President of the Republic of Poland delivers address at West Point Academy
Thursday, 21 September 2017
Dear General Caslen,
Distinguished generals, officers, members of the faculty,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I feel very honored to stand here in front of you on the campus of one of the best, sorry the best, military academies in the world. Even before this place became a breeding ground for America’s most superb leaders – future commanders, governors and presidents – it had served a historic role in the battle for American independence. My heart is filled with special pride when I recollect that, to a large extent, it was thanks to the engineering genius of my fellow countryman, General Tadeusz Kościuszko.
Using this unique opportunity to be here with you today – the first Polish President giving a lecture at West Point – I would like to touch upon three issues.
Firstly, go Army, beat Navy! Ok, now I have to go back to my very serious speech.
Firstly, I want to talk about our shared history, because it shaped who we are as Poles and Americans. Secondly, I would like to discuss how Poland and the United States work hand in hand to tackle contemporary security threats. Thirdly, I want to give you an insight of the role of my country – Poland – in the region of Central Europe for the promotion of liberty, peace and prosperity.
You will have to forgive me for being nostalgic, but one cannot refrain from talking about history and Tadeusz Kościuszko when visiting West Point, especially when one comes – as I do – from the city of Kraków in Poland. Because the stories of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, West Point and Kraków are connected.
I am sure many of you know that Kościuszko’s presence in America was of unique character. He reached America in 1776, after a difficult and dangerous journey. Initially a volunteer, by October 1776 he was a Colonel of Engineers, and by the end of that year, he was promoted to Chief Engineer of the entire Continental Army. It was Kościuszko, who designed and built fortifications not only here in West Point, where he spent more than two years, but also in Philadelphia, Ticonderoga and Saratoga.
I am also hopeful that some of you know that Tadeusz Kościuszko’s status in America was that of a superstar. When he returned to the United States in 1797, following a historically dramatic time in Poland leading the Kościuszko Insurrection, drawings of him were sold in Philadelphia, and even toasts were drunk to Kościuszko. They named him ”the Defender of the Rights of Man”.
What’s more, during his time in America, Kościuszko became close friends with Thomas Jefferson – one of the Founding Fathers and the principle author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Their philosophies, political thought and worldviews were alike, and the two spent much time together. In fact, when the news of Kościuszko’s death reached Jefferson, he wrote in reply:
“To no country could that event be more afflicting nor to any individual more than myself. I had enjoyed his friendship and confidence for the last 20 years, and during the portion of that time which he spent in this country, I had daily opportunities of observing personally the purity of his virtue, the benevolence of his heart, and his sincere devotion to the cause of liberty.”
Now, probably some of you don’t know that following Kościuszko’s death, a Mound to his name was erected atop a hill on the edge of Kraków. From 1820 to 1823, women, men and children were using baskets, wheelbarrows and even their bare hands to carry soil from Kościuszko’s battlefields to build a mound about 100 feet tall. Until this day, it dominates the old city. The Kościuszko Mound later became a fortification – an integral part of Kraków Fortress, and a symbolic reminder of Kościuszko’s achievements in West Point, elsewhere in the United States, and Poland.
I am saying all this, generals, distinguished members of the faculty, and cadets of the West Point Academy, because this year, Poland celebrates the Kościuszko Year. 2017 marks the 200thanniversary of Tadeusz Kościuszko’s death.
A statue of Tadeusz Kościuszko overlooks Kraków from the majestic Wawel Castle – a resting place of Polish Kings. Therefore, it was with great joy and pride that today I laid wreath under the Kościuszko Statue here at West Point. I am grateful that the Academy cherishes the memory of our common hero.History, using the words of Abraham Lincoln, is a strength we cannot, and should not, escape. Kościuszko’s active involvement in the American War of Independence laid solid foundations for the strong alliance Poland and the United States enjoy today. Kościuszko was the man whose actions were the living example of the motto “for our freedom and yours”. The brotherhood of arms has been at the center of the Polish-American relations ever since.
But our alliance is much more than that. For more than the last two centuries, it has been the love for the very same values of freedom and independence. These brought Poland and the United States together. To Jefferson, Kościuszko was, and I quote: “as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known”. Indeed, the universal value of liberty guided Kościuszko through his life. He fought both for the American and Polish independence, and because of his devotion to both nations, he is so cherished and remembered on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Moving on from history to the present day. A brief look at the international security situation around the world makes it clear that there are actors, both state and non-state, who continuously try to test the rule-based international order and the values we share.
A direct challenge to the world’s peace at the moment seems to come from the irresponsible actions of North Korea, which openly uses the threat of a nuclear strike and continues serious efforts to develop its military capabilities in this domain.mTerrorism and the so called Islamic state continue to inflict chaos in the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere. Syria, where a regime has waged a war against its own citizens for 6 years now, killing or causing them to flee by the hundreds of thousands, remains a dilemma. Being aware of the gravity of the terrorist threat, Poland has supported the United States in its war on terror ever since the tragic events of September 11, 2001.
To me, and my fellow countrymen, the biggest concern however, is our eastern neighbour. I mean Russia, which broke the existing international norms, and invaded its two neighbors, Georgia and Ukraine. Russia, which seeks to undermine European unity, makes all the effort to bring back its sphere of influence. Russia, which does not help in finding solutions to world crises and exports political corruption.
As I am speaking here to you, huge Russian military exercises called “ZAPAD-17” (in English “West-17”) are taking place next to Poland’s eastern border. They are being conducted with no respect for the international regulations regarding the confidence building measures. It is no secret that there are many more soldiers participating in the exercise than the declared 12 point 7 thousands. This understated number, however, allows Russia to by-pass the regulations of the Vienna Document, requiring independent observers for military exercises involving more than thirteen thousand troops. What is more, two past editions of ZAPAD, in 2009 and 2013, included simulations of bombing targets located in Poland with nuclear weapons. Finally, the ZAPAD-like exercise was used in the past to camouflage Russian military operations in Georgia and Ukraine.
All the security threats I have just mentioned require proper reaction from the community of responsible nations. And yes, because of its unmatched potential, it is the United States which needs to stay at the vanguard. Today, American leadership is as needed as it was during the two world wars and the Cold War that followed.
And we are very grateful that the United States delivers. Poland is a much safer country now that we host American troops on our soil. For the first time in two hundred years, we welcomed foreign troops in Poland with open arms. [Anybody here from Colorado or Kansas? Hands up!] The rotations of the Armored Brigade Combat Teams from Fort Carson, Colorado, and Fort Riley, Kansas, as well as the US-led battalion of the NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence greatly increase our defense and deterrence capabilities. We look forward to even more American military presence in Poland, as we are preparing to host US Army Prepositioned Stocks and the Ballistic Missile Defense base in Redzikowo. Who knows, maybe some of you will get their first overseas postings in Poland?
We appreciate American commitment, but we are not free riders. We understand the meaning of fair burden sharing. Just as Kościuszko significantly helped the American cause for independence two hundred years ago, today, Poland does all it can to contribute to the efforts made by the United States and NATO.
We are continuously increasing our national defense capabilities by building a well-equipped and trained, modern military force. We were one of the first NATO members to fulfil the Wales Summit’s defense spending pledge of 2 percent GDP and we plan to spend even more, reaching the level of 2,5 percent by the end of the next decade.
We actively participate in the implementation of the Warsaw Summit decisions for the NATO’s eastern flank: we sent our troops to Latvia and Romania, we patrol the skies of our Baltic neighbors during air policing missions.
We support the global coalition against terrorism with “boots on the ground”: we sent our F-16 fighters to conduct reconnaissance missions and the trainers from our special forces to Jordan; our frigate was the flagship of a NATO maritime mission in the Aegean Sea; we keep our contingent in the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan and we are also returning to the NATO training mission in Iraq.
Apart from the military involvement, Poland is also very active in terms of political support in rebuilding the global security architecture.
We have been elected to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2018-2019 by an unprecedented majority. 190 out of 192 votes in favor. The second highest score in the UN history.
We chair the Preparatory Committee of 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), where we work closely with the United States on North Korea.
We are both a strong supporter of the European Union sanctions against countries which break the international law and an active coordinator of the EU development efforts in Eastern Europe.
We are also active in other formants, such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), where we introduce new initiatives aimed at rebuilding trust and limiting the risk of military conflict.
These actions usually don’t make headlines, but they show our determination and commitment to securing a more peaceful world.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As far as our regional, non-military, involvement is concerned, we try to look at the topic of development in a broad context. That is why we pay a lot of attention to our energy security. Uninterrupted access to energy sources is the key factor to a country’s stable growth. As we know, Russia is using its influences in Europe’s energy sector for political manipulation, therefore one of our top priorities is the diversification of energy supplies.
In order to achieve that, we built an LNG terminal on our Baltic Sea shore. I am glad that the first delivery of the American liquefied gas has already arrived to the port of Świnoujście. As a matter of fact, the June 2017 delivery of American LNG to Poland at the same time marked the arrival of the first U.S. LNG to Central Europe. We hope to continue developing our cooperation in this area, as we plan to become a regional hub for American gas, and as such provide an alternative for the region.
Our goal is to make a full use of the economic potential of Central and Eastern Europe by building new transport and energy infrastructure. Through projects such as the Three Seas Initiative, which connects 12 regional partners, our aim is to achieve a more sustainable and fair development in our part of Europe. The second Summit of the Three Seas Initiative, which took place in early July this year in the Polish capital – Warsaw – was attended by the U.S. President Donald Trump. We are glad that the U.S. administration and companies recognize our region as a business opportunity.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Before I take your questions, let me finish by expressing thanks for having me here today.
Perhaps I should have said it earlier, but I am glad that Poland has its own representation among the “long gray line” and I am extremely happy that after some years we are again a part of the program for international students at West Point. Cadet Bartłomiej Grzybowski – good to see you in the audience.
I hope you will have a smooth transition from the plebs to the yearlings.
All of you carry a huge responsibility and heritage of your predecessors, but I am confident that you will be able to live up to expectations of your commanders and relatives.
I wish you all the best in the course of your education here at West Point and great achievements in your future careers.
General Tadeusz Kościuszko once said: “There is a time when you have to sacrifice everything to have everything saved”. These are the words that need to be contemplated in such places as West Point. But having such strong alliances, as one between Poland and the United States, I hope there will not be a need to use that quote ever again.
Thank you for your attention.
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Zdroj a ilustračné foto: http://www.president.pl/en/news/art,571,lecture-by-the-president-of-the-republic-of-poland-at-west-point.html