Leadership: The Polish Paradox


March 5, 2015:   It has now been a since Poland began its much criticized reform its command system.  That reform was supposed to improve civil control over the military, reduce the number of people consulted to get a decision approved, bring savings and reduce number of generals. In reality this reform did otherwise:  more people are involved in decisions. This has created chaos in the army and increase costs. There are now more senior commanders (“decision makers”) in the Polish Armed Forces.

The reforms eliminated military branch commands like Air force, Ground Forces, Navy and Special Forces and the senior officers in these branches have been reduced to advisory body. Replacing these commanders the Ministry of Defense created two new major commands:

-General Command as Force Provider has control over army units during peacetime (responsible for modernization, training, logistic, etc.). During war this command is supposed to function as support command for Supreme Commander.

- Operational Command has control over units during foreign operations but only over units assigned to Operational Command.

On paper it looks great because now Poland has two commands instead of four but as always the devil is in the details. Now each command has four Operational Centers (Operational Command) and four Inspectorates (General Command). They act as so called advisory bodies for each command and as a link between them and army units.

According to Polish constitution the president is head of the Armed Forces. In wartime the president delegates Supreme Command to the head of the armed forces. But after the reforms it is unclear who the president would delegate as Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces? Under the old system the military commander (the Chief of military Staff prepared) in peacetime was always assumed to be the Supreme Commander in wartime. Thus anyone who became Chief of Staff knew he had to prepare himself for wartime command and made it his business to monitor everything during peacetime. The reformed command structure is rather vague on who the wartime Supreme Commander would be. There has been discussion about this and apparently it has been agreed that the Operational Commander should be the designated wartime Supreme Commander. This decision is not final and the debate continues.

Meanwhile another of the reforms reduced the authority of the wartime Supreme Commander so that this command only includes units assigned to the Supreme Commander by the Minister of Defense. Yet many parliament members believe the Supreme Commander in wartime should have control over all the armed forces. So this important aspect of wartime command is still unclear, which is a dangerous situation if you are on the brink of war with Russia (which is what many Poles fear is a very real threat).

There are some even more bizarre aspects to the reforms. For example it appears that some key reformers (like Stanis&&22;aw Koziej) misunderstood why the various inspectorates are located before they were all moved to Warsaw so they would be close to each other. So now the navy commands are far from the sea, which is very unusual.  Moreover when all the major commands and inspectorates are concentrated in one place because that makes it easier for an enemy to wipe out most of the senior headquarters with one missile or air attack. Fortunately the Operational centers were allowed to stay outside Warsaw.

There are many problems connected with these reforms. The ancient principle of “Unity Of Command” has been violated and more people are involved in decision making which slows down decision making in a crisis situation. Even in peacetime this is a disaster because there are more senior people who must sign off on a large number of decisions. This is guaranteed to create gridlock in war (where it is fatal) and peace (where it is more expensive and drives good people out of the military).

Reform also created new competition conflicts. For example in each branch which command is superior: general commander, operational one or maybe chief of the general staff as defense minister advisor? The new reforms did not address this issue which still has to be answered to prevent wartime (and peacetime) chaos.

These reforms have caused havoc in the Polish armed forces. The chain of command is no longer clear for many commanders and there is increasing gridlock and squabbling over whose interpretation of who commands what will prevail. It should be also noted that this reform was really rushed into force by the politicians. A growing number of reform creators admit that these reforms, as enacted, are a failure. Many Poles are asking why system was changed in the first place when previous one worked. The most common answer was that reforms were needed but it is now clear that the reforms need reform more than the military.





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