Fort Trump: is a New US Military Base in Poland a Realistic Option?
(Source: Deutsche Welle German Radio; issued Sept 19, 2018)
US President Donald Trump has said he is "seriously considering" a Polish request that Washington build a new military base in the country. DW spoke with two security experts to determine the viability of such a plan.

On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump and his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Duda, raised the prospect of building a new US military base in Poland. Duda even suggested it might be named Fort Trump at the joint press conference in Washington, stressing Poland's "very strategic location" and pointing to the need for an expanded US presence to counter Russia's aggressive behavior. Trump voiced openness to the proposal.

Although the name got the attention of the US president and the rest of the world, the idea came as no surprise to security experts. The Polish government has spent months actively lobbying for the project in Washington.

Poland's former foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, for instance, told DW's Zhanna Nemtsova: "I worked very hard to bring it about. We want in Poland the kind of allied forces that would deter Russia but not threaten Russia."

At Tuesday's press conference, Trump said the US would "seriously consider" the proposal. But how realistic is the idea and what would be the implications? DW spoke with Heather Conley of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Jorge Benitez from the Atlantic Council to get their assessments of the situation.

Lengthy process

Conley stressed the lengthiness of the US decision-making process. "When President Trump says 'we are seriously considering it,' it means that Congress has asked the Defense Department to study this proposal. The Defense Department, I think, has some very important questions," she said. "I don't believe US defense officials are that enthusiastic about this. I don't think there is great speed or enthusiasm for this."

Both Conley and Benitez picked up on the bilateral nature of the proposal. "Whatever decisions are reached bilaterally would have to be in close consultation with NATO, and of course the NATO-Russia Founding Act [of 1997] would have to be part of that conversation," said Conley. "But again this is to ensure that there is a greater deterrence and readiness capability on NATO's eastern flank. The US bilateral arrangement with Poland, should it happen, would have to be inside that context."

"The Polish offer would make sense as part of a multinational investment of NATO forces in Central Europe, such as the Alliance's Enhanced Forward Presence battalions in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania," said Benitez. "Accepting the Polish offer without doing it through NATO would mean more direct US resources for European defense without any matching investment by other NATO allies. This is counter to Trump's priority to make NATO allies less dependent on US military assistance. Building a US base in Poland would be a step in the opposite direction. It would make the US unilaterally more responsible for security near NATO's borders with Russia."

Undermining European security?

Benitez said the stationing of US troops in Poland would not, as Moscow warned in May, undermine European security. "Quite the opposite, more US troops in Central Europe will strengthen deterrence and thereby increase stability in the region," he pointed out.

Speaking on Russian objections to the move, Benitez was quite blunt. "The Russians will respond with wild allegations and negative propaganda. But the truth is that the Russians will complain if a group of Girl Scouts visit Poland," he said. "Moscow tries to portray everything as a threat, even though the small number of US troops likely to be moved to Poland will be no threat to the quarter of a million troops Russia has stationed near its border with NATO."

Pulling troops out of Germany?

Asked about the threat that the US might shift troops from Germany amid growing US-German tensions, Conley said the scenario was quite unlikely. "With the world-class and premiere facilities that the US has in Germany and Italy, both the cost and the movement to Poland would not make cost effective sense. I don't think it has anything to do with current US force posture in Germany," she said.

Conley, however, sees another issue as a potential impediment to realizing the proposal. "The other big question is: Where would those additional forces come from? What would the global footprint be if the US would decide to move additional capabilities farther to NATO's eastern flank? The global picture will be a very big constraint on any further US decision," she said.

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A Closer Polish-US Partnership in Military Matters
(Source: Poland Ministry of Defence; issued Sept 18, 2018)
“We are pleased that Poland is the leader when it comes to defense spending. Poland fulfills its obligations. We are interested in providing assistance in the field of defense to those countries that make great efforts to increase their own defense capabilities,” said Donald Trump, the president of the USA after the meeting with President Andrzej Duda.

On Tuesday the presidents of Poland and the United States held talks in Washington, attended also by Mariusz Błaszczak, the Minister of National Defense.

Conversations in the White House concerned, among others security, military cooperation and increasing the presence of US troops in Poland. - I am very happy with the presence of the United States Army in Poland. I am inviting the President to send even more soldiers to Poland. The presence of US troops ensures security in our region. (...) The permanent presence of American troops in Poland is also justified by the interests of the United States alone - said President Andrzej Duda at a joint conference with the President of the United States, Donald Trump.

During the conference, President D. Trump also thanked the Poles for their participation in the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

“During Tuesday's talks in Washington, there were no mentions about specific spendings regarding Poland's participation in the costs of maintaining the infrastructure of permanent US bases in Poland, which our country is seeking. (...) This is a process, of course it lasts. We want to increase Poland's defense capabilities, but also to ensure security in our part of the world. President Trump's words show that the United States is involved in this process that is, of course, at a certain stage,” Minister Błaszczak said at a meeting with the media in Washington.

On Tuesday, an agreement was also signed on the deepening of the strategic Polish – US partnership, which sets new cooperation solutions, including in the military sphere.

"We will intensify joint training activities and exercises, strengthen the cooperation of military units and increase the exchange of experience and know-how, including through the exchange of military personnel in command structures, educational centers and training facilities. (...) Poland and the United States are committed to considering options to strengthen the US military role in Poland and to coordinate activities against energy projects threatening common security, including Nord Stream 2," said the Polish-US declaration signed on Tuesday in Washington.

The head of the Defense Ministry is visiting the USA, where he conducts talks on strengthening military cooperation between Poland and USA and on locating a permanent base of US forces in Poland. The Minister talked about increasing the presence of US troops on the eastern flank with Senator Jim Inhofe, acting chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, with William Thornberry, chairman of the Armed Forces Committee of the House of Representatives and with Christopher Smith, one of the signatories of the Congressmen’ letter to the Secretary of Defense of the United States in support of the proposal for a permanent US military presence in Poland.

All politicians met by the head of the National Defense Ministry agree that the presence of US soldiers on the eastern flank is an increase in security not only in Poland but throughout the region.

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