Ironically for Poland, World War II—a conflict that officially started in order to defend Polish sovereignty and territorial integrity—resulted in the country ceasing to exist as an independent state and military actor.
During the Cold War, the Polish People’s Republic military, which was the second-strongest member of the Warsaw Pact after the Soviet Union, primarily served Moscow’s plans, rather than Polish national interests. Formed with little divergence from Soviet vision and doctrine, it was large, with over 400,000 troops in peacetime; heavy, with over 7,000 tanks and armored vehicles; hierarchical; and devoid of indigenous strategic guidance.
The fall of the Iron Curtain brought independence to Poland, but also a rather misguided idea about the “end of history.” Poland’s security policy through the 1990s was dominated by an ambition to join NATO and the European Union, seen as the ultimate solution to the country’s security deficit. But after Poland joined both organizations, in 1999 and 2004, respectively, the global security environment evolved dramatically. The decade after 9/11, in particular, was marked by a belief that new threats like terrorism had to be tackled in places where they emerge.