Military base in Poland sets precedent as US bolsters NATO support

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The United States is planning a permanent military base in Poland, its first in Eastern Europe. It comes as President Joe Biden told US troops temporarily deployed to Poland earlier this year that they were “in the middle of a fight between democracies and oligarchs”.

The war in Ukraine has prompted the United States to reassess its military footprint in Eastern Europe despite a 1997 agreement, the NATO-Russia Founding Act, which ostensibly bans permanent US bases in the region.

Why we wrote this

NATO members are teaming up in new ways in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But they have not given up on the possible return of another type of cooperation – a shared understanding with Russia on security issues.

NATO officials said Moscow reversed the act with its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its invasion of Ukraine this year. But US officials have also been careful to point out the literal ways in which America has not abandoned the deal, says Gavin Hall, an international security expert at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. The objectives of defense and stable relations are intertwined.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg “has referred to it several times,” says Hall. “You present a beautiful, united and strong front – which this permanent American base no doubt is. This strengthens NATO’s ability to defend itself. But you are also pursuing the trigger to try to influence Russian actions.

Brussels

In what is billed as the biggest overhaul of NATO defenses since the Cold War, the United States is planning a permanent military base in Poland, its first in Eastern Europe.

While US troops heading to the new base “are not massive” in numbers, their presence “will have quite a profound impact – an outsized impact – on security in Europe”, said John Deni, research professor at the ‘Institute for Strategic Studies, the research arm of the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

President Joe Biden told US troops temporarily deployed to Poland earlier this year that they were “in the middle of a fight between democracies and oligarchs”.

Why we wrote this

NATO members are teaming up in new ways in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But they have not given up on the possible return of another type of cooperation – a shared understanding with Russia on security issues.

The war in Ukraine has prompted the United States to reassess its military footprint in Eastern Europe despite a 1997 agreement, the NATO-Russia Founding Act, which ostensibly bans permanent US bases in the region.

NATO officials said Moscow reversed the act with its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its invasion of Ukraine this year. For now, evolving cooperation within NATO – symbolized by the new base – is key to achieving the alliance’s security goal, analysts say.

But US officials have also been careful to point out the literal ways in which America has not abandoned the deal, says Gavin Hall, a lecturer in political science and international security at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. , in Scotland.

It is an indication, analysts add, that NATO allies have not lost hope in a founding act that is still intact and that could prove essential – perhaps when Russian President Vladimir Putin is no longer in office. power – to one day rebuild trust and cooperation beyond the alliance, between the two superpowers themselves.

Part of a larger US commitment

The permanent American base in Poland was the flagship of a series of new measures that the United States will take to increase its military presence across Europe.

At a major NATO meeting in Madrid on June 29, President Biden announced that the United States would send warships to Spain, fighter jet squadrons to Britain, troops to Romania and in the Baltic countries and air defense systems in Germany and Italy.

“At a time when Putin has shattered the peace in Europe and attacked the very tenets of the rules-based order, the United States and our allies, we are stepping up,” Biden said.

Temporary deployments of thousands of US troops to central and eastern Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have brought US troops on the continent to around 100,000 from 80,000 before February.

This compares with some 370,000 American soldiers in Europe at the end of the 1980s, before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the moves demonstrated “decisive leadership” by the United States in “the midst of the most serious security crisis we have faced since World War II.”

President Biden is “trying to seize the moment by making these announcements and recommitting to Europe,” said Rachel Rizzo, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s European Center. But it also comes with concerns that the moves could give some NATO allies “the impression that they can now reverse the progress they have made in recent years”, she warns.

These advances include increasing defense spending by NATO allies to up to 2% of their gross domestic product, measures called for by the United States and designed in part to counter the impression among many that “Europeans do not see themselves – or each other – as legitimate security actors,” says Rizzo. “And neither does Putin.”

As a result, there is a widespread feeling that “if Europe is to be defended, it is the United States that must be present”, she adds.

But while it’s true that the gold standard of deterrence has long been American boots on the ground, Eastern European countries like Poland, in particular, have beefed up their defense posture in ways ” impressive,” says Luke Coffey, principal investigator at the Hudson Institute. .

In fact, the American base project accentuates what is already a source of tension for Russia: the way in which Poland, historically thrown into the role of a buffer zone between Russia and Germany, has gone since 1989 from a Soviet ally to a full member of NATO, from 1999.

Poland announced last month its intention to increase its defense spending to 5% of its GDP. “They take defense seriously. If something [the permanent U.S. base in Poland] is a reward for good behavior by countries that have shown genuine commitment to the alliance,” Mr. Coffey said.

Yet history has shown that US troops on the continent reduce the chances of a wider war, he argues.

“Obviously, outside NATO areas of responsibility, there was fighting. But in areas where the United States has a military presence, there has been relative peace, security and stability,” he says. “It is because of the significant American military presence in Europe that most of the continent has enjoyed relative peace for the past seven and a half decades.”

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. John Kolasheski, commanding general of V Corps, holds an operational overview as he speaks with reporters, April 24, 2022, in Poland near the Ukrainian border. Beyond aid to Ukraine, the Biden administration is bolstering US support for NATO defenses, including a permanent base in Poland for V Corps.

“A big problem” as previous

Located on the permanent base of the United States, the headquarters of the V Corps of the United States army, composed of some 600 to 800 men, will be installed.

These forces will “qualitatively improve” US operations in Europe, says Dr. Deni of the US Army War College, particularly with regard to so-called command and control capabilities. This includes directing the use of U.S. Army assets on the continent, including tanks, cyber teams, logistics operations, and air power.

“The U.S. Army Europe headquarters was frankly very short of effort to carry out this mission of telling the brigades what to do when it came to looking at the whole big picture of intelligence and signals. that we get from all over the theatre,” says Dr. Deni.

The establishment of a permanent US military base in Poland is also “important as a first step towards the possibility of another permanent presence across Eastern Europe”, he adds. “It’s a precedent, and frankly, I kind of hope Moscow sees it that way – we want them to see this as a big deal.”

At the same time, US officials were also careful not to completely abandon the NATO-Russia Founding Act. US officials were quick to point out that V Corps forces are not combat troops, which is prohibited under the parameters of the law.

Keeping some semblance of law intact is important for future security in Europe, Hall said.

This is part of a strategy outlined in a key NATO document from 1967 called the Harmel Report, which stresses the need for both deterrence and détente. The ideal, he argues, is to maintain military strength and political solidarity to deter aggression, while simultaneously pursuing, as the report puts it, a “search for progress toward a more stable relationship in which political issues underlying can be resolved”.

NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg “has referred to it several times”, says Mr Hall. “You present a beautiful, united and strong front – which this permanent American base no doubt is. This strengthens NATO’s ability to defend itself. But you are also pursuing the trigger to try to influence Russian actions.

Having a founding act “that can at least be reformed and renegotiated with Russia,” he adds, “signals some kind of hope that it could be used to rebuild cooperation and trust – one day.”

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