COVID-19: Interview with Przemyslaw Czarnecki on Poland’s approach to the crisis and challenges on the Eastern Flank in a post-COVID environment

05 June 2020

Przemyslaw Czarnecki, head of the Polish Delegation to the NATO PA, discusses the situation in Poland during the COVID-19 crisis, how the country has dealt with it, and continuing challenges on NATO’s Eastern Flank.

4 questions with Przemyslawon Czarnecki:

I.    Allied efforts to provide resources and humanitarian assistance to the hardest-hit countries has been critical to help Allies and partners cope with this unprecedented crisis. Could you tell us how Poland has used NATO structures to help others and how Poland has benefitted from other Allies’ help over the course of the crisis?

Until now, Poland has been spared a massive wave of illnesses. From the very beginning to this day, the epidemic had been under control, and with the exception of several outbreaks in closed centres - such as DPS (social welfare homes), hospitals, and mines - the epidemiological situation was and is relatively good. Also - apart from cooperation in a lane purely related to health care - staff exchanges and above all information related to the development of the pandemic, and treatment of COVID-19, Poland has thus far not needed outside help on a larger scale. Of course, apart from the supply of medical equipment, some transport was carried out as part of the NATO Strategic Airlift Capability (SALIS) program - of which Poland is a part.

II.    What additional steps should NATO and Allied armed forces take to support the national and international response to the COVID-19 crisis?

As the situation in Poland has been relatively good, it has not really been necessary to use the armed forces to a greater extent in limiting the development of the epidemic. Also, in this aspect, we do not have much experience in the matter. However, we must not forget that historically all crises, including those related to global pandemics, have implications related to international security. Nowadays, we see an increase in the threat on both NATO's eastern flank - related to the situation in the Donbass, as well as the southern flank - the escalation of threat in both Libya and Syria. However, when it comes to issues directly related to COVID-19, it seems that it would be worth analysing previous experience related to the operation of NATO institutions such as the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre, the NATO Support and Procurement Agency,  the NATO Rapid Response Force, or NATO expert centres for military medicine.

III.    Poland has had much lower COVID-19 infection numbers than many other NATO members. What role have the Polish armed forces and the newly formed Polish territorial defence forces played in containing the spread of the virus? Do you see any lessons for other Allies on how to address the current pandemic and future health emergencies?

As I said before, Poland has so far been in a lucky position (11,000 active case) and has not felt the real need to involve the armed forces at the national level. In fact, in specific - often local - situations armed forces both regular and WOT (Territorial Defence Forces) played an important role in combating epidemics, such as assistance to DPS (social welfare homes), temperature testing in various facilities, distribution of medical resources, and the maintaining of public order to a limited extent. All these activities were primarily of an auxiliary nature. As for Polish experience related to COVID-19, the key information campaign seems effective in combatting threats associated with the coronavirus and promoting responsible social behaviour such as social distancing.

IV.    What role do parliamentarians play in this crisis? And what role can interparliamentary diplomacy, including within the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, play to mitigate this crisis and prepare for the next crisis?

Personally, I think that in these situations, politicians should behave responsibly and not get carried away. I am critical of the use of COVID-19 for ongoing political struggles, which also takes place in Poland. I believe that our primary goal should be on the one hand, to provide medical services with adequate resources, including financial, to fight the coronavirus, and on the other hand, preparing plans for overcoming the crisis that is already affecting the global economy. The next crisis probably won’t be of a medical nature, but of an economic one, therefore the most important will be international cooperation aimed at limiting its effects. I believe that one of the forums for this discussion could be the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, which should serve to exchange national experiences of the Member States.

Przemyslaw Czarnecki, Head of the Polish Delegation to the NATO PA

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