especially for Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, because, lacking significant population resources and territorial strategic depth, they must create a system based on the mobilization of the entire society and the efforts of the entire state in the event of a sudden crisis.
Poland in 2020, on the basis of the National Security Strategy (NSS), announced the adoption of a total defense strategy, referred to in Polish terms as common defense. However, already after a long period of time since the official document, which is the NSS, was shown to the public, one can unfortunately notice a number of problems with the implementation of individual scopes of the concept of common defense. It requires the adoption of a number of structural solutions in the army and outside it, as well as the cooperation of all administrative units and mass education and self-organization of society. Today we can only talk about the beginning of efforts within the military system, seeing the passing of the Law on the Defense of the Homeland. A positive signal is first of all Poland’s focus on strengthening the reserves of the armed forces or rather their recreation. As well as the continuation of the construction of the Territorial Defense Forces. However, we still do not see significant transformations in the sphere of non-military element of total/universal defense. We are still waiting for transformations or rather, in this case, a complete reform of the civil defense system. Also, the education system is just beginning its efforts in the sphere of reforming the thinking about security, wanting e.g. to restore a subject such as defence preparation.
However, it remains unchanged that we cannot, as a state in this region of Europe and with this reality in relations with Russia, stop at the development of a new approach to the defense of life/public. It must be stressed emphatically that Russia’s policy will be a cause of further strategic uncertainty and immediate threat to the region and its individual states, regardless of the development of the war in Ukraine. However, it is optimistic that in Poland (regardless of political and ideological attitudes) there is a visible increase in the awareness of the need to take action to strengthen the defence system. Examples include, among others, the high involvement of society in the process of creating the Territorial Defense Forces, and the support of most political circles for increasing spending on national defense and strengthening the allied cooperation within NATO. All this shows that in Poland there is a basis on which one can take the steps that will definitely strengthen our defense.