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Sep 19, 2018 | 21:55 GMT

4 mins read

Poland: Warsaw's Push for a U.S. Base Faces an Uphill Climb

(Stratfor)
The Big Picture

In its 2018 Third-Quarter Forecast, Stratfor wrote that Poland would make appeals for stronger security guarantees from the United States. Maintaining close political, economic and military ties with the United States is one of the main elements of Warsaw's foreign policy. The details of a meeting between the U.S. and Polish presidents track with that forecast.

What Happened

U.S. President Donald Trump has confirmed that the White House is considering opening a permanent U.S. military base in Poland. Warsaw, which had requested the base, also sought to sweeten the pot: During his visit to the White House on Sept. 18, Polish President Andrzej Duda said his country would like to contribute up to $2 billion for its construction. The proposal is part of a Polish strategy to develop closer political, economic and military ties with the United States to head off potential Russian aggression. Poland's push happens at a bumpy time for its relations with the European Union as the European Commission and Warsaw wrangle over the question of the rule of law in the country. Warsaw, accordingly, wants to show it has friends in high places.

Why It Matters

A U.S. base in Poland, however, would face numerous obstacles, one of which is the question of its costs and who would pay them. Indeed, the $2 billion earmarked by Poland would be just enough to set the foundation for the U.S. presence. Operational costs for a base housing permanently deployed U.S. formations at the brigade level or above would require much more money. The funding issue, furthermore, ensures that the U.S. Congress – and not solely the White House – would have to approve any base plan. The challenges of establishing the base were not lost on U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis: "It's not just about a base. It's about training ranges, it's about maintenance facilities at the base – all these kinds of things." Still, Congress has mandated a feasibility study of a U.S. base in Poland as part of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act.

Another question that must be answered is where troops housed at the base would come from. Here, Congress again could play a significant role. Typically, federal lawmakers are reticent about approving the transfer of forces from bases in their home districts since hosting the facilities provides substantial federal money for their states. Creating a brand new force to station at a new base is also a difficult proposition, especially since future U.S. defense budgets are likely to be limited. The most likely alternative – the reshuffling of U.S. forces already stationed overseas – would create its own problems, since their relocation would leave a vacuum behind.

From Poland's perspective, a permanent base would send a strong message about the support it has from the United States. More importantly, it would ensure that the United States adopts a forward defense policy to stop a theoretical Russian attack in eastern Poland instead of marshaling Germany-based forces for a counterattack. The Baltic states would also welcome a more robust U.S. military presence in Eastern Europe.

But other countries will try to influence U.S. actions as well. While a U.S. base in Poland would not require NATO authorization, some members of the alliance could try to influence the White House's decision. Germany and others fear that such a base would violate the 1997 NATO-Russia foundation agreement, in which the alliance agreed to avoid increasing its military presence in Eastern Europe. Poland and other countries in the region, however, argue that developments over the past two decades have made this agreement void.

The Upshot

Regardless of whether the NATO-Russia agreement still matters, the reality is that Russia would look upon a permanent U.S. base in Poland as a provocation. The facility would give Moscow more leverage to lean on Belarus to allow a larger Russian presence there and encourage the Kremlin to beef up its military forces in the Western Military District, which abuts the Baltics. With the specter of Russia – and U.S. funding headaches – thus arrayed against it, Poland's will find the going tough if it hopes to bring a U.S. base to its soil.

Looking Ahead

  • March 2019: Deadline for the Pentagon to send the results of a feasibility study to the U.S. Congress that examines whether a permanently assigned Army brigade combat team in Poland would be effective. The study will also estimate potential costs and forecast how Russia might react to such a move.

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