To successfully protect Polish territory against aerial attacks from the east, a forward-deployed, anti-access area denial NATO air defense system is needed in the Ukrainian skies.

Israel’s spectacular repellence of Iran’s large-scale missile and drone attack shows just how effective a well-organized modern air defense system can be. It confirms the strategic importance of anti-missile and anti-drone systems for national security under modern conditions. It also shows how critical it is that we continue investing in this specific area when developing our own army.

Also worthy of mention is the fact that most of Iran's missiles and drones have already been shot down on strategic approaches to Israel, and not over its territory per se. We hear that this was greatly facilitated by Western coalition forces operating in Iraq and Syria, which are cooperating with the Israeli army. However, regardless of the specific configuration of the defense system, an air defense based on the principle of anticipation, and not just a mere response in the area of potential targets, is one of the basic requirements for its effectiveness. Whenever and wherever it can be organized in such a way, it should be.

A forward-deployed air defense system for NATO

This observation lends itself to crucial questions about the organization of the defense of the Polish airspace, as well as the airspace of our allies, exposed to potential threats in the context of the ongoing war in Ukraine. Russia’s massive air strikes against Ukraine, including attacks on targets right on our border, are systematically forcing the costly deployment of Polish and allied air defense systems, including the deployment of on-call fighter jets to patrol our skies. We all remember the recent missile incidents in the Polish airspace. More of them can surely be expected, and they could lead to much more serious consequences than the previous ones. Not to mention the fact that both the attacks on Ukraine and the provocations in our own airspace serve as a way for the Russians to test the Polish and allied air defense system, as well as to fuel the anxiety of our public opinion and fill it with doubt in the effectiveness of this system.

Forward-deployed defense against both potential and real aerial threats (aircraft, missiles, and drones) is the quintessential model for the organization of so-called regions, areas, and anti-access zones, which have been the topic of much discussion in recent years regarding conditions and methods of modern warfare in a missile and drone-saturated combat environment. They are planned and organized for wartime and launched in the face of a threat on approaches to one's own territory (theater of war, operational region) to prevent, or at least significantly impede, the enemy's access to forces deployed there, important facilities, strategic resources, large agglomerations, etc. I have no doubt that plans for this type of forward-deployed, anti-access air defense are also considered in NATO, and thus the Polish armed forces.

However, real threats related to the ongoing war in Ukraine raise the question of whether we, as NATO allies, should not deploy this type of forward area, anti-access air defense in front of the Ukrainian border as part of an allied crisis-defense response against the threat of Russian missiles and drones operating near NATO's borders. This is particularly justified in relation to dual-purpose missiles capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads. Indeed, the consequences of an accidental or intentional use of such missiles over our territory would be enormous. Especially since we have already practically dealt with such incidents. It is better not to wait for another one and pre-emptively eliminate them in the forward-deployed anti-access zone. This is the proposal I have been making since the beginning of the war.

Of course, the launch of such a zone would have to be done in consultation with Ukraine. It should also be pre-emptively announced to Russia as an announcement of the decision that will be made if Russia does not stop directing its long-range missiles, which are dangerous to NATO, toward our borders.

NATO has the necessary military capabilities to establish such a zone: both detection, tracking, and fire capabilities, in the form of air and ground-based anti-missile assets, with the range to organize an advanced zone with forces operating from its own territory, without deploying them on the territory of Ukraine.

Let’s not be intimidated by Putin’s threats

The establishment of such a zone would undoubtedly strengthen the protection of NATO territory against threats from Russian missiles operating near allied borders. However, the operational and strategic expediency of such a decision clashes with the political barrier expressed in statements such as: "Let's not irritate Russia, let's not provoke Putin, let's not give him an excuse".

I think that Russia’s ever-escalating attacks against Ukraine show that such arguments should have been put aside a long time ago. Putin does not need any objective reasons, provocations, pretexts, or anything else on our part. If need be, he can make them up himself... and lie to the entire world without even blinking an eye.

Therefore, in all decisions regarding our security, I believe that we should be guided by our own strategic rationale, needs and operational capabilities, not Putin's.


Stanisław Koziej is a Polish brigadier general and professor of military science. He served as the Head of Poland’s National Security Bureau (2010 – 2015) and Deputy Minister of National Defense (2005-2006).


Translated by Jakub Kibitlewski


This article was written in the framework of The Eastern Frontier Initiative (TEFI) project. TEFI is a collaboration of independent publishers from Central and Eastern Europe, to foster common thinking and cooperation on European security issues in the region. The project aims to promote knowledge sharing in the European press and contribute to a more resilient European democracy.

Members of the consortium are 444 (Hungary), Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland), SME (Slovakia), PressOne (Romania), and Bellingcat (The Netherlands).

The TEFI project is co-financed by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.