Monthly Archives: January 2017

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.

Intelligence Doves vs. Hawks

All the commotion between the Trump team and the intelligence community reminds me of the incoming Reagan administration while I was working on NIE 11-12 on Russian military technology. I started under the dovish administration led by Jimmy Carter, with Adm. Stansfield Turner. Under Carter, the military services led by the Defense Intelligence Agency (most recently led by Gen. Flynn) were hawkish, claiming the Soviets had many dangerous new military high tech weapons. I, joined by the CIA, argued that the intelligence did not support such conclusions; they were working on new weapons, but there was so far no indication they would work well enough to deploy in the field. I gradually got some language inserted that downplayed the danger to the US. (I think the last 30 or 40 years have proved me right.)

When Reagan came in with his new CIA chief, Bill Casey, the threat from the Soviet Union (Reagan’s evil empire) got raised again. Turner and his deputy, Adm. Inman, left the CIA. I would like to think that I got the threat watered down a little bit, but who knows?

This change of administrations highlights the animosity permeating the intelligence community during this change of administration. Back then, the Republicans were the hawks worried about the Soviet evil empire. Today, it’s the Democrats who are worried about the Soviets, joined by some Republicans like John McCain and Marco Rubio. In general, though, the sides have changed. The Democrats are afraid of Russia, and the majority of the incoming Republicans are not. Despite Trump’s views, there are still many old Cold Warriors in the Republican Party; so, it is less likely that the Trump administration will be as dovish toward Russia as Carter was, even with Tillerson at State.