- Poland wants a permanent US presence, and the government has said its willing to pay for it.
- On Tuesday, President Donald Trump said the US was “looking at it very seriously.”
- Poland’s interest is longstanding, and is of a piece with broader concern in the region about Russia.
Poland said earlier this year that it was willing to pay up to $US2 billion to help fund a permanent US military presence there – a proposal President Andrzej Duda reiterated during the country’s Army Day celebration in August.
Duda visited President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday, and his country’s interest in hosting the US Army, and its willingness to pay for it, appear to have resonated with Trump.
“We’re looking at it very seriously,” Trump said during an Oval Office meeting with Duda, according to Bloomberg.
“Poland is willing to make a very major contribution to the United States to come in and have a presence in Poland,” Trump said. “If they’re willing to do that, it’s something we will certainly talk about.”
During a press conference after their Oval Office meeting, Duda repeated his desire for a larger US military presence in the country and touted recent purchases of US military hardware.
The US base his government has offered to fund would be called “Fort Trump,” he said.
Duda took office in 2015, and at home he has pursued policies that critics see as undemocratic and risk running afoul of the European Union.
But his interest in a US military presence is of a piece with broader concerns in the region about Russian, which have grown since 2014, when Moscow annexed Crimea and started backing separatist movements in Ukraine.
NATO has deployed multinational battle groups to Poland and the Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The battle group in Poland – about 1,000 personnel in total – is led by the US and includes troops from the UK, Romania, and Croatia. (The US military is also upgrading and improving its facilities throughout Eastern Europe.)
The Polish offer, first reported by local media in late May, was made by the Defence Ministry, which did not consult with the president or the foreign ministry before sending it to the US. It reflects Poland’s long-held interest in closer security ties with the US.
“This proposal outlines the clear and present need for a permanent U.S. armoured division deployed in Poland, Poland’s commitment to provide significant support that may reach $US1.5-2 billion by establishing joint military installations and provide for more flexible movement of U.S. forces,” the proposal states,according to Politico.
The proposal said Poland was committed to sharing “the burden of defence spending,” to making the decision “more cost-effective for the US,” and to mollifying Congressional concerns “in uncertain budgetary times.”
Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said at the time that he had discussed a permanent US military presence in Poland with officials in Washington. He said the Senate had contacted the Pentagon about the matter.
In August, during Army Day celebrations in Warsaw, Duda said that such a US military presence would “deter every potential aggressor,” in what was almost certainly a reference to Russia.
Poland has lobbied for a permanent US presence in the past.
In 2015, a US diplomat said one would not be established but that the US maintain would maintain a “permanent rotating presence” in the country. (In early 2017, the president of Lithuania, Poland’s neighbour to the north, said she wanted a permanent US presence there“to not only deter but to defend” against Russia.)
Of particular concern is the Suwalki Gap, a 60-mile-long section of the Poland-Lithuania border between Belarus, a Russian ally, and Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea. Some in the region and in NATO worry Russia could shut that corridor, isolating the Baltics and thwarting NATO reinforcement and resupply efforts.
Poland has already met the 2%-of-GDP defence-spending level that the NATO allies agreed to work toward by 2024 – a spending goal that Trump used to bludgeon other NATO members. In August, Duda said he wanted to increase that outlay even more, reaching 2.5% of GDP by 2024.
After their Oval Office meeting, Trump told the press that they had discussed defence issues and praised Poland for recent military decisions, including the purchase of US-made Patriot missiles.
“We are grateful for Poland’s leadership on defence spending and burden-sharing in NATO,” Trump said. “I am glad that it plans to increase spending beyond the 2% limit.”
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