Actually, there is nothing new about Polish President Andrzej Duda urging President Donald Trump during a joint news conference on Sept. 18 to deploy more American troops and military equipment in Poland, suggesting that the US establish a permanent military base to be named “Fort Trump.”
According to Politico, “This proposal outlines the clear and present need for a permanent US armored division deployed in Poland, Poland’s commitment to provide significant support that may reach $1.5-2 billion by establishing joint military installations and provide for more flexible movement of US forces.”
Poland has been pushing for a larger US permanent presence for a long time. The suggestion of a base was made in late May by the Defense Ministry. The US didn’t take it too seriously until President Duda’s visit to Washington and his talks with President Trump. It’s a change of attitude that’s truly new, because this time the US president said he was open to the idea, on the condition that Poland pay — something it is obviously willing to do.
Warsaw has already offered more than $2 billion to set up a base on Polish soil. Donald Trump promised that the offer was being taken “very seriously.” He said Washington is “in discussions with numerous countries” about paying for American military bases. In his words, “We’re looking at that more and more from the standpoint of defending really wealthy countries.”
This is the first time the issue has been raised during a summit and actually publicly approved by the US administration, at a time when President Trump is ordering a review of the costs of basing US troops in Germany. He has complained about the expense of the American military presence in Germany and South Korea.
The US administration appreciates Poland’s contributions of over 2% to NATO, its decision to purchase American Patriot air-defense systems, and its staunch opposition to the Russian-European Nord Stream 2 undersea gas pipeline.
In a clearly pointed gesture, Moscow’s expected reaction was not mentioned, but the presidents agreed that Russia was “aggressive.” “Russia has acted aggressively,” the US president said at the news conference, adding, “They respect force, they respect strength, as anyone does.”
Nor was NATO mentioned, thus making this a bilateral deal and chipping away at the unity of the alliance. The 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act states that “in the current and foreseeable security environment,” NATO would not seek “additional permanent stationing of substantial ground combat forces” inside nations close to Russia. Previously the forces had been deployed on a rotational basis. The establishment of a permanent American base in Poland would be the kiss of death for that act, as well as for other provisions that are still preventing the already tense situation in Europe from deteriorating further. Nothing was said about it during the US-Polish summit.
A full, armored division is a huge force. Setting one up in Poland would mean a return to the darkest days of the Cold War. It would require reliable protection from the air. Additional Air Force units and missile-defense systems could be stationed in Poland and other countries, such as the Baltic states, which are also asking for more American military deployments on their soil. The foreign ministers of the Baltic states visited Washington in May to ask for a larger military presence within their borders.
While anti-US sentiments are growing stronger in Europe, Poland and the Baltic states are obviously united by their anti-Russian, pro-US stand. At the same time, the UK is boosting its defense cooperation with Poland through the Quadriga talks. In December 2017, those parties signed the Treaty on Defense and Security Cooperation. The UK-Poland Defense Action Plan is in the works and will be signed soon. The UK is to leave the EU in March, and the EU-Poland rift is growing, making Polexit a possibility. Those two have a lot in common.
With NATO and the EU teetering on the brink, a new military alliance may emerge at a time when the bonds between Europe and North America are under strain. The planned US deployment in Poland is just part of the process. Meanwhile, Sweden and Finland, non-NATO countries, are forming an alliance of their own with the United States.
The US sees Warsaw’s suggestion of a military base as a purely commercial enterprise. Turning a profit is a good thing, but with the NATO-Russia Founding Act no longer in effect, this will trigger an unfettered arms race. Evidently not all European states will support this policy. Unlike the days of the Cold War, the Western camp is divided into groups pursuing different interests and goals.
The problems of migrants and other divisive issues, added to an arms race and a military standoff with a stronger Russia, may be too heavy a load for it to bear. The West will split, with its unity undermined once and for all. That will happen at a time when a West vs. China confrontation is looming on the horizon, a US-Chinese trade war is already in progress, and military preparations are underway as tensions continue to grow in the South China Sea.
Getting paid for defense may look like a lucrative deal but a substantial US military deployment in Poland will have far-reaching consequences. The US military will inevitably find itself overstretched, with commitments in the Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and in Europe. No payments from other states or hikes in defense budgets will be able to help. The mood of the public in the pro-US European states may also change, once the voters become unhappy about their homelands being turned into prime targets for Russia’s armed forces as a result of a provocative policy that actually benefits no one.