Poland: When Geopolitics Fail, Technology to the Rescue

By A. Jurek

Oft seen as a geopolitical contingency, Poland's future is once again hazy. As Russia's power grows, the United States' involvement in Europe wanes, and the European Union teeters on the brink of dissolution, the question persists: What is necessary to assure Polish stability amid changing geopolitical circumstances?

To assure its security in a changing world, Poland should pursue a strategy of technological superiority. Technological superiority would grow Poland's economy and improve the effectiveness of the Polish military. A windfall of these effects is that a technologically superior Poland would be more respected abroad overall.

One key component of the strategic focus on technological and scientific superiority would be the reorientation of Poland's long term priorities to emphasize advanced research and development as a top policy priority. Poland could, in this context, work toward the goal of becoming the most important research and development location in Europe; it could even ascend to global prominence in specific areas of scientific and technological research.

The first step would be the creation of world-class academic research programs. In the past, Poland was limited by its own human capital, in terms of scientific breakthroughs. Poland could escape such limits on talent by creating extraordinary research and learning centers to attract the best talent from around the world.  Poland could then retain the best graduates of those institutions by offering them citizenship.

Such a policy would have highly desirable secondary effects, including attracting venture capital investments. The inflow of talent and money would dramatically increase numbers of Polish startups and innovation would make Poland a landmark destination within the global economy.

The second step toward technological superiority would involve a massive national scientific project, integrating scientific research efforts across various labs and research centers across the country.

Poland could leverage its alliance with a favorite ally, as Israel did with the United States in the case of Iron Dome's development, to develop a potent defense system. Such a powerful defense system need not necessarily be derived from a classical military weapons catalog including stealth aircrafts, battleships or a nuclear submarines. Writing on strategic surprise, retired U.S. Air Force General Walter Jajko, says, “novel, unconventional or nontraditional application of a technology also can produce surprise, sometimes with strategic effect.” Whether based on existing technologies configured in new ways or some fundamental breakthrough, it is clear that technology that is more disruptive will have a far greater effect.

One argument that is often made against a technological superiority strategy is that Poland is poor and therefore unable to make the required investments. But this is not necessarily true. Poland, while limited financially, would nevertheless achieve its goals by allocating its resources in a smart way. All that is needed is a shift in its priorities. If Poland were to have chosen the aforementioned strategy just a few years ago and had begun investing a billion zlotys a year in computer science, math and engineering programs at its best universities, the programs today would be some of the best in the world, attracting the best students and the best faculty. As a major destination in the fields of computer science and in the IT world, Poland could now be a major global site for software development, attracting billions in venture capital.  

Change, however, is unlikely to be easy as Poles remain skeptical, not only due to potential financial costs, but also since projects may seem too assertive for Poland to pursue in contrast to its history in technological fields.  To survive and thrive in its unique geopolitical predicament, where its neighbors and peers may well turn into geopolitical enemies, Poland must stay ahead of the curve. This can only be done if it makes inroads in science and technology that will lead to greater technological capabilities in the public and private spheres; Poland must counterweight security threats with technological solutions.



A. Jurek is a writer, journalist, and a political scientist with a master's degree in Political Science from the University of Colorado at Denver.

[Photo courtesy of Cargo Cult]

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