- Title: POLAND: Poland reforms army,conscription but reforms may be costly
- Date: 11th September 2008
- Summary: REMBERTOW, POLAND (RECENT) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF RECRUIT IN TANK TURRET
- Embargoed: 26th September 2008 13:00
- Location: Poland
- Country: Poland
- Topics: Defence / Military
- Reuters ID: LVA31GKD7EBPTIHU6P6EI9BLA869
- Story Text: Poland creates professional army, opening more possibilities to send troops on missions abroad. But a smaller and more costly army may strain the military budget more than expected.
Poland's plans to scrap compulsory military service have delighted both young men seeking an army career, but some experts fret about the costs of the reform.
The government approved a bill last month thatconscription next year and envisages the creation of a fully professional army of 120,000, including 100,000 soldiers, by 2010. Parliament is expected to endorse the plan soon.
To take effect, it must then be signed by President Lech Kaczynski, a strong supporter of a modern, professional army.
Poland, NATO's largest ex-communist member state, has deployed some 3,000 soldiers on foreign missions in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Lebanon, Syria and Chad. Itits engagement in Iraq in October.
But with Poland's booming economy already suffering labour shortages in some sectors, some experts doubt that the revamped army will be able to lure enough skilled young men.
Private Adam Wilk, who volunteered into the professional army in August seems to prove these concerns wrong. "The career path is really broad, from a private to colonel and general." Wilk told Reuters.
"Being sent to mission, where you can test yourself, gain new experiences, learn languages and courses which may come in handy later in regular life after you leave the military." Wilk said.
The army's structural changes alone are estimated to cost up to 5 billion zloty ($2.10 billion) until 2010, and that excludes new equipment, apartments, training and promised higher wages.
The army's overall budget stands at around 25 billion zloty and the average mid-level salary is close to 3,000 zlotys ($1,290) with no side jobs allowed.
Some experts say the government has allowed too little time to implement the reform, though it is much needed to catch up with the standards of other European Union countries. According to security analysts Poland needs a professional army to enforce its position within NATO as a contributor of international efforts, rather than a country which aims to protect only its land borders.
"I would like to gain experience, a lot of experience, travel to a foreign mission because it is a great experience for a soldier, every soldier would like to go and test himself." says Wilks friend, private Pzajtis who also volunteered for service.
Security analyst and professor at the Warsaw University Roman Kuzniar says professional soldiers like Pzajtis who are willing to serve abroad will strengthen Poland's position in NATO.
"It's about a soldier who will be able to use more advanced and technologically complex equipment. A soldier who will agree to be sent not to defend the borders on the Bug or Odra rivers, so to say, where everybody - soldiers and civilians die fighting for the homeland, but somewhere in Afghanistan, for a meagre pay." Kuzniar says. "He will go there to stabilize the security situation because we think, the Polish government and other governments of democratic and NATO countries think the issue of our security is being decided over there. (The issue of) everybody's security - Poland's, the United Kingdom's, USA and Germany's." he adds.
Kuzniar stressed that Poland's active participation in international missions will prove valuable for guaranteeing long-term security of its borders.
"We have to join the dominant trend within the Northern Atlantic Treaty. If we don't want to be a peripheral country, and we cannot afford to do this considering our geo-political position, we have to have a military better than most of the countries in the alliance." Kuzniar says.
"This is not only because of our geo-strategic position, and our more or less substantial fears, but because of a need to keep our position within the Northern Atlantic Treaty, the readiness to send well-trained and well-equipped troops. All of this because when there will be a need for us to be reinforced, for our security to be strengthened in case of a crisis on our border, then our partners will have to provide assistance knowing that Poland is a worthy ally, that it is worth to invest in Poland's security."
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