Polish government uses Ukraine war to massively expand military spending

 Polish government uses Ukraine war to massively expand military spending

The ultra-right Polish government of the Law and Justice Party (PiS) is playing a central role in NATO’s proxy war against Russia in Ukraine. It acts as a provocative and aggressive ally of US imperialism in the region.

After the US and UK, Poland has promised Ukraine the third largest sum in arms deliveries, $1.8 billion, although its gross domestic product is only a fraction that of the major imperialist powers. While large parts of the already impoverished Polish population are being thrust into penury by the rapidly rising inflation and the consequences of the pandemic, Warsaw is using the war in Ukraine to push ahead and expand long-cherished rearmament plans.

Tanks of the Polish Armed Forces on ‘Army Day’ 2008

At the end of last year, PiS leader and then Minister of National Security Jaroslaw Kaczynski presented the “Plan for the Defence of the Fatherland.” This revised the modernisation plan for the armed forces adopted in 2017. The defence budget was to be increased from 2.2 percent (about $13 billion) to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2030. By 2035, some $115 billion was to be invested in the army and its strength was to grow from 110,000 to 250,000 troops.

A few months after the start of the war, the pace of rearmament was then increased again significantly. Instead of 2.5 percent, the budget is now to increase to 3 percent of the GDP, and not in 2026, as was said, but in the coming year. In addition, there will be billions more from a special fund to support the armed forces.

The special fund is a centrepiece of the new law to ensure the financing of rearmament. It escapes parliamentary control and also circumvents the legal obligations (comparable to Germany’s debt ceiling) to consolidate the budget. Its financing is fed from various channels—from government bonds and bonds issued by the national development bank BGK, from the state budget and the profits of the National Bank of Poland.

Since the government had a problem issuing government bonds due to economic reasons and high inflation, it rushed an amendment to the law through the Sejm (lower house of parliament) allowing for separate defence bonds. According to the government, the support fund will be worth 20 billion zloty (€4.2 billion) this year and around 50 billion zloty (€10.5 billion) next year.

The Defence of the Fatherland Act came into force on April 23. Prior to that, it had been adopted almost unanimously and without objection by both chambers of the Polish parliament (Sejm and Senate). The approval of all opposition parties makes clear that the war policy is supported both internally and externally by all sections of the ruling class. As far as there is criticism of the PiS, this is merely a matter of tactical differences.

The militarisation of society and strengthening of extreme right-wing forces

A central component of Poland’s rearmament plans is the introduction of a one-year voluntary basic military service. Poland had abolished its general conscription in 2010. Since then, NATO’s nominally eighth-largest army has had problems finding enough personnel. The massive expansion of the military and paramilitary units goes hand in hand with the strengthening of Poland’s longstanding state-sponsored radical right-wing forces.

The new system is clearly designed to exploit the abject poverty of large sections of the Polish working class, especially the youth. It relies on financial incentives to integrate young people into the murderous machinery of militarism. A full scholarship entices a commitment to a five-year service, and there is also supposed to be priority treatment when applying for jobs in public administration. Those who still hesitate are lured with the statement that “you can quit at any time.”

After an extremely shortened basic training of 28 days, for which they receive a full soldier’s salary of 4,400 zloty (€925), the recruits are sworn in and admitted into the reserve. Then they have the choice of completing voluntary military service after another 11 months of military training or being taken over by the professional army. Alternatively, they can join the Territorial Defence Forces (WOT) after the 28-day basic training.

The paramilitary WOT, which reports directly to the defence ministry, is a central component of the rearmament programme. Unlike the classic reserve, it is composed of soldiers and volunteers and is of a limited duration. It conducts exercises several times a month, with pay and corresponding time off work. According to government plans, the WOT will also grow from around 30,000 to 50,000 forces.

Like its Ukrainian counterpart, the Territorial Defence, where neo-Nazi formations such as the Azov Battalion and the International Legion set the tone, the WOT is also dominated by ultra-right forces.

It was created in 2016 by then Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz, who is a militant anti-communist and anti-Semite with close ties to radical right-wing circles. Macierewicz has played a key role in the PiS’s campaign to strengthen anti-Semitic forces, in particular, denying the responsibility of Polish nationalists for anti-Jewish pogroms such as those in Jedwabne and Kielce.

Today, Macierewicz is vice-chairman of the PiS, and the WOT is now under the leadership of Mariusz Błaszczak, his successor, who also holds ultra-right positions. For example, he described the march of 60,000 fascists in Warsaw in November 2017 as a “beautiful sight.”

Propagating the views of the extreme right is also officially one of the tasks of the WOT, which is euphemistically described as “strengthening the patriotic and Christian foundations of the Polish system and armed forces.” The WOT explicitly serves domestic security purposes.

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