A Response to His Excellency the Polish Ambassador to Canada, Witold Dzielski.
I would like to take a moment to respond to your August 11th article in Esprit de Corps, “NATO’s Eastern Flank – Our Common Responsibility”.
I most definitely agree with your opening assertion that we are all of us at a turning point in history. It is beyond this point in the article, however, that we begin to disagree on a few things.
Sadly, Russia’s brutal and unprovoked aggression against Ukraine shows how, in the space of hours, a legacy of generations can be turned to ruins.
The world remains shocked by the savagery and brutality of the Russian invasion: the massacre of civilians, destruction of infrastructure and the wanton targeting of public facilities such as hospitals, schools and shopping malls.
To begin, I believe that it is either disingenuous or naive of anyone to suggest that this aggression has been unprovoked. It shouldn’t take an expert to tell you that NATO’s actions from 1991 to the current day would have brought us to where we are at today.
That the Russians have acted with savagery and brutality also comes as no great surprise to anybody, frankly, we’ve all seen what they are capable of in the past. But what has been a surprise is how long this has dragged out so far, and how badly the Russian military has performed until now.
Historic Polish-Soviet animus.
Make no mistake your Excellency I understand the visceral reaction that many Poles have when it comes to their feelings about Russians, and the actions of the Soviet Union before and during the invasion by the Nazi’s on September 1st, 1939. Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler conspired to carve up Poland in the wake of the invasion, and the result would be the loss of a generation of your potential best and brightest in the Katyn Forest. Over 17,000 members of the Polish officer corps were murdered on Stalin’s order
Like everyone else did back then, I watched the events of the world through a television screen on the nightly news, and in the early ’80s, the Solidarity trade union and its leader Lech Walesa were on regularly. We became familiar with the Gdansk shipyards and with the equipment that was being sent out to quell demonstrations. Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelsky was deploying well-armed and equipped riot police and soldiers firing rubber bullets into some crowds and vehicles with water cannons against other crowds of pro-democracy demonstrators.
I would come to know several people who had either been exiled from or had managed to escape from Poland. Treated as criminals by the Soviet puppet Jaruzelsky, I met engineers and others who had to flee to Canada after being exiled by the communist regime. I listened to many, many stories from friends or their parents, or from Polish co-workers who would happily tell a curious person about life in Poland at that time.
I even bought a Solidarność pin to show my support for the brave men and women of Poland who were fighting against an oppressive regime. Once Karol Cardinal Wojtila was elected Supreme Pontiff in late 1978, the world seemed to know that this Polish Pope was about to set some historic things into motion. The greatest battle of the Cold War was about to begin, and Gdansk, Poland was where the front line would start. Poland was going to be playing a leading role in the battle to leave the Warsaw Pact and communism behind for the history books to recall. It was now also the dawn of the cable news network and the 24-hour news cycle, and CNN allowed us all to be able to watch history unfold in real-time. Things were much, much different back then.
It is therefore difficult for me to believe that Poland’s actions in the present day haven’t been coloured by this history.
NATO evolution 1949-1991, 1991-Present.
At one point in time, I did believe in NATO, that point lasting up until the time the Soviet Union became Russia again actually. It was all downhill after that with the fiasco in the Balkans being a rather bad start to the new era of a NATO without a Soviet adversary. The way I see it, NATO is just as much to blame for the current crisis facing the humanoids of this planet as does Russia.
Such a very different world now.
Aside from the obvious fact that it is now 30 years older, the world is a vastly different one than the one that existed from the early ’80s to the early ’90s. The balance of power looked nothing at all like it does today, where we no longer live in the bipolar world of east vs. west. Western influence has drastically waned, while China is on the verge of emerging as the next superpower, and Russia attempting to recapture the title it once held.
Even with tensions at their highest in November of 1983, when the TV movie “The Day After” premiered, I seem to recall feeling safer back then as opposed to now. While Ronald Reagan was in office and there was a Soviet state funeral seemingly every year for a while, I was still able to rest assured that Mutually Assured Destruction was going to keep the sides from launching their missiles at each other.
The MAD doctrine is completely inapplicable today, it just doesn’t work. There are now so many actors involved including non-state actors like terrorist groups such as Hamas or Islamic Jihad. Rogue states like North Korea and Iran have also complicated the mix even further, the world the NATO allies faced was not the one the NATO of today faces whatsoever. NATO cannot simply continue to act the way it would have 30 years ago and expect a damn thing to work.
Not cheering for either side.
I have a natural aversion to liking Putin so I obviously do not want to see him come out on top of this, which should therefore translate into support for NATO and the Ukrainians. It doesn’t translate to this at all, and so I found myself not really cheering for either side when this started in February. I didn’t want to see Vladimir the shirtless come out as the victor, but I couldn’t handle seeing NATO come out on top either.
It’s an untenable situation because it means that there is no good ending for this either way. I felt a sense of relief later when I found out that I wasn’t the only one to feel this way, in fact, there are a LOT of people who think this way. Many of them are combat veterans of the War in Afghanistan, and they were feeling just as bewildered as I was too it seemed.
NATO’s Eastern Flank – Our Common Responsibility
An obvious opening statement.
The Russia of Vladimir Putin is exhibiting history’s worst elements – authoritarianism, nationalism, imperialism and colonialism. Any remaining illusions of Russia as a reliable partner in international affairs are gone.
Again, Vladimir Vladimirovich has in the past longed for the good old days of the Soviet Union so this is also no great surprise. What would completely shock me is if the Russian military were to suddenly act with professionalism and strictly within the bounds of international humanitarian standards.
What of Afghanistan?
Poland and Canada are jointly weighing the consequences of Russia’s invasion; importantly, they are responding appropriately and resolutely to its implications for peace and stability in the world. As NATO allies and like-minded countries, Poland and Canada are staunchly defending fundamental values that are seriously being jeopardized by Putin’s authoritarian policies. As two countries and two nations, our political institutions and civic organisations, in tandem with millions of our individual citizens, have hastened to assist Ukraine and Ukrainians in their time of need.
It was also a year ago at about this time that NATO and other like-minded countries were fleeing Afghanistan before it was over-run by a loosely-knit band of terrorists who had no apparent leader. There’s still the small matter of the humanitarian disaster that NATO left in its wake, and untold thousands of people remain at risk with no plan on how to deal with them in a timely and efficient unbureaucratic manner.
Not an entirely unified group.
NATO. Unity in light of the Madrid Summit
Adopted during the Madrid Summit, the new Strategic Concept sets out NATO’s main lines of action and development over a number of years. It pinpoints Russia as the most serious and direct threat to the security of the Allied countries, and it reiterates the idea that collective defense against all threats remains the Alliance’s principal aim and responsibility. This is a point of view shared by both Poland and Canada.
Poland, in many respects, has provided more assistance to war-torn Ukraine than any other single country. With regard to monetary aid to Kyiv, Poland has delivered USD 3.1 billion dollars, or 0.46% of its GDP (as of 2 June 2022), in addition to extensive financial support to individual Ukrainian refugees residing in Poland. Warsaw has similarly provided wide-ranging political and diplomatic assistance to Kyiv both in the international sense and in bilateral formats. This action has resulted, among other things, in the imposition of sanctions on Russia.
I should like to remind your Excellency that Canada has been falling short of its NATO commitments forever, so I hope you aren’t trying to lay a guilt trip on us now. We get enough grief from the US about this already. Canada is also in a position where it is having to try and BORROW the military aid it has pledged to Ukraine, in particular, the thousands of $5,000 apiece artillery shells that Ukrainians will eventually be lobbing at Russian positions.
A touch of hubris just to keep things interesting.
A total of 4.57 million Ukrainian refugees have crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border since the beginning of the Russian invasion. For most their stay is temporary, while others continue to remain in Poland. This influx of Ukrainian refugees has triggered an unprecedented outpouring of generosity from Polish citizens, many of whom donate clothes and food, drive to the border to help transport refugees, and most importantly, open their homes unconditionally to those in need. Polish institutions on a governmental and local level have also extended privileges and social support to our Ukrainian sisters and brothers – identical to what Polish citizens themselves receive. This support ranges from free access to education and health care, psychological support and a variety of social benefits.
Fortunately, Afghanistan is far enough away that well, you don’t need to worry about any refugees from there getting near Polish borders.
I do not feel so obliged sir.
Thus, it is the obligation of our governments, media and experts to not allow the so-called phenomenon of war fatigue to creep into our mindset. We need to remain watchful with respect to some of our politicians and business actors who might hope to return to business as usual with Russia on the energy front. Furthermore, we need to understand that energy co-operation with Moscow will always have strings attached. These strings will be used to blackmail and destabilize the links between our countries. For this reason, Europe must continue strengthening its independence from the Russian energy supplies. Given its vast resources, technology and know-how, Canada has a special role to play in this regard.
I also take deference to your statement regarding the obligations that you expect this or any other sovereign nation to undertake. I also take umbrage with the fact that you feel it necessary to remind us what we should and should not prioritize when it comes to matters of Canadian foreign policy and security. We got it, thank you though.
With regards to your concerns about “war fatigue”, perhaps if NATO hadn’t been mishandling military and foreign policy since the early 1990’s there wouldn’t be near as many wars to become fatigued about.
I would also submit that recent events have shown that NATO is hardly united on the issues, in particular when it comes to the matter of energy security. It has caused a rift with Germany, a long-standing NATO partner, and this cannot be denied.
NATO’s chickens coming home to roost.
The brain trust within NATO can hardly be expected to be able to do anything to fix this current crisis since it is, after all, a crisis entirely of their own making. The organization is responsible for this mess, what makes you think I believe that it has any hope of fixing things?
Many innocent people will once again pay the price for their leaders’ hubris.
On both sides of this, Ukrainian AND Russian. I grieve for the innocent people in Ukraine who have been caught in the middle of this, blown to pieces in the crossfire and while under direct attack. I also feel for the young Russian conscripts who have been thrown into this meat-grinder because of all of this. Dying for nothing, fighting in an action they neither understand nor want any part of.
A lot of men and women who made the choice to wear the uniform of the armed forces of their countries will die that otherwise wouldn’t. And for what?
Grieving Russian mothers are Putin’s kryptonite.
I am of the firm belief at this moment that the world is in the most danger it has been in, ever, and frankly sir, right now I’m not holding out a whole lot of hope that things will work out. If the world does stand a hope of getting saved from the brink, it will be because of the impassioned cries of Russia’s women.
Very early on in his very first term as President of Russia, Putin had to deal with another group of wives and mothers, these ones the relatives of the crew of the submarine Kursk. As Russian officials mishandled the situation, Putin let things spiral out of his control as the nation witnessed a grieving mother being sedated on live television.
Not my circus…
As I have mentioned previously, I have spent considerable time speaking with people who came here from Poland, so I became used to the accent and the peculiarities of language that are unique to each one in its way. Sometimes if you listen you can hear these peculiarities, for instance, I was able to surmise that many Polish people express surprise in a conversation by saying “can you believe it?” in a manner and tone that might seem somewhat incredulous.
In the same way, I also discovered that the Polish had a saying that went “Not my circus, not my monkeys”, or basically, whatever seems to have gone haywire here is NOT my problem at all.
The problem however your Excellency, is that this IS our bloody circus and those ARE our damn monkeys, and they are now on the loose, and now nobody is safe.
War is a Racket
I have recently discovered a work written by retired United States Marine Corps Major General Smedley Darlington Butler in 1935, titled “War is a Racket”, which was an expanded form of a speech he began giving after his retirement in 1931. It seriously resonated with me, and as I finished reading it, I realized that some 30 years before Dwight D. Eisenhower would first use the term “military-industrial complex” in his 1961 farewell address to the nation before turning things over to John F. Kennedy, Butler had already identified it.
He sums things up quite nicely in five chapters, though I find Chapter Three of particular importance. It’s the chapter where he lays out who pays the price for war and the answer is pretty obvious. It’s the average person, the ones like my friends who decided to serve their country, only to have it go horribly awry and as a result, would somehow never be the same again. That is simply a price that is too high and should no longer be getting paid.
Please understand your Excellency that it is not my intention to insult you personally in this response, however, I believe that the circumstances dictate that I speak plainly with you today. I hold no ill will towards you nor any other citizen of Poland, Russia, or Ukraine.
It is the governments of the world who have placed us all in this untenable position, and as such, I categorically reject what it is that you are saying about this matter.
Perhaps, in another time, in another universe, we could have been friends, perhaps had drinks together. That time may or may not yet happen, and I truly wish that it will. But not the way that things stand right now your Excellency.
That sir, is my five cents, or 10 zloty worth on the subject.