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Duda and Tusk to Meet Biden: A Symbolic Visit with Complex Meanings

POLITICSDuda and Tusk to Meet Biden: A Symbolic Visit with Complex Meanings

President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Donald Tusk will meet with the leader of the USA on the 25th anniversary of Poland’s accession to the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO). “The invitation of the Polish president and prime minister to the White House is a unique event that can be explained in several ways,” says Professor Bohdan Szklarski of the American Studies Center at University of Warsaw. In his opinion, the visit should have a presidential character, however, the key is to understand the position of the prime minister in the Polish political system.

Political scientist Bohdan Szklarski admits that such a “joint” visit of the president and prime minister of one country to Washington is a unique event. This unusual configuration of international level meetings can be explained in several ways. The Polish political system stemming from the Constitution of the Republic of Poland should be taken into account first and foremost.

“Actually, the visit should be presidential, because it is the same formal level, but the president in the USA has much less power than the prime minister in Poland, so in matters of security or war in Ukraine, President Duda is the equivalent of Joe Biden, but in all other matters, Donald Tusk is his equivalent, because there is no prime minister in the United States. For this reason, it could be said that if we are talking about the rule of law, democracy, immigration, the interlocutor for Joe Biden is Prime Minister Tusk, so it is natural,” evaluates Bohdan Szklarski.

The political scientist also takes into account other premises, which may be equally important in this case.

“One could interpret this as support for Prime Minister Tusk, who has been as if equated in his political status with President Duda, but just as well I can turn the same sentence around and say that it is prestigious for President Duda, that Joe Biden wants to meet with someone who really has no power, and yet Joe Biden shows him that he recognizes him as one of the two people in power in Poland,” he emphasizes.

The expert points out that the presence of Prime Minister Donald Tusk in the White House must also be interpreted as a signal in terms of the quality of democracy, as well as support for the direction of change that the current government in Poland has adopted. However, in this context, we are talking not only about a “signal” directed towards our country, but also to Donald Trump. The meeting of Biden with Andrzej Duda and Donald Tusk at the same time and place is also an important element of the White House’s international policy strategy.

“Assurance that Poland speaks with one voice and thinks the same way as the United States, is important for Joe Biden, because we are as if a lobbyist of the strength of the transatlantic alliance in Washington,” notes Prof. Szklarski.

The scholar from the American Studies Center also draws attention to the date of the meeting, which also has deep symbolism. Remember, on March 12, 1999, exactly 25 years before the discussed visit, Poland, along with the Czech Republic and Hungary, joined the North Atlantic Alliance. The official acceptance of our country took place at noon at the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Missouri.

“This is an important day for Poland, this is a signal from Washington for Poland, that we care about you being a permanent, strong and important ally. And not only because you are on the eastern flank of NATO, because it is also important for Americans to have peace and a strong ally on the eastern flank, but also for this reason, that we are returning to the family of democratic countries after eight years of Law and Justice party rule,” emphasizes the professor.

The political scientist notes that although for various reasons the date “is useful”, there is no reason to read into it in a special way. Prof. Szklarski , however, points out that Americans often have problems with dates.

“After all, President Barack Obama suspended, or rather abandoned, the project of the anti-missile shield being built in Poland, which was seen by the Polish elite as protection against Russian aggression, on September 17, the day of the Soviet aggression on Poland in 1939. It was hard to pick a worse date, it would have been enough to postpone the announcement of the decision by Obama by one day. Obama did not do it, because they simply do not always care about good, symbolic relationships with small allies,” he emphasizes.

Joe Biden in his invitation to the president and prime minister wrote about strengthening ties between our nations at this turning point in history. Prof. Szklarski notes that Poland’s entry into NATO a quarter of a century ago was indeed a turning point. In his opinion, the current war in Ukraine proves that NATO’s enlargement made a lot of sense.

“Without this enlargement, it is unknown whether the war today would be only in Ukraine, or whether it would also be fought on Polish or at least Baltic land. So reinforcing NATO expansion, sending a signal to Russia and authoritarian states not to count on the West, because it is democratic, because it is capitalist, because it is diverse, to be soft towards authoritarianisms, it could be the message of this visit, if I were to look for something beyond purely Polish-American relations.”

Experts in international politics, analyzing the current situation, look at Polish-American relations in a decidedly broader context, going beyond the upcoming meeting in Washington. They are drawn to the possible return to the White House of Donald Trump.

“If it were to happen that Donald Trump returns to the White House in November, or actually in January of next year, takes office, Poland will be at the forefront of countries that will be extolled as a model ally due primarily to the level of security funding from our budget,” said Prof. Szklarski. “We are a country that perhaps the highest percentage of GDP spends on security and in this sense we will be placed as an example for others,” he adds.

According to NATO data, Poland spent 3.9% of GDP on defense in 2023, making us the leader among all Alliance members. Last year, the recommended level of 2% of GDP was exceeded by 1/3 of NATO countries. The United States (3.5%), Greece (3%), Estonia (2.7%), Lithuania (2.5%), Finland (2.5%), Romania (2.4%), Hungary (2.4%), Latvia (2.3%), the United Kingdom (2.1%) and Slovakia (2.03%).

It is very likely that Donald Trump’s visit to Poland will take place soon after a possible victory in the elections, although the professor does not know whether it will be desired on the Polish side as it was in the times of the previous ruling team in Warsaw.

Nevertheless, the scientist assesses: “We are a secondary American partner, when it comes to disputes and conflicts, disagreements between Poland and the United States, we are quickly brought into line. And Polish interests in Washington are protected as long as they coincide closely with the interests of the United States.”

Such a scenario would appear, for example, if there were discrepancies on the issue of free trade with China. Bohdan Szklarski does not foresee any significant change in relations between Warsaw and Washington despite the change of the Oval Office’s occupant.

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