Until now, most of that spending has gone on personnel, with only around 15 per cent for equipment, leaving the Polish military reliant on outdated Soviet-era kit. The involvement of Polish forces in Iraq and Afghanistan has highlighted the need for better, upgraded equipment.The programme aims to spend about a third of the defence budget over the next decade on modernisation—amounting to about 140bn zlotys. That will buy a new missile defence system, new vessels for the navy fleet, upgraded tanks, new military training aircraft, 70 new helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles and equipment for troops.
While it might be the equivalent of a rounding error for the US defense budget, Poland’s spending boost is notable for bucking a Europe-wide trend on many levels. Poland is one of the few countries not cutting spending (as well as one of the few with an economy that’s not sputtering). Poland is also an outlier insofar as it’s actually spending money on upgrading its defense capabilities rather than just hiring more soldiers. As Gideon Rachman quipped in a column a few months back, “about 75 per cent of Belgian military spending now goes on personnel—causing one critic to call the Belgian military ‘an unusually well-armed pension fund’.”Poland’s remarkable economic and political successes since the fall of communism are giving it an expanding role in EU politics, and even in the world beyond. If more EU countries would do likewise, Europe would have a more influential voice in world politics. Perhaps more importantly, the US would be working more closely with it rather than using it as a grudging military backstop as it did in Libya, when the EU ran out of ammunition, or in Mali, when France realized it needed additional air-to-air refueling capabilities that only the US could provide.[Polish soldiers in Iraq, courtesy Getty Images]