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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

With Warsaw Summit approaching, Duda stresses NATO unity in remarks at National Press Club

WASHINGTON-President Andrzej Duda of the Republic of Poland stopped by the National Press Club in downtown Washington D.C. this morning to deliver remarks to an audience of about 500 and to take part in a question-and-answer session with the hosts of the cable news program "Morning Joe" on MSNBC, Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough.

The event was organized by the Atlantic Council and Center for European Policy Analysis, two American think tanks with vested interests in Polish affairs both within her borders and in her region of Europe.

Introductions were made by Frederick Kempe, the President and CEO of the Atlantic Council and Wess A. Mitchell, the President of the Center for European Policy Analysis. Their remarks set the stage by emphasizing Poland's central location in Europe, its relatively large Armed Forces, and its growing influence in the region. Poland has also been particularly active in NATO since the Kremlin annexed Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine.

Poland is a country of 38 million people, eighth largest in Europe and slightly larger than Canada.

President Duda was elected into office in Poland's two-round Presidential election last year, beating out incumbent president Bronislaw Komorowski of the center-right Civic Platform party. He won the presidential election as a member of the right-wing Law and Justice party, but resigned from the party membership in May 2015. Before running for president he was a member of the Polish Sejm (equivalent to the House of Representatives) and the European Parliament.

"Poles and Americans...stand united and speak with the same voice on issues of importance."

Duda focused on foreign policy and cooperation with regards to security in his speech.

First, President Duda outlined Polish foreign policy and the three principles it is based upon, which he claimed "are based in the deep historical experiences of my country, sometimes very difficult and painful experiences."

"Three pillars define Polish foreign policy: first, the obeying of international law, international sovereignty, and territorial integrity of all states, no matter how strong or weak they are", Duda explained, in a clear nod to Warsaw's fierce opposition to the Kremlin's aggression in Ukraine and its sudden annexation of Crimea two years ago.

Duda then explained his second principle, partnership and dialogue among nations, and its contributions to stability. "History has taught us that such a system never guarantees a permanent peace in our world."

Duda's third pillar was that of "Euro-Atlantic Unity". "For the last twenty-six years, Poland has been a consistent advocate of trans-Atlantic cooperation." He expressed pride in Poland's membership in the European Union and in NATO, despite the soft Euroscepticism of his former political party. He then thanked the United States for its continuing support for Polish sovereignty and in NATO's unity.

"Our goals are the same. We need to keep NATO strong and united, with the United States engaged in European security as the leading guarantor of credibility in the alliance. It's our goal to strengthen the security of our common states, with a special focus on the Central and Eastern European countries. For Poland, this means strengthening NATO on its eastern flank."

Duda also stressed the importance of contributions from each different NATO state. This has been a recent controversy as the United States has pressed various European countries to add to their defense budgets to mixed results. While countries like Germany lag behind, Poland has maintained and turned itself into a considerable and modern power in the area of defense, and Duda was keen to remind his mostly American audience that Poland sent troops to be part of the coalitions in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Just as everyone should expect NATO to come to their aid, everyone must also chip into the common maintenance of the alliance, and Duda maintained that Poland would stand firm to its obligations to NATO, specifically the policy of keeping defense spending as at least 2% of national GDP.

This focus on the unity of NATO by President Duda is not by coincidence. NATO's next summit will be in early July and will be meeting in Warsaw, Poland's capital and largest city.

Despite the various different perceptions and prioritization of threats across the countries of NATO, it is imperative that NATO members remember that they all belong to the same alliance with the same values and principles. According to President Duda, the main threat facing NATO was the rule of force replacing the rule of law; another not-so-subtle nod to continuing aggression in Eastern Ukraine as well as Syria.

However, Duda was quick to reassure the audience that he did not seek a hostile relationship with Poland's neighbors.  "What threatens Europe today is not a particular state, or a particular nation. It is the policy of a certain state which results in permanent violation of international law. Poland, like the whole of Europe, does not seek to isolate Russia. We don't want the Cold War to come back, as Prime Minister Medvedev suggested a short while ago in Munich...nations do not want to live in the balance of fear, however, we need to remember that if we're going to have a partnership, it must be built upon mutual respect for common rules is needed. In other words, in order for a dialogue to be possible, law has to be respected."

Duda called for sanctions to be brought against every country that violated those common laws, citing their nonviolent nature, and hoped that the upcoming Warsaw summit would reassure the international community of NATO's ability to resolve conflicts both in Eastern Ukraine and in the Middle East where the Islamic State still wreaks havoc.

In his closing remarks, President Duda cited President John F. Kennedy's famous quote "There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction."

In his question-and answer session with Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, President Duda was asked about a wide variety of both domestic and international subjects. Poland's recent constitutional crisis was a topic of discussion that emerged quickly. After Duda's former party, Law and Justice, won the parliamentary elections last October, it proceeded to nominate judges to Poland's Constitutional Court that would replace the judges appointed last minute by the rival party Civic Platform. The crisis has raised eyebrows and cooled relations between Germany and Poland, but Duda, now speaking in Polish rather than English, seemed calm and convinced that his former party was in the right. 

 The discussion also shifted to the upcoming U.S. Presidential Election, set to occur in November.  Ms. Brzezinski seemed very keen to ask President Duda about his opinion of Republican front-runner Donald Trump, who has been running on a platform similar to the European right-wing, which tends to be more nationalist, populist, and isolationist than the traditional American right which advocates for decentralized government, individualism, lower taxes and firm foreign policy. Duda decisively avoided the question, saying that it was the American people's decision and that he did not wish to get involved in domestic affairs of the United States.  The President walked the tightrope as he reiterated broad support for NATO, an organization which has been called "obsolete" by the real estate mogul, but also claimed he understood the message of "America First", claiming he naturally wants to put Poland first as its head of state. 

President Duda also received a bit of criticism on Poland's reluctance to be pro-active in the Refugee Crisis, but he stood his ground and a bit of soft euroscepticism emerged when he explained that Poland was not going to be told what to do by Germany when it is capable of making its own decisions and mentioned that refugees were not heading to Europe with Poland in mind as it does not have as high a living standard or as generous a social safety net as Germany. 

Andrzej Duda is still a relatively new president and the government he oversees is less than a year old. His messages of unity across NATO will continue to resonate, but there may be more gridlock to come when it comes to the European Union as the union faces an enormous challenge in the refugee crisis. 

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