By Li Yingying
The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Polish Minister of National Defense Mariusz Blaszczak signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement on August 15 after rounds of consultations based on the joint statement on military cooperation reached between US President Donald Trump and Polish President Andrzej Duda last September. The signing of the agreement paved the way for the permanent stationing of US troops in Poland.
Strategic considerations of both sides
Poland is a staunch ally and an important partner of the US. During his visit to Warsaw in 2017, Trump said the two countries’ firm relationship was based on their common values. Enhanced defense cooperation with Poland will not only further consolidate bilateral ties, but also reinforce NATO’s combat capabilities and deployment flexibility on the east side to increase deterrence against Russia.
Other than that, the Trump administration also has the following calculations. First, it wants to warn and punish Germany. Poland has been a model in obeying US demand for military cost-sharing, whereas Germany has not only fallen short of its military expense quota but also constantly defied the US on such issues as the Nord Stream II pipeline project and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. America’s announcement at the end of July to slash American troops in Germany and the signing of the defense cooperation deal with Poland shortly after is without any doubt a slap on Berlin’s face.
Second, the US wants to affect the EU’s decisions by securing a new “special partner” when Britain is leaving the union. Poland has always been following America’s diplomatic policies since the end of WWII and has intensified this trend after the Ukraine crisis, with a rising position in America’s European strategy in the background of Brexit.
Third, the US wants to appeal to Polish voters in the upcoming election. The analysis shows that Polish voters played an important role in the 2016 presidential election of the US, and Trump is eager to continue appealing to this group for his reelection.
Warsaw’s top priority is to leverage America and NATO’s forces to counter Russia. Poland has always been an anti-Russia vanguard due to historical and geopolitical reasons. On May 12, the country rolled out a new national security strategy that specifically designated Russia’s “neo-imperial policy” as its biggest threat. Since he came in power, Andrzej Duda has strengthened cooperation with Washington in energy and other sectors while seeking closer defense ties. He also hopes to leverage on the US to contain other EU countries, to ease his pressure on the refugee issue and judicial reform.
European security situation faces greater uncertainties
In recent years, the US-Russia relationship has been in a consistent crisis with the strategic game between NATO and Russia constantly escalating in eastern part of Europe. Moscow is highly vigilant and strongly dissatisfied with the new moves between the US and Poland, which it believes are intended to turn Warsaw into a bridgehead in confronting Russia and will add fuel to flame on the Russia-Poland relations that has been nosediving this year due to historical issues left from WWII.
America’s adjustment of its military deployments in Europe will also push NATO’s military forces eastward and exacerbate the tension on the Russia-Europe border. An expert from Russia’s Higher School of Economics compared Washington’s military deployments in Poland to NATO’s forward defense strategy in the Cold War period, which will intensify the confrontation between Russia and NATO and further worsen the security situation in eastern part of Europe.
In the meantime, we must notice that Washington’s increasing military presence in Poland won’t change the basic situation in the region. Warsaw has been expecting the US to permanently station troops in the country since 2018, but Washington only increased 1,000 troops there after withdrawing from Germany in order not to upset other allies and Russia. Given the current confrontational situation, Kremlin said it will continue to call for dialogues with the White House regarding Europe’s security situation and the resumption of military contacts, to cool down the regional tension.
(The author is an assistant research fellow at the Department for Asia-Pacific Studies, China Institute of International Studies.)
Disclaimer: This article is originally published on china.com.cn and translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.