“There is nothing permanent except change.” The words of Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, known as the “weeping philosopher” and noted for the obscurity of his work. Be that as it may, and this being Poland, some politicians wish to swap the change for the permanent, this time the changing NATO battalions for a permanent US military base.
According to the Polish defence ministry, 55 per cent of respondents answered yes when asked whether they were in favour of a permanent US military base being established in Poland, quoting a survey by pollster Kantar Polska. Twenty-seven per cent opposed the plan, while 18 per cent were undecided. Thedefence minister, Mariusz Błaszczak, told public broadcaster TVP Info on Saturday that the Polish government was making every effort to bring about the establishment of a permanent US army base, dubbed “Fort Trump” to Poland to improve security.
Błaszczak flew to the United States on Sunday to meet officials, including the National Security Adviser, John Bolton, to discuss strengthening bilateral cooperation and the plan for the permanent military base. On Monday, Polish foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz had told NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, that a strengthened US military presence in Poland would help “strengthen the security of our country, of the entire region and of the entire North Atlantic Alliance.” Czaputowicz said at a conference in Warsaw on Wednesday that a US military presence was essential to ensure security in Europe.
At present, following a decision made at the NATO summit in Warsaw in July 2016 in response to the Russian annexation of the Crimea in in 2014, NATO deploys four rotating battalions to Poland and the three Baltic States. The battalions are multi-national (including US troops), comprise some 1,000 troops, and are deployed for six to nine months before being relieved by a successor. In addition to which the Polish section of the US missile defence shield over Europe is being built by the Americans at Redzikowo in the northern Poland.
Nevertheless, of the talks now underway in Washington, Błaszczak said “negotiations with our American partners are continuing, the atmosphere of these negotiations is good… I’m optimistic”. This would chime with president Duda’s suggestion this month that a new permanent US military base in Poland could effectively be a done deal, with a decision to be made next year. His spokesman, Błażej Spychalski, said at the end of September that Warsaw wished to spend some USD two billion to build infrastructure for American soldiers in Poland, including “housing, as well as educational and medical facilities.”
Is such a base necessary? One can well understand why many in Poland might think so, given the history of Polish Russian relations over the years, but is Russia likely to attack Poland? On every measure, military, economic, demographic, Russia is weak and is vastly inferior NATO. Of course, brother Putin has a tremendous capacity for mischief making and one man with a plan is stronger than many men without, but a Russian attack on Poland seems to be beyond the bounds of possibility. By article 5 of the NATO treaty, such an attack would be an attack on all and would no doubt bring a swift response. The deployment of the rotating battalions certainly demonstrates a resolve that appeared missing for some years and, for all his faults, president Trump has at least caused NATO members to rethink their military budgets.
Besides, in geo-political terms, the long- term threat comes from further east, where China and the Unites States seem destined to square up against each other. When this happens, it seems probable that Russia and Europe will have common cause, another reason why, despite the sabre rattling, a real Russian military threat to Poland may be discounted.
Of course, all things being equal, one can never have too much security and a US base would no doubt be welcomed in Poland, even if not necessary militarily. Whether there is much to be gained by provoking Russia or strengthening Putin’s appeal to his domestic audience by enabling to playing up fears of imagined NATO aggression is another question. Being British, it is perhaps easier to discount fears of Russia, than it is for Poles whose experience of Russia has historically been very different.