President Lech Kaczynski opposes Prime Minister Donald Tusk?s plan to end the military draft in 2009, saying conscription should continue through 2012.
Members of Kaczynski’s Law and Justice Party say Kaczynski and others object to Tusk?s plan for two reasons: It will be much costlier to field an all-volunteer military. And it will lead to a short-term drop in the strength of the military.
Tusk and other leaders of his Civic Platform Party argue that the Polish military?s mission has changed so much in the past decade that a full professionalization of the force should not be delayed. They also contend that level of training and modern equipment are more important than numbers right now.
The Polish military has increasingly taken on overseas peacekeeping or anti-terrorism combat roles in recent years, including in Afghanistan, Iraq, Chad and Congo.
A little more than half of today’s armed forces are professionals – 77,000 out of the over-all strength of 140,000. The other 63,000 are 19-year-old conscripts who serve for nine months each.
Tusk said in his inaugural speech that the government plans to reduce the number of Poles who are drafted in 2008 and end the draft in 2009.
Defence Minister Bogdan Klich says the Law and Justice Party’s timetable for professionalizing the military is too drawn-out. He said he will be offering bills to speed up the process in the next couple of months.
As president, Kaczynski can veto legislation. Overriding a veto requires the votes of three-fourths of the lower house.
The coalition that Tusk cobbled together between his Civic Platform Party, the largest in the lower house, and the Polish People?s Party doesn’t have the three-fourths majority needed.
To get the legislation enacted would require Tusk getting the support of the third-largest party in the lower house, the Left and Democrats. The Law and Justice Party is the second-largest.
Former Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski, a Law and Justice member, contends that it would be impossible to maintain high standards in the military if the draft were abolished in just two years.
He also noted that the switch to an all-volunteer force will be costly, with the government having to raise military pay substantially to attract recruits.
And he said the military would have the difficult job of recruiting 40,000 volunteers over the two years.
Wladyslaw Stasiak, who heads the team that gives Kaczynski advice on defense, said Tusk’s plan would mean such a rapid fall in the number of military personnel that it is unacceptable.
Aleksander Szczyglo, the defense minister in former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s cabinet, said the idea of ending the draft in 2009 is “unrealistic.”
Szczyglo’s plan was to decrease the number of conscripts each year while increasing the number of professionals so that by 2012 the ranks of the professionals would be at 110,000.