Strengths and weaknesses of the Polish arms industry

Boguslaw Kowalski

National security is one of the most important tasks of the state. It is hard to realise it in separation from one's own military power and modern defence industry as infrastructure. The Polish commanders in the times of the Second Polish Republic, including Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski, were aware of that. Then the big national efforts led to the construction of the Central Industrial District, thanks to which restored Poland could base her sovereignty on her own productive potential. After the year 1989 the Polish arms industry has experienced difficulties. We can partly learn about the present possibilities of our arms industry from the report concerning the arms and military equipment export. Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs has released such a document for the first time in its history.

The arms trade as a tool of foreign politics

The characteristic thing is that the report on arms export was prepared by the ministry dealing with international affairs and not with economy. It results from the specific character of the military article trade. In short, the thing is that one must not sell arms to aggressive regimes that can evoke world conflicts, to terrorists and to one's enemies. Access to technology is essential, too. These things are under strict political control and Poland has numerous obligations resulting from international agreements and military alliances. The most important restrictions concern the nuclear non-proliferation and prohibition of production, stockpiling and use of chemical, biological and toxin weapons. Poland has signed the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons, which can be regarded as having especially non-humanitarian effects, and the anti-personnel mines convention. So far the Polish government has not published reports on the arms export. But it was formed to do it by the Council of the European Union that in December 2008 asked all the member states to publish annual reports on their arms exports. The first Polish report embraced the years 2008-2009 and was published at the end of last year. The purchase of weapons is under strict control of the state. It is realised by a suitable department in the Ministry of Economy, which gives special licences for all transactions. Before they are granted the Ministry asks for opinions in such institutions as the Internal Security Agency or the Intelligence Agency. Therefore, the arms export, besides the productive abilities of the Polish factories, must be consistent with the national security politics.

Small export value

The weakness of the Polish report is the data about the size of the export based on the licences granted and not on the realised transactions. Thus the numbers may be slightly higher and should be treated only as approximate. They show that since 2006 our export has grown systematically. In 2006, it was 275.4 million euros and in 2008, it was already 368.1 million euros. The rapid growth was in 2009 - 1.4 billion euros. But it was a single increase resulting from the big cooperative export of Polish firms collaborating with American and Canadian concerns, i.e., purchase of components for aircraft industry and land vehicles. Taking into account the data of 2008 as not confirming the long-term tendency one should state that arms export is only 0.4% of the whole Polish export. In this respect Poland goes poor in the background of such powers of arms industry as the USA or Russia as well as the EU countries. In 2008, we took only the 11th place. France is a definite leader, with its export worth of 10.6 billion euros; Germany - 5.8 billion euros and Italy - 5.7 billion euros. But we are also behind such countries as Holland and Belgium - each 1.3 billion euros, Austria - 946 million euros, Sweden - 877 million euros, and even Bulgaria - 475.5 million euros. The small economy of Finland - 337 million euros and the Czech Republic - 212.3 million euros follow hard on our heels.

What and to whom do we sell?

In 2008, we sold 21 PT-91 M tanks to Malaysia and one T-55 tank to Finland but only for museum purposes. We also sent 5 armoured vehicles Rosomak to this country, but they were to be modified and transferred to the United Arab Emirates. Iraq was a big customer as it bought 44 armoured combat vehicles Dzik. In 2009, we exported many tanks, again to Malaysia - 18 PT-91 M tanks and to the Czech Republic - 54 T-72 tanks. But unfortunately, they were for spare parts, which we should not especially boast of. Additionally, Poland sold 81 GROM missiles and four sets of POPRAD launchers to Indonesia. The situation with guns export looks slightly better. Here our main customer is the United States that bought 11,200 pistols 9 mm P-64, 7,000 battle rifles 7.62 AKMS and 1,150 light machine guns 7.62 mm DP 27, 156 heavy machine guns and 54 hand grenade launchers for their internal market in the year 2008. We sold over 10,000 guns of these types to this market in 2009. Considerable amounts of battle rifles were also sold to Great Britain, Israel, Austria, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Chad. This analysis shows that the Polish exporters do not enter new markets. And the traditional ones are shrinking slowly. After the contract concerning tanks to Malaysia was completed our presence in South-East Asia is brought into question, especially that for several years we have not sent anything to our biggest partner in Asia - India. The report also points to our tiny export to the EU countries, which undoubtedly raises questions about the effectiveness of the Polish government's efforts in this forum. The picture the report depicts is that the big time of the Polish arms industry is over. But there is still some potential, which having the governments' wise support, could help us return to that time.

* * *

Boguslaw Kowalski
Publicist and politician, specialising in economic politics, deputy minister of transport in the years 2006-2007, currently an MP.

"Niedziela" 32/2011

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: