May 31, 2018
IntelBrief: Poland’s Ask of the United States
- The Polish Defense Ministry has publicly stated it wants a permanent U.S. military presence to deter possible Russian aggression.
- The discussions between the U.S. and Poland, which included an offer for funding, have renewed the issue of NATO expansion near Russia’s border.
- Russia has already stated such a move would harm European security and lead to Russian ‘counteraction’ to reset the balance of power.
- Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its thinly disguised invasion of eastern Ukraine has led Poland and others to seek additional deterrence.
Before Poland joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on March 13, 1999—along with fellow former Soviet satellites Hungary and the Czech Republic—Bronislaw Geremek, the Polish Foreign Minister stressed that Poland’s membership in NATO must not be seen as a hostile move towards Russia. Geremek made this very clear, saying, ‘we want our membership of NATO to serve as a catalyst for Polish-Russian cooperation.’ 19 years later, Poland is so concerned about potential Russian aggression that it has started discussions with the U.S. about a permanent U.S. armored division in Poland. This would be a substantial shift from what exists now: a brigade-sized rotational force that moves between Poland and the Baltic NATO members on a 9-month rotation.
This would be a significant move for Poland and the U.S.—and a significant cause of concern for Russia, which has consistently objected to the expansion of NATO members along its borders. Russia’s 2014 illegal annexation of Crimea and current occupation in eastern Ukraine has led countries like Poland to reassess how much protection and deterrence it needs against a Kremlin that flouts international condemnation. If Russia can illegally take Crimea, the first such land grab on the continent since the end of World War Two, then, what else might it try? In the case of Poland, this question has led its defense ministry to seek out more overt forms of deterrence.
Permanently stationed U.S. troops in Poland would be among the most effective deterrents, though it comes with considerable economic, logistic, and geopolitical costs. The Polish government offered up to $2 billion to defray considerable costs to the U.S. military. The decision to proceed, and in the affirmative, the implementation of that decision, will take some time, yet the public announcement by the Polish Defense Ministry serves notice to Moscow that Warsaw is determined not to suffer a Crimea-like fate.
Russia responded as expected. President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said such a move did ‘not contribute to security and stability on the continent in any way.’ He then stated that such an action would force a corresponding Russian reaction, saying that these ‘expansionist steps, [would] certainly, result in counteractions of the Russian side to balance the parity which is violated every time this way.’ Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has viewed, with some justification, the expansion of NATO right up to its borders as a serious threat. Yet its February 2014 annexation of Crimea, its thinly-veiled 2014 invasion in Ukraine, its responsibility in the July 2014 downing of MH-17, its use of a chemical weapon in the March 2018 assassination attempt in Salisbury, England, and its continued, relentless disinformation campaigns and electoral interference in the West, have pushed for a greater NATO presence than envisioned when Poland joined in 1999. Given that Russia will likely not change its aggressive stance against its neighbors and the West, it is likely there will be more calls for U.S. military presence by increasingly nervous NATO allies.
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