The coronavirus pandemic has simply confirmed what everybody was theoretically aware about: effective functioning of this or other institution is not enough to deal with this crisis. Each of us is equally responsible for the safety of the entire community.
First, we see the sign: “The Police are warning – do not leave your valuable belongings in places open to easy view,” and below the image of a toilet paper roll behind the window of a parked car. This is only one of hundreds, if not thousands, mems popular all around the Internet after the coronavirus reached Poland. Such was the response of the Internet users to sudden emptying the store shelves out of the necessities. “True, some people on hearing the news about coronavirus disease spread became quite nervous, and went on to buy some food reserves, sometimes more than needed,” admits Ireneusz Siudem, PhD, social psychologist at the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University (UMCS) in Lublin.
Today, the food store shelves are mostly full as usual. People no longer panic, some of them is now active in different fields, such as charity and volunteer activity. Volunteers sew protective face masks, help their senior and lone neighbors, or control their neighborhoods to check if the quarantine is not being violated. The pandemic has also evoked the third type of reaction, probably most common. “A large amount of people simply put themselves on hold, observing the course of events. Their reactions to a great extend depend on what message they’re getting. That’s why, they need to be provided with credible and reliable information, but without any black scenarios,” says Siudem. The mentioned by the psychologist course of events from the beginning of March has moved at a dizzy speed. A general lockdown was introduced – closed schools, malls, community and culture centers, parks, playgrounds, sports fields; numerous bans and restrictions. Companies slowed down, hospitals were reorganized – some of them was transformed into infectious diseases hospitals. Finally, the army joining the action – both operational forces, and the TDF forces. Thousands of soldiers were engaged into, for instance, controlling partially closed borders, transport of medical and protective materials, helping the doctors or the nursing homes. They cooperate with the Police, Border Guard, local administrations. “The pandemic is a serious test for Polish state. The way we’re coping with the situation depends on the cooperation between many institutions, but also each and every Polish citizen,” reminds Col Dariusz Majchrzak, PhD, Deputy Rector for Military Affairs at the War Studies University (ASzWoj). “At this point, it’s too early for overall assessment of our activity and behavior in the time of pandemic. Obviously, coronavirus is yet another reason to start the discussion over the creation of a complex system for state defense against various threats – both military and non-military ones,” he adds. In other words: the concept of total defense.
Total defense, often called common or complex defense, assumes that everyone – with no exception – not only the army and paramilitary organizations, but also civil institutions, private-sector companies or common people must be engaged. One of the first to ever have mentioned such possibility was Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian military theorist living at the break of 18th and 19th century. A modern concept of common defense was however born in the 1950s and 1960s. “The concept was growing simultaneously in Switzerland and Scandinavian states, that is countries mostly neutral and wealthy, which never had been firmly anchored in any defense alliances, but were afraid of Soviet aggression,” explains Marcin A. Piotrowski, PhD, the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM). Later, the idea was seized on by Israel, Singapore and Taiwan – the concept was to be applied as the form of security against enemy plans of the coalitions of the Arab states and China. It was about discouraging any potential aggressor with the perspective of a long and hard war, and in case of attack – surviving until the help comes, if not military, than at least the one related to international pressure on enemy.
After the collapse of the USSR, some countries became departing from the old defense concepts. Such was the case in Norway or Sweden, which during the Cold War was considered one of the most militarized parts of the continent. However, this relaxation did not last long. Imperial ambitions of the Kremlin, Russian annexation of Crimea, war in eastern Ukraine and escalation of tensions in the Baltic region made the concept of total defense come back again. “A complex system was built in Estonia. Other Balkan states then followed. In addition, there were Sweden and Finland, which in fact had never really abandoned the concept of engaging entire society in state defense,” enumerates Piotr Szymański, Center of Eastern Studies in Warsaw.
Although the systems of individual states vary in details, they still have many tangent points. First, the above mentioned countries strengthen and reorganize their own armies. Sweden decided to remilitarize Gotland, and they reintroduced compulsory conscription. Lithuania did the same. In the states of Northern Europe, territorial defense plays a crucial role. During regularly organized trainings, the army cooperates closely with the police, fire department or local administrations. “Of great significance is also a cooperation of state with a private sector. In case of war or crisis, private businesses are obliged to made their business cars available for defense purposes or take over part of deliveries for the military.” Explains Szymański.
Other important element is collecting strategic reserve. “Finland developed quite an interesting system in this field. This country always has oil reserve, sufficient for satisfying the needs of the country for about 160 days. The EU directive obliges the member states for maintaining the oil reserve in the quantity needed for about 61 days of average daily use. Finland also stores food or medicines. Such obligation often rests with private businesses, but the entire reserve is managed by the National Emergency Supply Agency (NESA),” explains Szymański. All these is complemented with educating society. Sweden, for instance, has recently published a brochure, where Swedish citizens are informed about how to proceed in case of war or a serious crisis. The brochure advises what food reserve to keep in the house, where the nearest shelters and hospitals are, how to prepare for a power outage, or how to protect oneself from online fake news.
The Scandinavian or Baltic states have prepared their citizens most of all for the confrontation with the enemy who has military advantage – whether it’s a classic aggression, hybrid activity or cyberattacks. “Finnish authorities already several years ago defined one of the threats as the spread of infectious diseases,” admits Piotr Szymański. “Some time ago, the Finnish government ensured that it had prepared for the coronavirus attack since January. Worth noticing is the fact that in the course of pandemic, it changed its concept for fighting the COVID-19 disease. Initially, the government was prone to introduce solutions such as in Sweden. Most institutions worked normally, restrictions were rare, and authorities preferred focusing on addressing citizens to behave responsibly. At some point, this tactics was changed. Finnish government declared lockdown of Helsinki region with a total population of one-third of all Finnish citizens,” adds the expert. Estonia, in turn, introduced the state of emergency as early as on March 12, and appealed to their residents to be active. On this occasion, they organized an online hackathon – Hack the Crisis. In effect, several dozen tools were developed to help fighting the virus. Among the tools, there is an app for contacting medical doctors and volunteers or online questionnaire for infection risk assessment. The Estonian hackathon ultimately included 40 countries with 100,000 participants. At the same time, Politico.eu portal, assessing the level of coronavirus panic, awarded Estonia 3/10 points. Sweden also ranked low. This can possibly be a result of activities related to the development of total defense.
So far, it’s hard to say whether the states who like the concept managed better or worse with the virus compared with the rest of Europe. More visible can be the examples from Asia. Taiwan, for instance, was praised for its way of dealing with the virus. “This country learned a lot when fighting SARS epidemic several years ago. In effect, the Taiwan government established the Central Epidemic Command Center, which in the time of pandemic controls activities of various institutions – from the ministries to local administrations,” explains Col Majchrzak. Does that mean that the system of total defense is a good idea for Poland?
What Does Emergency Siren Says to Us?
“Total defense is not a standard solution for most countries. It must be strongly rooted in their experiences, culture, military and social potential. Such concepts are usually used in the countries threatened by undemocratic states, focused on their economic, technological, political and military expansion,” emphasizes MajGen Wiesław Kukuła, the Commander of Territorial Defense Forces. “In Poland, many elements of a total defense system are already working, and for that reason I think that building such a system wouldn’t be any great challenge, nor it would incur any significant expenses. In my opinion, the hardest would be to change the way of thinking, which is the condition to implement this model,” adds the General. Of similar opinion is Marcin A. Piotrowski, PhD: “Personally, I would opt for a continuation of these solutions that we had ready or close to ready before the pandemic broke out; and after it is fought off, I would consider drawing conclusions on a regular basis not only from our own problems, but also from the problems of other countries.”
Education is the key here. “Can you imagine that you’re at home, and suddenly you hear an emergency siren tone. What do you do? I suppose that – as most of the Poles – you wouldn’t even know what this tone means, not to say – how to behave on hearing it,” says Col Majchrzak. “People must be made aware that their security depends on us all, and they must be consistently taught what to do in such situations. Extremely important here is school. School students should know by heart all important emergency phone numbers and traffic rules, but also, for instance, know how to provide first help or how emergency services function and are organized,” he enumerates. According to him, the foundation of such a system already exists. Primary and high school students for some time have been participating in classes on security, which to some extent relate to the former civil defense training. “It would be good if the classes be also practical, if possible,” adds Col Majchrzak. To complete the above classes, some high schools provide education in the so-called “uniformed groups” and higher-education schools – memberships in Academic Legion, which assume training of student volunteers. “This system is good, and should be expanded,” he says.
According to Marcin A. Piotrowski, Polish authorities could – as they did in Sweden and Lithuania – prepare a brochure with instructions for each family. “Such brochure would include information on civil defense, crisis response, behavior during natural disasters or war. Pandemic experience and a sort of infodemic, which certainly goes with it, show how important a critical thinking is, independent of our intense emotions, plain stupidity or purposeful disinformation on social media,” emphasizes the PISM academic. In addition to educating, civil defense resources and mechanisms should be restored. According to experts, after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of Communism, civil defense has to a great extent been neglected. The infrastructure has also deteriorated, and this regards for instance the shelters for civilians.
“Certainly, we do have to end up with the eternal ill of our administration called by the clerks themselves »a ministerial Poland«,” says Marcin A. Piotrowski. The effort related to civil defense or fighting crisis requires cooperation of many institutions. On the one hand, they should be flexible, on the other – they should know the range of their competences and duties. “Let’s assume that our country is at the threshold of war. Before a regular army goes to action, some important tasks must be done by civil and uniformed services, local administration, as they know their terrain best. They are responsible for maintenance of a widely understood critical infrastructure – roads, water intakes, evacuation routes. After armed activity is launched, operational forces start their job. Still, someone must put out fires, fight crime, supply food to the locals,” explains Col Majchrzak. He adds: “It all seems obvious, but cooperation between the army and civil institutions in time of war threat is not always perfect. Sometimes what is needed is clear division of tasks. That’s the conclusions we have come up with after the exercises we organized for our students. There’s still a lot to do in the matter of cooperation.”
An important role in the common defense system is played by Territorial Defense Forces (TDF). “They help to counteract threats of the new type, and make the armed forces more civic, but most of all they are a certain kind of an integrator, a liaison between the army and civil environment,” enumerates MajGen Kukuła. Marcin A. Piotrowski, PhD, notices that from the beginning the TDF were developing close cooperation between their command and the Ministries of National Defense and Interior and Administration as well as between the individual TDF units and voivodship and local administrations. “This surely bore fruit in crisis. We should continue such directions of civil and military cooperation, incorporate our best practices, but not forget about the weaknesses and lacunas that we have encountered on the way,” emphasizes the expert.
Remember about the Army
The coronavirus pandemic has opened individual states to a brand new challenges. It has revealed, for instance, how important in total defense can be a factor of healthcare service. “We all agree to the fact that healthcare should be invested in. However, I wouldn’t like that to mean that all elements of our national security are subject to the so-called biodefense,” says Marcin A. Piotrowski. “It wouldn’t be good either if the war on virus dominated NATO’s defense planning. The pandemic cannot become for the North-Atlantic Alliance a signal to a total retreat of his members from the investments into deterrence and defense,” he adds. Effective army is also one of the pillars of the above-mentioned concept.
For the common defense system legal frames should also be created. “In Poland, we have the laws on crisis management, on common obligation of defense of the Republic of Poland, on the rights of the uniformed service, or regulating the nature of individual emergency rescue systems. However, these regulations must be systematized,” admits Col Majchrzak. A step ahead can be the project of the new law on protection of people and civil defense prepared by the Polish Ministry of Interior and Administration. This law is a starting point for a creation of a national training center for people protection or a central storehouse base.
According to MajGen Kukuła, reaching for the concept of common defense can be advantageous in many ways. “I once asked some Norwegian officer if he thought only rich states can afford to introduce this model. He said I asked the wrong question: the states are rich exactly because they once introduced such model.”
autor zdjęć: Bartek Syta / DWOT