PULASKI COMMENTARY: The key premises of the Polish Homeland Defence Act (Michał Oleksiejuk)
A comprehensive reform of the Polish Armed Forces, announced over a year ago, has significantly accelerated since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. The Homeland Defence Act (HDA) was first announced by the government in October 2021. On March 17, 2022 it has been approved by the Polish Senate and only a day later it also received a formal signature of approval from the President of the Republic of Poland. The most important assumptions of the HDA in its current form include an increase in defense spending to the level of 3% of GDP in as early as 2023, an increase in the size of the army and the extension of the financing model of the Polish Armed Forces with funds from outside of the dedicated budget of the Ministry of National Defense. For many years, military, veteran and expert circles have been calling for the changes currently proposed as a part of HDA, and which became even more pressing after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The official presentation of the first draft of the Polish Homeland Defence Act (HDA) took place on October 26, 2021 in the Polish Parliament (Sejm). Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński and Minister of National Defense Mariusz Błaszczak emphasized that its overriding goal is to further modernize the Polish Armed Forces, increase the attractiveness of army service and implement the concept of universal defense on a wider scale. Although the provisions of the act were drafted even before the Russian aggression against Ukraine, it is clear that the document was prepared with an aim to counteract the aggressive and expansionist policies of the Russian Federation in the region. During its preparations, the Russian Federation has already accumulated significant military forces in Belarus once (May 2021) and supported the Minsk-controlled migration crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border. Importantly, the Ministry of National Defense announced that due to the exceptional situation in Eastern Europe, further changes to the Act were introduced to further accelerate the expansion and development of the domestic armed forces. Most of these changes were approved by the Parliamentary National Defense Committee and became an integral part of the final project. The act was adopted in an express mode thanks to the cross-party alliance of PIS, KO, The Left and Poland 2050 parliamentary parties. 450 MPs voted in favor of adopting the HDA in the Sejm (nobody voted against, 5 MPs abstained), while in the Senate (higher chamber of the Polish Parliament) all 97 senators supported its introduction. On March 18, 2022 the HDA received a formal signature of approval from the President of the Republic of Poland – Andrzej Duda.
The Homeland Defence Act is a document consisting of over 450 pages, which is to replace 14 older laws and acts regulating the structure of the army, it’s financing and the functioning of the reservist system. Some of the acts being replaced are almost 50 years old, while the oldest and most important of them – the Act on the Universal Duty to Defend the Republic of Poland – has been approved in 1967 and has only undergone a few minor amendments since then. The most important assumptions of the final version of HDA – taking into account the amendments announced by the Polish MOD on March 3, 2022, after the war broke out in Ukraine – include:
- Acceleration of the legislative procedures procedure meaning that the HDA will enter into force in only 30 days from when it is published in the government’s Journal of Laws. Originally, it was assumed that this would much longer – no earlier than July 1 of this year;
- Increasing of the defense spending to 3% of GDP in 2023. Originally, the level of 2.5% of GDP allocated to defense was not to be reached until 2026;
- Increasing the size of the Polish Army. Although the HDA itself does not specify the exact number of soldiers after the changes, Minister of National Defense Mariusz Błaszczak clarified that a level of 300,000 soldiers is to be reached (currently there are 150,000), of which 250,000 are to be professional soldiers and 50,000 serving in the Territorial Defense Forces;
- The act reorganizes the reservist system, including the division into passive and active reserves. Active reserve means that soldiers remain in higher combat readiness than their counterparts in the passive reserve. Active reserve assumes service once a quarter, for at least two days and at least once every 3 years for a single period of 14 days;
- Simplification of the recruitment process for new soldiers and the expansion of the system of encouraging active service soldiers to remain in the army. These include financial incentives for long-term service (additional PLN 1,500 gross a month for soldiers with 25 years of service and PLN 2,500 gross for over 28.5 years of service) and simplification of promotions for both privates and non-commissioned officers.
- Introduction of a voluntary basic military service. A volunteer joining this service will be in the army for a year. During this time, he would have completed a one-month basic course and an 11-month specialist course. After its completion, he will be able to return to a civilian life or join the professional army through a new, simplified procedure.
- Financing of the Polish Armed Forces with money from outside of the budget of the Ministry of National Defense. For this purpose, the Armed Forces Support Fund is to be established at the Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego (BGK). The revenue of the Fund is to come from state-owned defense companies, bonds issued by BGK, profits from the sale of military equipment by the Military Material Agency (AMW), profits from the rental of training grounds and other military infrastructure to allied armed forces, profits obtained by the National Bank of Poland and direct payments from the government.
- The share of combat gear expenditure in the budget of the Ministry of National Defense (for expenditure such as weapons, personal equipment, military infrastructure and equipment) is to be at least 20 percent.
- The military will be able to purchase military equipment through leasing. The lessors of such equipment will be primarily defense industry companies, the Industrial Development Agency and the Polish Development Fund.
- A profound reform of the system of recruiting candidates and maintaining readiness through the liquidation of the Provincial Military Staffs and the Military Recruitment Commands. They are to be replaced by 16 provincial Military Recruitment Centers and one Central Military Recruitment Center. They are also to be included under the direct supervision of the Minister of National Defense.
It is worth emphasizing that a number of amendments were introduced to the original bill, proposed both by the ruling party as well as by opposition parties. The most important ones included the inclusion of the Armed Forces Modernization Fund under parliamentary control, as well as employment guarantees for all (i.e. 3,000) employees who are currently employed by the soon to be disbanded Provincial Military Staffs and the Military Recruitment Commands (Military Recruitment Centers will be established in their place). The Sejm also agreed to adopt the Polish Armed Forces Strengthening Package planning document for the years 2023-2025, which is to be developed by the Council of Ministers and is to include the most important tasks in the field of arming and equipping of the army with modern equipment, as well as plans to increase the number of armed forces personnel. Amongst the 39 rejected amendments were those ordering the spending of 50 percent of the MOD budget on Polish producers and the one that gives every adult in Poland (without prior convictions) access to firearms.
As a whole, the Homeland Defence Act implements many postulates that have been pursued by military, veteran and expert circles for a long time. In the era of aggressive actions by the Russian Federation and the ongoing war, the increase in defense spending to the level of 3%. GDP in 2023 is a reasonable decision. Further expansion of the budget of the Ministry of National Defense with the Armed Forces Modernization Fund will allow for even faster and more comprehensive replacement of equipment and the acquisition of new combat capabilities. Although it is too early to be able to draw binding conclusions from the war in Ukraine, the need to expand and disperse the Polish Air Force, as well as the need to implement modern air defense systems and portable anti-tank launchers, is already a clearly visible assumption in the current phase of the conflict. Additional money provided by the HDA will allow for at least some of those needs to be met. The further development of the personnel potential of the Polish Armed Forces also coincides with the conclusions drawn from the observation of Russian aggression in Ukraine. The introduction of a new system of financial incentives is a good way to keep experienced soldiers in the army, but the level of 300,000 planned troops as announced by the Minister of National Defense, Mariusz Błaszczak seems to be too ambitious, even unrealistic. The financial needs necessary to maintain such a manpower, even with an increased budget of the Ministry of National Defense, would mean limited possibilities of acquiring new equipment since most of the money would go towards personnel expenditures. Even a slight slowdown in the purchase of new equipment would then adversely affect the operational capabilities of the domestic armed forces, which during a potential conflict must be ready for clashes with slowly but systematically replaced and improved Russian armed military systems.
Author: Michał Oleksiejuk, Analyst at Casimir Pulaski Foundation