On Point: Poland's Eastern Shield: Maginot? Or Not? Part 1

by Austin Bay
May 29, 2024

On May 27, Poland confirmed it will fortify 700 kilometers of its eastern border.

The loud whispers Poland would dig in to defend itself -- huge forts on the eastern front! -- began last year.

Fortifications? Hollywood minds think castles, moats, the Alamo, World War I trenches. Twenty-first-century internet video informed minds see trenches, barbed wire, mines, man-made obstacles hammered by drones -- Ukraine's current war.

The WWII-informed see France's Maginot Line: huge concrete bunkers with disappearing gun turrets serviced by underground railroads.

Actually, WW2 minds have relevant 21st-century knowledge. The Maginot Line, named for Andre Maginot (three-time French minister of war), is a magnificent relic that has become a pop cliche for spending billions to create a false sense of security that operationally creative German military minds exploited by maneuver warfare.

Known as Blitzkrieg, German panzers and motorized infantry went through the Ardennes Forest and around the Maginot. Airborne forces went over the bunkers.

France fell. Fixed defenses got a bad name.

Time marches. May 2024: Poland's Eastern Shield will be a joint defense project involving its Baltic NATO allies, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Sweden and Finland, other allies on NATO's eastern flank, are also involved.

Sweden promoting fortifications is no surprise. In 2015, long before Sweden joined NATO, Sweden announced it would reinforce its Gotland Island garrison and -- quoting from a 2015 announcement -- build more fortifications on the strategic island.

Why? Russia's 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea, followed by the "hybrid war" invasion of eastern Ukraine, convinced Sweden it is a target. Control Gotland and you control the eastern Baltic, including sea traffic to Vlad Putin's home turf, St. Petersburg.

Fact: Russia covets Gotland.

Nine years later, Poland decides concrete, barbed wire and fixed defenses have a place in the 21st century.

Here's the why: Russia's February 2022 attempt to blitzkrieg Ukraine stalled then utterly failed. Yes, Ukraine took advantage of Russian military ineptitude and Moscow's self-deluding dictatorship. But primarily credit Ukrainian valor, tactical military creativity by Ukrainian soldiers and bold leadership in Kyiv.

Russian anticipated instant air supremacy and decisive maneuver warfare -- blitzkrieg in WWII terms.

Didn't happen. Ukrainian air defenses all but drove Russian manned aircraft from the skies. Invading Russian tank and infantry units lacked air support -- including scout helicopters. Ukrainian infantry armed with anti-tank missiles and drones stopped Russia's armored columns, then annihilated them.

A win for the defense.

In 2023, Ukraine attempted a "combined arms" counter-offensive. Ukrainian tank and armored infantry attacked Russian defenses -- in-depth trench systems with bunkers, minefields and anti-vehicle obstacles supported by heavy artillery, rocket launchers and drone swarms.

By the way, Ukraine's attack lacked decisive airpower, so the offensive was "combined arms minus." Remember, for a year and a half the Biden administration denied Ukraine F-16s. The F-16s won't arrive until late 2024.

Without rapid responsive close air support (bombs supporting ground troops) -- which Germany had in 1940 and the Western allies had in 1944 -- Ukraine's 2023 offensive died in Russia's prepared defenses.

Summer 2024: The Putin-Ukraine War is sort of dug-in attrition horror. Ukraine slowly retreats as Russia takes WWI-level artillery and machine gun casualties for each and every meter/yard/grave.

The Putin-Ukraine War has become a 21st-century WWI of artillery, mines, grenades and drone-delivered munitions -- fought from trench to trench.

Yes, Russia has nuclear weapons. Several NATO nations have nukes -- America, Britain and France. Germany, Sweden, Finland, heck, Italy and Turkey could in a few weeks. Even Putin knows that.

Nukes can destroy fixed, static defense systems.

But even Putin knows if you use a nuke on a NATO nation, you risk getting nuked.

On May 27, Polish Defense Minister Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz told reporters, "The goal of the (Eastern) shield is to protect the territory of Poland, hamper the mobility of our adversary's troops while making such mobility easier for our own troops and to protect civilians."

Buy time for what?

Reinforcement from the West? Attacking Poland would trigger war with NATO -- NATO's Article 5 treaty shield, all for one and one for all.

The Eastern Shield tells us Poland sees itself as the next Ukraine -- or Europe's Taiwan.

Next week: Eastern Shield in Action.

Read Austin Bay's Latest Book

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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