Hello. Let me start by asking a few questions about the Three Seas Initiative, because I was supposed to speak about the conditions for success for Three Seas Initiative by 2050, which is a long shot from today, which makes it very difficult, but my most beloved strategic thinker of the English tongue was Colin Gray. He used to claim that strategy is all about asking questions, so I’ll start by asking questions.
I’ll not be able to answer all of those questions, but at least they will drive us closer to understanding the realities of the Three Seas Initiative.
So, first of all, is the Three Seas Initiative a grouping of nations that were the orphans of the Great Ocean Discoveries, the World Ocean Discoveries, and that were simply omitted in this great pursuit of wealth and power stemming from the connectivity with the world ocean, which the Western Europeans enjoyed?
Some in the West claim that this is exactly so. Is it maybe so that it’s a group of countries which emerged after the First World War, where the great empires collapsed? The Habsburg Empire, The Hohenzollern German Empire and the Russian Empire. They all collapsed, and suddenly multiple nations emerged.
The politicians from those empires, especially the Russians and Germans, used to be very sceptical about the future of those nations on the international arena. Some of them even called them the bastards of the Versailles Treaty, you know, seasonal states or even worse sometimes. But there were even remarkable American strategists like George Kennan, who I think was mentioned today, at least once. This at least was what it seemed to me.
He was not very happy when he was describing the imbalances on the international arena following the First World War, calling all those countries the remnants of mostly the Habsburg Empire.
So, as you can see the cycle of history sometimes repeats itself in a very peculiar way, because all this grouping of nations creates a disruption among those who were running the world for the last 200 years. People don’t like changes. On this historic note, I’ll add one more thing: following the Second World War, most of these countries that are within the Three Seas Initiative, were more or less within the sort of the tender touch of the Soviet Continental Empire. With of course all of the formalities in place that their national flags existed, the capitals existed, the governments existed, but foreign policy didn’t exist, maybe with the exception of Yugoslavia.
So this is a grouping of countries, that the great powers of the world that we know, are not used to seeing, knowing and understanding. And this is the impediment number one, that will have to be overcome before we reach 2050.
The consequence of everything I just said is the fact, that because all of those countries, more or less were not running their own policy for the last 200 years, which means that, roughly speaking, they didn’t decide about their own development, connectivity, how they build roads or highways, or ports, but external empires were making those decisions, so connectivity sucks within the Three Seas. There is a huge gap – or let’s put it this way – geopoliticians like to say: imbalance. There is a huge imbalance between Western Europe and the Three Seas group.
One could even argue that this imbalance also exists between the Russian Empire and this grouping, because the Russian Empire, also being excluded from the spoils of the Great World Ocean Revolution, but the Tsars ruled in that country and then the communists as well, and they were trying to modernise – this way or another – by having a centralised power, which we didn’t have for the reasons that I outlined before.
So, what is the future now? We all thought that the future would only be bright. We all entered the European Union, most of us entered NATO, and the future was supposed to be beautiful and sunny. Suddenly, with the great power competition back in town between the U.S. and China, with some role played by Russia, maybe some role played by Europe, or whatever we call Europe, it again turns out that this part of the world might be a battlefield of the influences of empires, depending on how we play the game.
Five years ago, when some people in Poland realized that this was coming, we thought that – okay, we need to play the game well, let’s read Halford Mackinder again, because Mackinder, if he would have been alive today, would have been very happy to see the Three Seas Initiative in the making.
I also think, that theoretically speaking, on the level of support, the sea powers of this world – The United Kingdom and the United States, are supporting the Three Seas Initiative, because this is a very useful and handy instrument of influencing the balance of power in Europe, in case there is some favourable consolidation of the European peninsula against the interests of the sea-powers. So, we were thinking about how to use it, how to use this mental map? You know, to modernise the country, to create this sort of power to move forward.
We were also thinking about which arguments to use to explain that there needs to be a Three Seas Initiative, because there is another phenomenon happening in Europe, which is sort of natural, but human made.
The German economy is a monster. They are so great and competent in what they do, just like Amazon in the United States now. That they tend to sort of devour and influence the neighbourhood.
And it happens because they are so proficient in what they’re doing. They create the supply chains, value chains, division of labour, all in line with the interests of the German economy.
How it is connected via infrastructure, highly influences the yields, you know, the division of profits of labour and so on, without the need to go into further details, I hope you all understand what I mean.
So, at that time, five years ago we were thinking on how to sort of create a new energy, new momentum, to try to divert from this one-way ticket. How to create connectivity between north and south, how to bundle up with the American interest, how to influence the European peninsula, how to create, you know, from this, how to use all those phenomena to create something new called the Three Seas Initiative.
There was a third factor that seemed to be important five or six years ago and it remains so, but I see it from a different perspective now. China, the rise of China and the Belt and Road Initiative.
We still need to remember what Mackinder was saying about connectivity across the landmasses of Eurasia.
Without going into details, maybe during the Q&A session you’ll have such questions, we were taking a look at the map and we were seeing, that if China wanted to connect to Europe and connect both ends of Eurasia, the most productive lands of Eurasia being Europe and China, the roads pass through the Three Seas Initiative and then in particular through Poland and Romania. This is geography. And how can we leverage this situation to sort of enhance our position within the current structure of international affairs?
We wanted to do all this! At that time, we were thinking that we could create a golden solution.
The last question. But still it was not perfect, because if you’re thinking about the Grand Strategy of Poland, you need to remember about Ukraine and Belarus.
Our buffer zone, our brethren in the East, that either grant us safety, or they don’t exist. Actually, you cannot develop anything because Russia becomes a party of the great power system in Europe, and it influences the balance in Europe and your agenda is gone – and this is what is happening now by the way.
So, we wanted to do all this at once and Three Seas was in accordance with this sort of thinking. That wasn’t in line with our ancient geopolitical thought, especially the one designed by Tadeusz Romer more than 100 years ago.
But moving with the signs, right now, today, we are in the situation where there is a great power competition in Eurasia; everybody understands what the rise of China means now.
There is a great competition over connectivity; there is a full understanding today now, which was not clear 5 years ago, what connectivity means for the division of labour and value chains all across Eurasia and around Eurasia.
There is an enhanced sensitivity of old players, including Western Europeans, which don’t like the Three Seas Initiative too much, although they don’t like to say it openly, because nobody wants a change to the balance of power and the Three Seas Initiative might change the balance of power.
That’s why all those tensions that we can see today… I was thinking, and we were thinking 5 years ago – that the Three Seas Initiative would be a perfect vehicle for U.S. soft power projection – energy, money, technology.
What a brilliant idea it would have been if the Americans had really paid this money and had contributed, but they didn’t do it to the extent it was required to really move the project forward before the great power competition in Eurasia really launched.
Now, it’s very difficult. Now there’s this feeling that the future of the Three Seas Initiative, especially in reference to what Germany thinks about it, what the German role in it would be, so questions abound.
Today there are even more questions than they were five years ago. It’s difficult to talk about the conditions for success in 2050, so let me sum up before I move to the Q&A session, which I promised to the organizers, by saying the following: the perfect scenario for my country and I hope the neighbouring countries.
The United States is back for real, not for empty talk, and contributes with money and technology to the Three Seas. Europeans understand that Europe has to consolidate and to create a new balance. Technology and infrastructure is the name of the game, especially when you are confronting China and that is coming.
You need to create a strong belt of countries that are not periferia to the core in order to be successful, because Europe is not an island.
And last but not least for me as a Pole: for the Three Seas to succeed, Russia must be out of the balancing system of Europe, because the primary objective of Russian Grand Strategy since Peter the Great, has been to enter the European balancing system and in order to balance the system and to reap modernisation, it has to create a situation in which all of those countries in Central and Eastern Europe are only a belt of stability, and not necessarily development.
So, this is the reality that, in my personal opinion, we are facing and we will see whether we will live up to understanding and to face this challenge properly. Thank you.