Poland Braces for Major Outlays to Join NATO

Article excerpt

WARSAW - As Poland prepares to join NATO this week, both its armed forces and defense industry are in an appalling state.

A survey by Poland's general staff estimates the country would have to spend a staggering $15.7 billion to modernize its armed forces, about 70 percent of which should be spent on the purchase of new equipment alone.

The acquisitions are needed because between 2000 and 2010 it is expected that 47 out of 87 categories of equipment used by the armed forces will reach the end of their service life. The armed forces currently should replace 70 percent of their radars, 64 percent of engineering equipment and 30 percent of logistical equipment.

At the same time, after nearly a decade of indecision, Poland is preparing to embark on a wide-ranging program to restructure its arms industry, which has incurred heavy losses.

For example, the government on Feb. 2 approved a plan to sell majority stakes in as many as 21 of its 30 biggest defense plants, which could involve layoffs of about 14,000 workers out of a total work force of 70,000.

The sorry state of Poland's armed forces and defense industry is partly the result of an absence of its own defense strategy. It was denied one as a member of NATO's Soviet bloc counterpart, the Warsaw Pact, when its needs were subordinated to those of the Soviet Union.

And only since Poland was assured of NATO membership could it fashion a policy that could accommodate the Western alliance's objectives as well as its own. And as expensive as that accommodation may be, it is cheaper for Poland to hook its defense to NATO standards than if it were to go it alone.

SERIOUS ADJUSTMENT

So the limited resources Poland now has are being thrown wholeheartedly into the process of adjusting its armed forces to NATO requirements. More than 10 percent of the 1999 defense budget of $3.66 billion has been appropriated for NATO expenditures.

"Poland has treated very seriously the process of joining NATO," Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz said recently. "It has undertaken very ambitious tasks and obliged itself to accomplish 65 goals," 17 of which are expected to be met by the April 23-25 Washington summit that will commemorate NATO's 50th birthday.

And the minister said the rate at which Poland is fulfilling those goals is faster than those of the other two Central European countries that are being admitted to NATO, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Poland is the biggest of the three and the closest to the Russian border. Indeed, Poland will mark NATO's new eastern frontier.

The 16 current NATO allies recognize that the new members will need time to get their armed forces in order and are offering help.

Poland will get a $100 million loan from the United States for use to purchase or rent U.S. military equipment from a list prepared by the Pentagon. For the first five years, Poland will only pay interest on the part of the credit line it uses, with repayment of principal would be deferred for five years.

Poland and Germany also recently announced a sharp rise in military cooperation in 1999, especially in technical assistance, training programs and weapons for Poland.

Although April 1 was the original planned date for admitting the three new members, the date was pushed up to Friday so that the new arrivals could formally take part in debates over strategy involving their inclusion in the alliance as it is debated at the summit.

One of Poland's key defense goals is choosing equipment and weapons compatible with those of alliance countries. The most expensive project will be replacing its warplanes, all of which are Soviet-designed.

HEAVY LOBBYING

The general staff survey showed that practically all of Poland's 133 Soviet-era MiG-21s, most of its 27 MiG-23s and 70 percent of its 100 Sukhoi-22s should be scrapped soon. …