Fort Trump: Poland is lobbying the White House for a new US base

  • Petr Fena
  • 3.12.2018 08:49

The American Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis met with his Polish counterpart to discuss the placement of a new US base on Polish territory. President Andrzej Duda has lobbied Trump for the base since September, when he offered up to 2 million dollars to co-finance it, a specific location near the cities of Bydgoszcs and Toruń and an attractive name. According to Duda, the new base should be named Fort Trump.

The Poles have had a serious interest in the presence of US troops on their soil for a long time. Their demands are based on the fear of a potential Russian attack. Events like the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s support of separatists in Eastern Ukraine has silenced even the voices that discarded Polish fear of Russian aggression as paranoid.

After the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, Poland has fully reoriented towards the West, more specifically towards the US. Warsaw perceives upholding above-standard relations with this world power as a safety guarantee, and that is why it would like to host a US army base with a one division garrison (one thousand troops) on its territory. Warsaw is not expecting one-sided aid from its stronger ally. Contingents of Polish troops routinely take part in overseas operations conducted both by the US and NATO. Apart from that, Poland also falls into the small group of five NATO members that uphold the obligation to spend two percent of their annual GDP on defence.

 

"Events in Ukraine forced the US to reconsider its policy of lowering military presence in Europe, which had its roots at the end of the Cold War."

 

Events in Ukraine forced the US to reconsider its policy of lowering military presence in Europe, which had its roots at the end of the Cold War. Since 2016, security on the vulnerable Eastern flank (Poland and the Baltics) is ensured through four international task forces, each numbering around one thousand men. These units are not positioned in the countries permanently, they rotate.

Some opponents of the US base in Poland argue that the base is an irresponsible provocation targeted at the Russian Federation and an unfounded positioning of American troops in the vicinity of the Russian border. They reference the Founding Act of 1997, agreed upon by NATO representatives and the former Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Such argument is nothing but a misunderstanding of the agreement, or its intentional misinterpretation. The document does not forbid NATO presence in the territory of newly accepted member states. Furthermore, when stating that there was no need for increased presence of permanent fighting units, NATO was reacting to the security situations of the year 1997. Moreover, the Act cannot be upheld unilaterally. Russia would also have to respect the proclamations made in the Founding Act, namely that it would continue building peace in the Euro-Atlantic region based on the principles of democracy and collective security. There is no need to specify how the Russian Federation has fared in upholding these terms. Through military operations against Georgia and Ukraine, but also through cyber-attacks on Estonia, Moscow  worsened the European security situation compared to 1997, when the Founding Act was written.

 

On the other hand, the current political situation in Poland certainly does not make the decision about the placement of a new base easier for the US administration. The policies of the ruling Law and Justice party, such as its interference with judicial independence, are a problem that disrupts the image of Poland as an ideal ally. Furthermore, Washington surely realises that expenditures for running a base with a garrison of a few thousand soldiers and facilities for them and their families will significantly exceed the two billion dollars offered by Warsaw. The enormous cost is a major obstacle, considering Trump’s approach of putting US interests first.

 

"Reinforcing US presence will remain a cornerstone of Polish foreign policy."

 

Increasing military presence on the Alliance’s Eastern flank seems to be a desirable reaction to Russia’s confrontational foreign policy. Therefore, we cannot expect Poland to back down from its aim in the future. The base would be a crucial element in protecting the vulnerable Polish-Lithuanian border, whose violation could potentially cut off the Baltic from the rest of NATO. An American garrison numbering roughly 15 000 troops does not pose an immediate security threat to Russia. Its character is fully defensive, not aggressive. Reinforcing US presence will therefore remain a cornerstone of Polish foreign policy.

The US should approach the issue with careful consideration. It should also take into account the attitudes of other members of the Alliance. Significant decisions – and a new base would definitely fall into this category – should be agreed upon through a consensus of all members of the Alliance. Some countries lying further from Moscow do not see the danger so immediately as Poland and the Baltic states in Russia’s close vicinity. Disrupting relations between NATO members by establishing the base without considering the objections of some member states is not in the interest of the US, NATO or even Poland.

About author: Petr Fena

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