Poland and NATO

When I was assigned to the US embassy in Warsaw, Poland, in the mid-1990s, there was nothing that Poland wanted more than to be a member of NATO.

As the Science Counselor at Embassy Warsaw, my main job was to oversee the Maria Sladowski Curie II fund, which was set up by the US and Poland after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Communist government of Poland in order to help Polish scientists who were facing financial hardship after the huge changes in Polish funding for science under the new, poorer government. Under the Communist government, almost all funding for science and technology had come from the the government. Under the new, democratic government most scientists had to find funding from the private sector. The MSC II fund was supposed to help ease the transition for the scientists and engineers for five years from its signature.

When I arrived in Poland, both the US and Poland were contributing about two million dollars per year to the fund. But after a year, the Republicans under Newt Gingrich took over the US House and cut off funding for the fund, although the US was obligated to fund it for another three years, at least. The Science Committee of the US House of Representatives called then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher to testify and several members (perhaps Democrats) raked him over the coals for cutting off the Polish funding; so, he found funding for one more year in funds in the existing State Department budget. The following year, he did not, and what little money there was in the State Department science budget went to Chinese scientists because the State Department felt that the Chinese needed help more than the Polish scientists.

As a result, I was called in several times to see the Polish diplomat at the Foreign Ministry who was in charge of relations with the Western Hemisphere. He was so senior that I would not normally talk to him, but he wanted to express his displeasure at the US failing to meet its obligations under the MSC II cooperation agreement. He said we were obligated to continue our contributions, which we were, despite the fact that the US House of Representatives refused to approve the payment. I told him that if he was really upset he should talk to the US Ambassador instead of me, or should tell the Polish Ambassador to complain to an undersecretary in Washington, or even to the Secretary, since had gotten personally involved the previous year. But the Pole was unwilling to protest to anyone higher ranking, because Poland was not yet a member of NATO, and he did not want to do anything that might injure their chance to join NATO, which was much more important to Poland than the MSC II. Meanwhile, he said the Poles, whose government was much poorer than America’s, were willing and able to fund their part of the joint agreement.

I was personally very upset at being accused correctly by the Poles of an American failure to honor its commitments. I believe that American should be true to its word. I agree with Gen. Mattas, who recently said regarding the Iran agreement in testimony for his appointment as Defense Secretary, “But when America gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our allies.” I wish Newt Gingrich and his Republican colleagues had been as honorable as Gen. Mattas is.

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