The state of votes
Intermarium – a chance for our region
Intermarium - heated discussions over a burned-out idea
Jakub Janusz Turkowski
Marcin Furdyna | 2018. March 01. 00:00
Intermarium, or Trimarium – that’s what the Polish authorities are trying to create in this part of Europe: an alliance of countries between the Baltic, Black and Adriatic Seas. The main question is whether such formation is real, or maybe – as a well-known British publicist Edward Lucas claims – Poland is not strong enough, economically and demographically, to attain such ambitious goals.
There is no doubt that Poland, a state situated in the centre of Europe with about 38 million people, is among those European countries able to pursue an active foreign policy, both within the European Union and in relations with its non-EU immediate neighbourhood. In Poland, pundits generally indicate that there are two main attitudes to what the country’s foreign policy should be like. The first one says that Warsaw ought to closely cooperate with the core of the EU, especially Germany and France, and try to play the second fiddle (as Brexit is a matter of time) in such concert of powers in the European Community. The other sees Poland as a magnet for cooperation with smaller countries in the region like the Baltic States or the other V4 countries, and thereby creating a considerable fraction in the EU that may be a counterbalance to the Western core of the EU. The former attitude was represented by Donald Tusk’s government with Radek Sikorski as foreign affairs minister, and the latter has been adopted by the Law and Justice party after its landslide victory in the last parliamentary and presidential elections in 2015.
The idea of Intermarium was originally proposed at the beginning of the 20th century by one of the greatest Polish statesmen (then a socialist activist fighting for independent Poland), Joseph Pilsudski, as a restoration of a strong political formation in the shape of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth that had eventually collapsed in 1795. Pilsudski believed that the federation of Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, and perhaps other Central and Eastern European countries is a prerequisite to defend them against German and Russian (then Soviet) threat in the future. Unfortunately, nationalisms (with the strong Polish one) turned out to be too vital at this time and the project failed. In the mid-1930s, another Polish politician, Pilsudski’s heir in the field of foreign policy, Joseph Beck, attempted to create a strip of neutral states sandwiched between the Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. His plan went wrong as, inter alia, Romania and Hungary (the nucleus of Beck’s so-called Third Europe) were unable to bury the hatchet over Transylvania, Warsaw had bad relations with Czechoslovakia, as well as the Baltic and Nordic states were not interested in resignation from their neutrality to form such a bloc with Poland.
We all know what happened in 1939 in Poland, but this is not the point. The point is that many things have radically changed from pre-WWII era and we don’t live in that Europe anymore. This implies that the idea of Intermarium has changed as well. Today we don’t face a long-lasting problem of two hostile neighbouring powers because one of them has become our ally within the framework of a powerful and democratic organization, so any historical analogy that come to many minds is wrong. Nowadays Poland is a member of the European Union and NATO, what guarantees its economic growth, political position and military security. According to opinion polls, the country takes pride in one of the highest support for the EU across Europe. Poland receives a significant amount of money from the structural funds and benefits enormously from the European single market. In a nutshell, there is no such issue like Polexit on the agenda today. If any Polish government raises the question of leaving the EU, it will be swept from the political scene right away. Although some opposite media in Poland take Polexit into consideration, this is absolutely an element of the political war that we can witness over Vistula.
If the aforementioned is true and the Polish authorities understand how important our membership in the EU is (we presume that they do, because, well, it simply can’t be missed), another myth is proved wrong. It follows from the foregoing that the strong EU and NATO are in Poland’s vital interest. Nevertheless, many people believe that Intermarium is an idea that stands in opposition to the EU and NATO. Andris Sprūds, the head of the Latvian Institute of International Affairs, said in an interview, “Strategically, Intermarium doesn’t interest us, it’s ineffective, and it may have some element of destructiveness as it may undermine the cohesion of the EU and NATO. Latvia doesn’t want to play that game.” The problem is that Poland doesn’t see Intermarium as something that would weaken the Euro-Atlantic organizations, but as a tool of self-organizing Central and Easter Europe to defend its interest in a given case. The other side of the coin is that Polish government has made some missteps in relations with Brussels and many see it as a destructive element inside the EU. The battle over Tusk’s second term as President of the European Council, the dispute with the European Commission over the Constitutional Tribunal, and anti-EU or anti-German rhetoric were both unnecessary and counterproductive. That is why some countries don’t want to talk about Intermarium, even if the project seems quite sensible.
Intermarium already exists regardless of what people think. It works every single time when Central and Eastern European states act jointly to come up with solutions to common political, economic or infrastructural problems. Those who think that Intermarium must be an institutionalized organism like the EU are wrong, because it’s all about common interests. We saw the effect of it in Bucharest in October 2015 when nine Central European countries attended a mini-summit to prepare a joint stand ahead of the NATO summit in Warsaw the following year. We can observe the effect today as Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine are trying to block the project of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany. But the effects would have been much greater if Polish government had been doing politics as it should be done – quietly and effectively.
Jakub Janusz Turkowski | 2018. May 29. 00:00
In the realm of ideas everything depends on enthusiasm, in the real world all rests on perseverance. Applying these words to the Intermarium project, it’s not hard to notice its supporters have gotten more and more enthusiastic over the last few years. Unfortunately they did not ponder over Goethe’s message, and Intermarium still hasn’t materialized from the realm of dreams into reality.
But what's keeping this project from going beyond speculations and becoming a real thing? Starting from the foundations of the project, it’s necessary to consider the current, actual situation of the states concerned by this idea. While most of these states seem to be rather stable and prospering, there are two important uncertainties. First one is Belarus, a state trying to find its own place between Russia and rest of Europe. It’s hard to predict if president Lukashenko would be determined enough to risk his position and the fate of his country in order to participate in a project which would most definitely infuriate its big brother - Russia. Ukraine, the second such uncertainty is the best example of what is Russia capable of, in order to execute its strategy. War on Ukraine dispelled ambitions of this country joining Western alliances: the NATO and the EU. Needless to say that the same implausibility applies to Intermarium. It’s not hard to imagine that establishing tight cooperation with a state that is at war with Russia doesn’t seem desirable to other states. As if this wasn’t bad enough, Ukraine itself doesn’t show interest in Intermarium either. To be more precise, Intermarium according to Ukraine, is not the same thing as for Poland. Kiev considers that their close and dynamic cooperation with Lithuania and Belarus creates a hub, connecting the Baltic and Black Sea, and becomes a bargaining chip for negotiations with China with its New Silk Road initiative. At this point I could simply stop any further analysis, since Ukraine is meant to be one of the core states in the Intermarium project. But let’s assume that Ukraine will not make this idea collapse.
And what if I were to say that there’s a competitive initiative that goes beyond papers and statements. Recently, during his visit to Poland, President Trump has been invited to a meeting of the Three Seas Initiative, where all leaders from twelve member states were present. The U.S. president declared his support and encouraged the leaders to expand the idea. No doubts that this was a rather symbolic statement and President Trump did not provide material support or link the United States to this project in any way. It also seems that Polish political figures, especially president Duda is very eager to resign from the Intermarium idea in favour of this newly formed Initiative. His recent activity and the presence of Donald Trump during the meeting are the best proof for the Polish attitude towards both projects.
I realise that there is a fundamental difference between Intermarium and the Three Seas Initiative. Intermarium is more a strategic, military like alliance, while Three Seas concentrates on three sectors of the economy: energy, infrastructure and technology. But I see no obstacles on the path leading to expand this initiative into a more political, strategic alliance between its member states. Despite being a young creation, Three Seas already achieved tangible, material effects. One of them is the Via Carpatia project - an international route connecting Klaipeda (Latvia) with Thessaloniki (Greece). Another example is the active opposition of participating states to the Nord Stream 2 project, which could fracture the delicate European security system for gas transport. Considering that a rather short time has passed since the creation of this Initiative, we already can see that it is bearing some fruits, while we can’t say the same about Intermarium.
Even though a modern concept of the Intermarium cooperation has been outlined during the interwar period, it faces the very same obstacles nowadays. Meaning that this kind of alliance can’t stand without the key players in Europe - Germany and France tolerating it. Back in the days, then big players Great Britain and France weren’t charmed by the idea of an alliance next to the Soviet bear, who had to be tamed with promises of not interfering with its sphere of influence. Such an alliance would still mean poking the bear straight in the eye. Therefore it’s hard to imagine that Germany, a state that has ambitions of becoming a leader of the European community, would be eager to support such a project as Intermarium. Besides the local circumstances, we are on the edge of a global turmoil, caused by awaking of the Chinese dragon. One may say that it's perfect timing for coming up with own ideas and projects, but I can’t agree with that. In time of a global clash it’s hard to imagine that the region concerned by the Intermarium idea would be out of the key players’ sight. In times where the enemy is located elsewhere, there’s no need to create another flashpoint leading to tensions between Russia and the rest of Europe. Unfortunately it’s more likely that Eastern Europe would be a part of a bigger deal between Washington and Moscow. And if the U.S. decides that Intermarium is not acceptable, a common sense dictates that the Polish state wouldn’t stand against its main protector. Same applies to the rest of member states.
At last, but not least, let’s face another truth. There is no way that Russia with its imperial reminiscence would let Intermarium to materialize in any form. The conflict in Ukraine explicitly shows the strategy of Moscow’s decision-makers. Provoking a turmoil in the Western part of Ukraine on the one hand and the annexation of Crimea on the other, effectively excluded this state from participation in any form of cooperation, as it was stated at the beginning. There’s no room for any consideration of Ukraine for NATO or EU membership. Intermarium as yet another type of alliance is no different. Besides that, it is on the Russian agenda to interfere with states in the region, actively discouraging them from undertaking any initiative to tighten up cooperation among themselves. This problem affects the NATO alliance, the EU, the Three Seas Initiative and would definitely affect the Intermarium project at any stage. Finally, it’s difficult to come up with any alternative to the EU or the NATO in our region. These two treaties are based on solid foundations, last for some time and still didn’t manifest their full potential. Therefore Intermarium, in order to drag some attention from the above mentioned projects, would have to offer something more than that, something that could actually mobilize regional states to invest their funds and take the political risk and responsibility to form such an alliance. Intermarium could not burn out because it has never been on fire in the first place.
* the article was prepared in cooperation with Łukasz Turkowski.
Jakub Janusz Turkowski
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