The Warsaw Network
Talaga: Help for help – together on the Fifteen Years’ War

Poland, together with three dozen other countries, takes part in a long-lasting conflict started by the September 11 attacks from 2001. 15th anniversary of the tragedy was filled with brooding about the victims, but there wasn’t much of an analyse of what to do next. And we will probably face another 15 years of war. If not more.

Poland is at the margin of the main clash, which gives us some elbowroom. Like in the 17th century when Europe was torn by the Thirty Years’ War. We didn’t know how to profit from the great conflagration back then, but it may be different now.

Aloof from the conflict

The September 11 attack started an avalanche. Presently, West is directly, or indirectly engaged in the war with radical Islam in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Nigeria, south Philippines. Terrorist attacks motivated by jihad have affected France, Great Britain, Spain, US, Germany, Belgium, Turkey, Canada. Crushed jihad movements pupate, move to new territories, change their tactics. They evolve depending on the strength of the western military pressure. And the war lasts. Poland entered it in Iraq and Afghanistan, now again in Iraq, but only as a training and observatory mission, not a war mission. Fortunately for the western countries, the conflict isn’t very intense, it kills small number of western citizens. So far, Poland has lost 66 soldiers and military workers, and one engineer murdered in Pakistan. There were no terrorist attacks in Poland. And probably there won’t be any, even though a logistic unit supporting ISIS and operating in Poland was discovered.

If we look at the threat map, immigrants smuggling paths, and distribution of Muslim minorities in Europe, which are natural support for jihadists, it’s clear that we are aloof from the conflict. The threats for our country are of completely different sort – it is not warring Islam, but politically and militarily rampant Russia.

What do ‘lisowczycy’ (historical Polish mercenaries) teach us

New Thirty Years’ War is disadvantageous because it draws attention of the West away from aggressive Russian plans, but it is not dangerous for us. All the same, we won’t avoid engaging in it. Just like in the 17th century with the Thirty Years’ War. At that time, Sigismund III Vasa chose political alliance with catholic Habsburgs and sent them 10 thousand Polish ‘lisowczycy’ as a gift. This antagonised Sweden, Turkey, Russia, protestant Hungary (they were especially affected by ‘lisowczycy’ who pacified Transylvania), and Czechs. Common butchery avoided Poland, still it caused collapse of our economy and decline of strength of Poland. And only year after the end of European massacre our national tragedies commenced – Chmielnicki Insurrection, Swedish and Russian invasions, and Hungarian revenge raid. Habsburgs have never returned the favour and left us alone during our dark hour.

Help for help

What is the historical lesson to be used in the current war – a fifteen years’ war so far? We cannot afford to stay aloof, we should support the side which is ideologically close to us (US, European countries), but we should be moderate in our actions, so as not to bear bloody consequences. This is something we have learned after Iraq and Afghanistan.

It was right to draw attention to our engagement in those countries during negotiations with Americans about enforcing east NATO flank. Now, it’s time to speak in a similar manner with Europe – support them in combating terrorists, even with small war contingents, for example, commandos, but in return for tangible aid in building defence against Russia.

New Thirty Years’ War is a threat for them, pressure from the East – a threat for us. Both of those plagues are of the same significance, both must be given common answer of Europe. We will help you if you help us. Otherwise, we will be outmanoeuvred just like Sigismund III, or Vladislaus IV by Habsburgs. History always teaches us something, all we need to do is to be willing to learn.

Andrzej Talaga

The author is a director of strategy in Warsaw Enterprise Institute, and a consultant of ordnance companies