The Geopolitical Challenges & Opportunities Of Poland’s Three Seas Initiative
By Andrew Korybko
Observers should continue paying close attention to Poland and the 3SI that it hopes to continue leading. This collection of countries has impressive potential even if it could be manipulated for regionally divisive ends. It deserves to be taken seriously and not dismissed.
Are The Three Seas Rising Or Receding?
Poland has been pushing the “Three Seas Initiative” (3SI) in recent years as a means to revive its interwar “Intermarium” geopolitical project in modern conditions. This platform aims to integrate Central & Eastern Europe (CEE), including the former Soviet Republics of Belarus and Ukraine, into Poland’s “sphere of influence”. The 3SI received plenty of support from the former Trump Administration which saw it as a convenient wedge between Germany and Russia for dividing and ruling the strategic space between them. The Biden Administration seems to still support this vision in principle, albeit in a modified condition whereby it no longer serves as a vehicle for spreading conservative-nationalist views like Poland’s ruling Law & Justice party (PiS according to its Polish abbreviation) wants, but to reinforce the German-led liberal-globalist order in Europe.
Challenge 1: The Joint US-German Hybrid War On Poland
The 3SI has several challenges and opportunities that will be touched upon in this analysis. Beginning with the first, the most prominent is the joint US-German Hybrid War on Poland which intends to overthrow PiS for ideological reasons through either a Color Revolution or by manipulating the democratic process ahead of future elections in order to ensure the German-backed opposition’s victory. The Biden Administration still supports Poland on the military front, but is politically against its ruling party and is vehemently against PiS’ judicial and media reforms. The US’ waiving of most Nord Stream II sanctions earlier this year was proof that the country was playing political hardball with Poland and advancing a key element of the former Trump Administration’s vision by pragmatically engaging with Russia at other countries’ perceived expense.
Challenge 2: The Failed Joint US-Polish Hybrid War On Belarus
The second challenge to the 3SI is the failed joint US-Polish Hybrid War on Belarus. Instead of toppling President Lukashenko, who had actually been moving westward at an unprecedented pace prior to summer 2020’s elections, it counterproductively (from their perspective) served to push him closer to Russia than ever before. The domestic unrest in that country has mostly been contained and there presently exists close to no realistic scenario in which the Belarusian leader is overthrown. Rather, some observations point to a so-called “phased leadership transition” across an indeterminate amount of time that’s expected to retain state stability and continuity of policy upon its eventual completion. For all intents and purposes, it can therefore be said that this 3SI plot failed and reduced the prospects of that platform incorporating Belarus anytime soon.
Challenge 3: Ukraine’s Continued Instability & Dysfunction
The next challenge concerns Ukraine, which remains an unstable and dysfunctional state. Just like Poland, its interests as that country’s puppet leadership understands them to be are also being compromised through the Biden Administration’s incipiently pragmatic engagement with Russia. While post-Maidan Ukraine veritably serves as a buffer of sorts for keeping Russian influence away from Poland’s southeastern border, it cannot function as any meaningful economic or political asset to the 3SI. Its only purpose is as a military proxy for provoking the Eurasian Great Power at “convenient” times, but even that role might potentially fade pending the progress that the Biden Administration makes on responsibly regulating the US’ geopolitical competition with Russia in this part of Eurasia.
Challenge 4: Hungary’s Upcoming Elections
The fourth challenge is the difficulty that Poland’s ideological ally Hungary might have in retaining its incumbent government following next year’s elections. The famous conservative-nationalist Victor Orban is under increasing pressure from the liberal-globalist opposition backed by the US, Germany, and George Soros. There’s a chance that he might be politically toppled if they can successfully exploit domestic controversies to that end. It’s too early to tell whether that scenario will unfold, but it also still can’t be comfortably discounted either. Hungary’s present leadership is symbolic in that it was the first real conservative-nationalist one in this part of Europe. It also inspired PiS’ grey cardinal Jaroslaw Kaczynski and is regarded as Poland’s closest ally on the continent. Regime change there would deal a heavy blow to the 3SI’s regional socio-political agenda.
Challenge 5: The 3SI’s Disproportionate Dependence On Germany & The EU
Finally, the last major challenge to the 3Si is its members’ disproportionate economic dependence on Germany and the EU. They simply cannot achieve anything close to partially independent economies due to the legacy of the past three decades whereby their leaders and business community practically sold themselves to the bloc and its de facto leader. This means that the 3SI will never attain the full degree of sovereignty that its members aspire for, which will result in lingering German and EU influence. Moreover, practically all countries in this space are also NATO members which hamstrings their foreign policy vis-a-vis Russia and increasingly China as well. The best that the 3SI can therefore hope to achieve is comparatively more policymaking flexibility when it comes to domestic socio-political and legal issues.
Opportunity 1: Enduring Geostrategic Importance For America
Moving along to the 3SI’s opportunities, the aforesaid NATO vulnerability can also be seen as the opposite depending on the context and perspective. To explain, this platform’s geostrategic role makes it of immense interest to the alliance, which is itself dominated by the US. This means that America will not allow the project to fail even if it continues to politically meddle in it. Moreover, domestic political changes in the US such as a pendulum shift back towards the Republicans after the 2024 presidential election could result in a replication of the Trump-era policy of strongly supporting the 3SI. Nevertheless, it must be noted that the joint US-German Hybrid War on Poland actually started under the Trump Administration, though the former leader’s defenders also have a point in accusing ideologically hostile elements of the State Department for being behind it.
Opportunity 2: Genuine Ideological Appeal In Central & Eastern Europe
The second opportunity is that PiS’ conservative-nationalist vision is truly an inspiration for many CEE people. The newly established Collegium Intermarium aims to spread these principles throughout the region, but this could of course all come crumbling down if the ruling party falls ahead of or after the next elections. Nevertheless, the point is that PiS’ present socio-political vision taps into previously ignored trends that are genuinely popular in the region. It has a distinctive appeal because it speaks to the aspirations of those people, even if some of them are “romantic” in the nationalist sense and might not be politically realistic when it comes to creating a largely independent pole of influence in this part of the world. Be that as it may, it’s still a potent means of political mobilization in this part of Europe and shouldn’t be underestimated.
Opportunity 3: The Possibility Of A Polish-Led Pro-Reform Bloc In the EU
The third opportunity builds upon the second and concerns the establishment of a Polish-led pro-reform bloc of conservative-nationalist states in this part of Europe. This possibility is evidenced by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal recently ruling that domestic law trumps EU law. While liberal-globalists subsequently sought to fearmonger about a so-called “Polexit” in order to fan the flames of anti-PiS protests in the country so as to revive the floundering Color Revolution movement there, the fact of the matter is that the ruling party intends not to leave the EU, but to drastically reform it from within. This vision is of course dependent on PiS remaining in power and will be greatly influenced by the outcome of next year’s Hungarian elections, but it currently represents the top threat to the EU’s status quo, which explains why the bloc is so fiercely against Poland.
Opportunity 4: Great Power Partnerships With The US, UK, And Turkey
The next opportunity lies in the partnerships that Poland has formed with the US, UK, and Turkey. All three of these Great Powers have an interest in the 3SI’s rise, though each for their own reasons. As was earlier explained, the US hopes to either exploit it as a wedge for dividing and ruling the strategic space between Germany and Russia or for maximizing German influence in this part of the continent should PiS be replaced by German puppets. The UK sees this platform as a means for remaining relevant in continental affairs, especially if PiS remains in power and is looking for another patron to improve its balancing capabilities against Germany. When it comes to Turkey, this West Asian Great Power believes that the expansion of its influence (especially its military dimension) in the 3SI can grant it more leverage with its Russian “frenemy”.
Opportunity 5: The Possibility Of Geo-Economic Great Power Convergence
The final opportunity for the 3SI is that its geo-economic potential enables it to function as a convergence point between the US, China, Russia, Turkey, and Germany in the best-case but still far-off scenario. Even though it’s unlikely, it still deserves to be mentioned because CEE occupies an important place in Eurasia. The present political conditions, especially PiS’ Russophobic position and increasing US-influenced suspicion of China, make this impossible for the time being but a shift in perspective and/or circumstances might create some mutually beneficial opportunities at a further point in the future. All of those Great Powers and the smaller states between them would benefit from increased trade and investment in this historically neglected corner of the continent, and it’s this best-case scenario that could strategically redeem the 3SI in the Multipolar World Order.
The 3SI has more formidable challenges than opportunities nowadays and is arguably on the defensive due to its regional geopolitical failures in Belarus & Ukraine as well the domestically destabilizing effect that the joint US-German Hybrid War has had on this platform’s Polish leader. Even so, it would be premature to predict that it won’t be able to bounce back or reform in some way, even if the latter scenario results in it becoming a proxy network for entrenching Germany’s liberal-globalist influence in this part of the continent should Berlin succeed in replacing PiS with its proxies. Looking forward, observers should continue paying close attention to Poland and the 3SI that it hopes to continue leading. This collection of countries has impressive potential even if it could be manipulated for regionally divisive ends. It deserves to be taken seriously and not dismissed.