One of the fathers of geopolitics, British scholar Halford Mackinder, while completing his theory on the geographical pivot of history after the First World War, wrote: “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; who rules the World Island commands the world.”
The rivalry between great powers over control of the heart of Eurasia, Central and Eastern Europe, in the last few centuries has been so great that the statement that Poland has a weak geopolitical position is now a cliché. As a result, Poles have accepted a defeatist attitude that we lie between the hammer and the anvil.
We’ve become so used to these “obvious statements” that we easily forget that Poland was not always the victim of geopolitics. Our weakness or strength not only depends on the power of our neighbors but also on how Poland is governed and its strategy for the future. Proof that we don’t have to be a pawn in the hands of great powers can be found in the fact that we used to be a power ourselves.
In the 16th and early 17th century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was in its golden age. We were one of the largest and most powerful European countries, able to successfully defend against attacks by Swedes, Russians and Tatars.
If we were able to be an important country back then, why couldn’t it be so today as well?
While Poland currently isn’t a leading global or even European player, that does not mean that there is no room for optimism concerning the near future. Looking at what Poland has accomplished in just 30 years, we can be optimistic in forecasting successes for the coming three decades.
The last 30 years have not only seen positive changes on an economic level but also the reorientation of our security policy through joining NATO and the European Union. Poland’s growth in power can also be seen in the increasing importance of the Visegrad Four within the EU.
This leads us to the Three Seas Initiative, a project that unites 12 states lying between the Adriatic, Baltic and Black Seas. Its goal is to even out the differences in the standards of living between EU member states. It is a broad economic, infrastructure, energy and digital vision, which after its completion, will change the situation of our region and, therefore, the balance of power in the EU.
The Three Seas’ potential is proven by the fact that both China and the United States are competing for influence in the region. According to reports of the Polish Economic Institute, for China, the Three Seas is a “gateway to Europe for the Belt and Road Initiative,” while for the U.S., it is “a barrier to Russian and Chinese policy.”
Today, the U.S. is one of the Three Seas’ most important strategic partners. While American support is good, and we should strive for deeper relations with the United States, we must remember that on our own, individually, the Three Seas states would merely be “younger brothers” to the USA. But united together, we can talk as equals with them.
The Three Seas is often seen as a resurrection of the Intermarium project from the time of the Second Polish Republic. It was never fulfilled. Nevertheless, many fail to point out that the idea of uniting Central and Eastern Europe, based on a common foundation with Poland playing a critical role, reaches as far back as the Medieval period.
Although it sounds unbelievable, Poles today, along with our Three Seas allies, have a real chance to once again become the main host of Central Europe and, therefore, a power that matters.
While Poland’s position in the global world is not the best, we are facing a historic opportunity — one that has not existed for centuries. We can only hope that we do not waste this potential and that the successes of the last 20 years will pale in comparison with the upcoming decades.