Since 1989, Poland has sought to integrate with the West, forge new relations with the Soviet successor states to the east, and promote cooperation with neighboring states. The Kwasniewski administration has been strongly in favor of closer ties with the West, which it sees as a geopolitical imperative; yet it refuses to abandon its eastern neighbors. NATO formally invited Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to join the alliance in July 1997—they formally acceded in 1999—which extended U.S. security commitments to former Soviet states. The United States pushed hardest for the three states' membership. This expansion was opposed by Russia. Poland has put pressure on NATO to admit the Baltic states to the alliance.
In June 2001, U.S. president George W. Bush visited Warsaw, and Kwasniewski expressed support for his missile-defense proposal, which he called "a new security system that will be good for all of us, not just NATO countries, but Russia and China as well."
Kwasniewski would also like to forge good relations with Russia. In a visit to Poland in October 2001, Russian president Vladimir Putin described Poland's economic development since the collapse of communism as a "model" for the Russian economy.
On 10 July 2001, Kwasniewski made a dramatic gesture by apologizing for the 10 July 1941 massacre of 1,600 Jews in the village of Jedwabne in northeast Poland, by Poles who beat, stabbed, and burned alive their fellow villagers. Many Poles protested the apology (an estimated 48%), saying it was the Germans who murdered the Jews in Jedwabne. While it has been accepted that Nazi soldiers were in the village and encouraged the massacre, it was the townspeople who planned it and carried it out. Before World War II, Poland was home to over 3 million Jews, the largest population outside the United States.
In the wake of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Kwasniewski organized a summit of 17 central and eastern European countries to plan cooperation on tightening border clearance, cracking down on money laundering and drug trafficking, and to improve cooperation of their intelligence, customs, and police services.
Poland's strong relationship with the United States was further augmented in the 2002–03 political crisis regarding Iraq. Kwasniewski committed 200 troops to the United States and British-led war in Iraq, which began on 19 March 2003, and U.S. president Bush labeled Poland one of the "coalition of the willing." The initial Polish units to be sent were anti-chemical war specialists. Approximately 60% of Poles were opposed to the war, but the government maintained that Polish troops would have only a limited and supportive role in the conflict. Although Kwasniewski in supporting the U.S. in its determined stance against the Saddam Hussein regime alienated France and Germany, he stressed the importance of strong trans-Atlantic ties. On 3 May 2003, President Bush announced Poland would take control of one of Iraq's three postwar zones, supervising military and humanitarian relief; the other two are to be controlled by the United States and the United Kingdom. That day, during a meeting of EU foreign ministers, a coalition of 10 nations—the United States, the United Kingdom, Poland, Ukraine, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, and Albania—indicated they were preparing to send troops to Iraq to form an international stabilization force. Poland has agreed to commit 1,500 troops to the force.