The Polish government has unveiled a “defence of the fatherland act” that aims to more than double the size of the country’s armed forces to ward off the threat posed by “Russia’s imperial ambitions”.
The legislation is aimed at “radically” increasing the size of the Polish military to 250,000 personnel – its current size is around 99,000, according to Nato – amid warnings that such measures were needed to avoid war with the country’s increasingly aggressive eastern neighbour and to deal with an orchestrated migrant influx from Belarus.
“If we want to avoid the worst, that is war, we have to act according to the old rule: ‘If you want peace, prepare for war,’” Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, said on Tuesday in Warsaw.
A strong military that was “large and as well armed as possible” would act as a deterrent to “Russia’s imperial ambitions”, added Mr Kaczynski, who is regarded as the real power in Polish politics.
“A country on the external EU and Nato frontier must have a serious deterrent and have the ability to defend itself alone for an extended period of time if necessary.”
To get more people in uniform, Mr Kaczynski and Mariusz Blaszczak, the Polish defence minister, outlined a series of measures including increased pay, fresh opportunities for service personnel, and a new system of voluntary service entailing 28 days of basic training followed by 11 months of service.
The cost involved was not made clear during the press conference on Tuesday, but officials have previously argued that the healthy state of Poland’s finances should allow the government to increase defence spending.
Poland, a former Warsaw Pact member, has long regarded Russia as its primary security threat. Concerns over Moscow’s intentions have been heightened by recent hostilities in both Ukraine and Georgia.
Poland has also faced an increase in the numbers of migrants crossing into the country from Belarus.
Warsaw claims they are being pushed across the border as part of a campaign orchestrated by Minsk and Moscow to destabilise Poland and the EU.
The bill, which still needs approval from parliament and the president, is aimed at replacing an existing one from 1967. At that time Poland was a member of Warsaw Pact eastern military alliance, under Moscow’s control.
Since 1999, it has been a member of NATO, and is regularly cited as one of the few alliance members that invest at least 2 per cent of its GDP in defense.
Some opposition lawmakers have criticized the plans, however, noting that they come from the ruling Law and Justice party, which they accuse of having weakened the military.
“It doesn’t look good,” said Cezary Tomczyk, a lawmaker with the centrist Civic Platform party. “Who purged the army of generals, colonels and majors? Who stopped the modernization of the Polish army?”
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