Poland is creating a new military branch – Territorial Defense Forces (TDF). In addition, Warsaw is increasing military spending while Belarus defense budget is lower than those of all its neighbours. Why are Poles arming themselves? Why now? Should Belarusians be wary of the neighbour’s military activity? A representative of Poland’s Territorial Defense Forces Staff Office has made an exclusive comment to Belsat TV program Prasviet (World and Us).
“Always Ready. Always Near” is the motto of the fifth branch the Polish Armed Forces. On May 2, the Flag Day, Poland’s Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz appointed commanders of three new brigades of territorial defense forces and cited an excerpt of the Constitution of the Commonwealth adopted on May 3, 1791:
“The nation bears a duty to its own defense from attack and for the safeguarding of its integrity. Therefore all citizens are defenders of the national integrity and liberties. The military are nought but a defensive force drawn and ordered from the general force of the nation.”
The Minister devoted the two-century old quote to the entire army, but primarily to the Territorial Defense Forces. The concept of their establishment was signed a year ago.
“This is a consequence of the geopolitical situation changing in our vicinity, in Central and Eastern Europe. Poland is not the only country that is developing defensive formations of that kind. The Baltic states, Romania and Bulgaria are also forming them,” Lt. Col. Marek Pietrzak, Spokesman for the Command of the Territorial Defense Forces, told Belsat.
As part of the first stage, in 2016, three brigades were established close to the border of Belarus and Ukraine in eastern Poland.
Now, the second stage is in progress; one brigade is being formed in the north, not far from Russia’s Kaliningrad region, and two in central Poland. Then, TDF formations will be created in the hinterlands.
Establishing TDF: 2016 – 3 brigades, 2017 – 3 brigades, 2018 – 7 brigades, 2019 – 4 brigades
“The TDF are closely tied to the areas of their activities. Our mission is to support local communities, and we are going to fulfil corresponding tasks,” Marek Pietrzak said.
In two years, the Territorial Defense Forces are expected to deploy 53,000 soldiers in 17 brigades. Paramilitary organizations, military classes graduates and ex-servicemen will be welcome on a first-priority basis. Continuing to work as managers or IT specialists, they will train themselves on weekends.
“Taking into account the current geopolitical situation, it is the fastest and cheapest way to increase the defense potential of our country,” Pietrzak stressed.
A soldier will get about 120 euros per month for his combat readiness. Commanders are supposed to be professional soldiers, as well as the rest of the Polish Army: seven years ago compulsory military service was abolished in Poland.
TDF will have the nature of mobile light infantry armed with up-to-date weapons.
“Poland’s measures to increase its defense capability should also be a message to Belarusian authorities that they should address the issues of the country’s armed forces, because at the moment our defense budget is less than 1% of GDP,” Zmitser Mitskevich, a military expert at Belarus Security Blog, said.
NATO member states committed themselves to increase their military expenditure to at least 2 % of GDP annually, which has been already done by Poland and Estonia. Russia’s and Ukraine’s cost of defense is even higher.
Defense cost (% of GDP): Belarus 1.3%, Latvia – 1.5%, Lithiania – 1.7%, Poland – 2%, Ukraine – 3.8%, Russia – 5.3%
According to the draft bill published by Poland’s MoD, the country’s defense outlays may reach 2.2% of GDP by 2020 and 2.5% – by 2030.
Thus, next year 500-700 mln euros may be added, which is the entire defense budget of Belarus. Poles intend to increase the maximum number of army personnel from today’s 150,000 to 200,000, 130,000 of which will be professional soldiers.
This fits in Poland’s policy to address possible threats, Zmitser Mitskevich believes.
The higher-level Polish army will deter a potential aggressor. A full-fledged conflict is unlikely to happen in the region, but in this case, the Poles will be able to stop the enemy, hold them back and live to the allies’ arrival.
“Territorial Defense Forces’ activity aims at self-defense. They can act only in the areas they are responsible for. Brigades are responsible for voivodeships; companies – for counties. There will be so-called responsibility zones, and these forces will be in charge of them. Carrying out any actions in other areas and abroad is out of the question. There is nothing to fear,” the spokesman for the TDF Command said.
Poland’s Territorial Defense Forces pose no threat to Belarus which aspires to neutrality.
The first big exercise for those TDF soldiers who had never served in the army before started on May 6.
Siarhei Pelesa, belsat.eu