by Klara Z. Wiśniewska, National Office Administrator
This past spring Poland declared that it wants a permanent U.S. military presence on its soil. (Currently, the United States permanently rotates troops through Poland to observe the conditions of the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997). In September 2018, this initiative gathered momentum when Poland’s President Andrzej Duda met with President Donald Trump to discuss the permanent stationing of US troops in Poland. During this meeting, President Duda offered $2 billion in financial backing for building a military base, and proposed to call it “Fort Trump”. In the wake of Kremlin revanchism, which involved the annexation of Crimea, four years ago, and support of pro-Moscow armed forces in Ukraine’s Donbass region, Poland’s “Fort Trump” demarche clearly shows Warsaw wants to deter Russian aggression by building a stronger security relationship with the United States.
A document released by the Polish defense ministry stated that there is a “clear and present need for permanent U.S. armored division deployed in Poland”. The government proposal explains that the “clear and present need” was spurred by Kremlin’s aggressive attitude and actions over the course of the past several years. It states, “Establishing such a force is necessary to present an unequivocal challenge and deterrence to Russia’s increasingly emboldened and dangerous posture that threatens Europe”.
An increased American permanent presence in Poland will give the United States the strategic flexibility it needs to confront threats posed by the Kremlin that the Trump administration views as a threat to the stability of the United States and the rest world, as outlined in the Trump Administration’s 2017 National Security Strategy. These threats include effective deployment of hybrid warfare, cyber-attacks on friendly foreign governments’ infrastructure, and fueling separatists attempts to break-up friendly countries.
Polish public opinion supports stationing U.S. defense forces in Poland as a strong deterrent against Russia. A public opinion survey made by Kantar Polska showed that fifty-five percent of respondents are in favor of a permanent U.S. military base in Poland. Twenty-seven percent opposed the plan, and 18 percent were undecided. The study was based on a representative sample of 1,067 adult respondents using the computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) method.
Presence of U.S. troops in Poland would credibly demonstrate to the Kremlin that the U.S. has combat capability in the northern tier of East Central Europe. It would also better signal long-term commitment than a permanent rotational presence, which can be easier to revoke. Last but not least, it would show that Washington, which is regarded as a guarantor of security, is truly committed to helping its allies. A militarily strong and truly sovereign Poland protects United States national security interests, and promotes the American values of political freedom and free enterprise in East Central Europe.
It is highly likely that the presence of U.S. defense forces in Poland will irritate Moscow. First, even though the Kremlin itself has been perpetrating grave violations of international law, it will consider this move as a breach of the 1997 NATO Russia Founding Act, which prohibits NATO from permanently basing armed forces in Eastern Europe. Second, without doubt the Kremlin will view as a provocation the decision to establish permanent NATO bases. In 2017, when more than 3,000 Armoured Brigade soldiers were deployed in Poland, a spokesman for Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, stated that this is a threat to Russia’s interest and security. The deployment of these forces was a response to Russia’s Zapad war game of 2017. The game played was NATO’s invasion of Belarus. NATO never had a plan to invade Belarus. Zapad 2017 clearly was a provocation by the Kremlin.
Critics of permanent military presence of U.S. troops in Poland, such as Michael Koffman, argue that “there is no massive expansion of Russia’s military footprint in Kaliningrad or St. Petersburg,” and that there is ““no cause for urgency to add forces to Eastern Europe.” Kofman is mistaken because threat assessments should be based on more factors than the size of foreign country’s military forces at a border. Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are justified in being cautious about Kremlin’s long-term ambitions. Kaliningrad Oblast, Russian federal subject, which borders Poland and Lithuania, has been extensively militarized in recent years, reportedly with the purpose of updating outdated armaments. Russia’s aggressive posture, as evidenced by its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, disinformation campaigns, waging war in eastern Ukraine through proxies, and Baltic airspace violations over the last several years does not indicate good will on its part.
In August, President Duda said that if economic developments allow, he wants Poland to increase its defense spending to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2024 above the current 2 percent target set by NATO, which Poland has already met.
In September, a senior Polish parliamentarian, Deputy Speaker of the Senate Adam Bielan said that a decision on a possible new permanent US troop presence in Poland was likely to be made in 2019.
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