Ever since Russia invaded Georgia a decade ago, the world has known the Kremlin will use its military to expand its influence.
Russia’s actions, including the continuing incursions in Ukraine, are seen as a long-term strategy to challenge stability and peace in Europe and the cohesion of the NATO alliance. Such a multidimensional threat requires a measured, comprehensive response. To start, the United States should accept Poland’s invitation to deploy U.S. troops and build a joint military base on its soil, a process for which Poland is ready to help foot the bill.
Although the United States and its NATO allies have increased military activities in Central and Eastern Europe, the West is still militarily vulnerable in the region. The Russian military has built up anti-access zones and increased forces next to Poland and the three Baltic states. These actions, made worse by vulnerable geography including the so-called Suwaki Gap, require a firm, long-term response.
Permanently stationing U.S. troops in Poland would be an effective deterrence against Russian incursion and would provide a vital strategic anchor for U.S. engagement in Europe’s currently volatile security environment. Permanent U.S. engagement, including an increase in assets on Polish territory, would be a game changer in European security and trans-Atlantic relations.
Poland is eager to prepare and extensively contribute to the upkeep of such a base, which could house up to an armored division. The Polish government has already improved the nation’s highways, ports and airport so that it can handle additional troop movements, and it stands ready to undertake even more infrastructure projects to attract the stationing of U.S. troops.
All of this would benefit the United States by allowing its troops to do more strategically and operationally with significantly smaller resources. In other words, it would get more bang for the buck. A provision included in the recently enacted fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act requires a study by the Pentagon to further research such a project, a welcome development.
A joint base would be a natural extension of the already strong military ties between our countries. The two have fought alongside each other for centuries, dating back to Polish-American heroes, Gen. Tadeusz Kosciuszko and Gen. Casimir Pulaski, who led American troops during the Revolutionary War. U.S. pilots also fought with the Polish army against the invading Bolsheviks in the 1920s.
Following the Cold War, Polish-American relations have evolved, building a strong legacy for our strategic partnership. The United States has sent armored brigades to Poland on a rotating, nine-month basis, and Polish forces have been deployed in support of the U.S.-led counter-ISIL mission and the NATO-led effort in Afghanistan. This special relationship is underpinned by nearly four-fifths of Poles who favorably view the United States — an unmatched result among European countries.
Poland has also proven itself a valued ally to the United States and NATO in terms of defense spending. Poland spends the recommended 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense and more than 20 percent of the defense budget on military equipment, which is a NATO-defined benchmark met by only a few allies. Furthermore, Poland adopted a law calling for steady growth of its defense expenditure’s share of the GDP, up to 2.5 percent in coming years.
It has also established with the United States a defense and industrial partnership to upgrade Poland’s defense systems such as the F-16 aircraft and JASSM-ER missiles. The most recent example is the contract for the purchase of the first phase of the Patriot system from U.S. defense contractor Raytheon, a deal worth $4.75 billion. Ongoing discussions about the second phase of the Patriot contract and on the acquisition of the HIMARS missile system, together with other planned multi-billion-dollar tenders for high-end armaments for Poland, create significant opportunities for further engagements.
Poland possesses the most effective military on NATO’s eastern flank. Thanks to that, the stronger the U.S. military presence becomes in Poland, the stronger the Polish contribution to NATO’s operational efforts on its eastern flank and beyond could become. To this end, a U.S. base in Poland will strengthen regional security and would effectively accomplish the common strategic objectives of Poland, the United States and NATO.
• Mariusz Blaszczak is minister of National Defense of the Republic of Poland.