Why do Americans propose in military armor

Poland's irreplaceable partner

The visit of Polish President Andrzej Duda to the United States in mid-June, his renewed meeting with US President Donald Trump and the signing of several bilateral agreements are elements of a continuous deepening of Polish-American relations. They have intensified the domestic political constellations in both countries. Above all, the American promise to expand the stationing of military personnel and equipment in Poland is seen in Warsaw as the beginning of a new stage of “well-founded presence” (according to Duda).

The United States has always remained the central point of reference for Polish security policy. This is true despite some disillusionment in Poland, for example after Poland's involvement in Iraq, which many observers did not see as paying off enough, or in view of the fact that Polish citizens are still required to have a visa. Even American pressure on Warsaw and expectations regarding the Polish-Jewish relationship did not lead to a deviation from this line. And neither disappointments with the Obama administration nor the unpredictability of Trump's foreign policy have fundamentally changed anything. On the contrary: the emerging global policy of the USA to assert itself against new and old competitors, including Russia, and to contain them, has a revitalizing effect on Polish-American cooperation, because it meets with Polish perceptions and behavioral patterns. The foreign and security policy orientation of the conservative Polish government camp as well as its ideological coloring further promote this, but they are by far not the only driving force behind mutual cooperation.

A first indication of the new closeness of the two countries was Donald Trump's visit to Warsaw on the occasion of the Summit of the Three Seas Initiative in the summer of 2017. In the speech he gave, the US President paid tribute to the heroic aspects of Polish history and emphatically affirmed the partnership between the two countries. Above all, the fact that the Trump administration neither said goodbye to the pledges of support for NATO's eastern flank nor entered into a "grand bargain" with Russia to the detriment of Ukraine calmed down the mood in Warsaw. The fact that several exponents of a tough policy towards Russia, who are rooted in the Republican Party, also held important positions, was seen in Poland as a sign of continuity, and indeed of increasing consistency towards Moscow.

Against this background, Warsaw would like to seize the opportunity: Perhaps the most visible sign of this is the desire expressed by the Polish side to station a US division or to build a robust American military base ("Fort Trump") To bear part of the costs incurred. Warsaw tries to create reciprocity through loyalty, as it were. The Warsaw Middle East Conference of February 2019 served precisely this purpose.

The USA from a Polish point of view

The close reference to the United States is an insurance policy with pledges of protection for Poland, and this on the basis of a repeatedly affirmed partnership based on the values ​​of freedom, self-determination and democracy. But the USA is not only Poland's indispensable partner in security policy. In addition, Warsaw hopes to improve Poland's energy security through close relations with Washington, to achieve greater effectiveness in Ostpolitik and to increase its weight, especially in the EU.

An irreplaceable safety anchor

The United States is an indispensable security anchor for Poland. Alignment with the US does not only result from the arsenal of American military capabilities, it also stems from distrust of European allies. Even if it is sometimes questioned whether Washington would accept a major escalation with Russia in the event of a limited conflict in Eastern Europe, trust in the US alliance promise is far greater than in that of the major NATO partners in Europe. This priority of the USA in terms of security policy applies in principle to all relevant political forces in Poland. The ruling party »Law and Justice« (PiS) has accentuated it noticeably, since doubts about Germany and France's Russia policy and the EU as a security policy factor are particularly pronounced in the PiS. From the ambiguous positioning of the Trump administration towards NATO, the "transactional" approach of the US President and the upheavals in the transatlantic relationship, Warsaw has drawn the conclusion that it should both consolidate NATO in the Polish sense and deepen a security and defense policy bilateralism . Both dimensions are not viewed as opposing but rather as complementary.

In addition to the measures to improve resilience, defense capability and deterrence within the framework of NATO, Poland is therefore continuously expanding its security and military ties with the USA. One element is the procurement policy. In spring 2018, the most expensive arms deal in Polish history was wrapped up: Poland is buying American Patriot missile systems as part of the first phase of building a Polish medium-range air defense system called Wisła. At the beginning of 2019 it was decided to purchase the HIMARS rocket artillery system, also of American design. Under the plan outlined by Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak to modernize the armed forces by 2026, some expensive projects could go to American bidders. At the end of May 2019, an interest in the purchase of 32 F-35A fighter aircraft was announced to the USA.

Joint exercises are an important component of Polish-American military cooperation. In 2020, an extensive maneuver from the two-year series "Anaconda" is to take place with an expected strong contingent of the USA.

The most important thing is the stationing of US military hardware and US troops on Polish territory. American troop contingents are part of NATO's engagement in Poland. The USA is acting as a framework nation for the so-called Enhanced Front Presence (eFP) task force deployed in Poland, which is supposed to consolidate NATO's eastern flank. A heavy combat brigade (ABCT) and logistical support components have been in western Poland since 2017, on a bilateral basis in the context of the US operation “Atlantic Resolve”, a US initiative launched against the background of the Russia-Ukraine conflict to strengthen European operations Ally. A headquarters in Poznan coordinates the activities of "Atlantic Resolve". Since the beginning of the current decade, American F-16 and C 130 Hercules transport aircraft have been coming to Łask in central Poland for training purposes. A US base for ballistic missile defense is being built in Redzikowo, western Poland, but completion, which is planned for 2018, has been delayed.

In June 2019, the presidents of both states announced in a joint statement that they would increase the US military presence in Poland. While this is not a giant leap into a new defense reality, it is more than a gradual continuation of the previous for several reasons. Firstly, because it is only a rudimentary approach that has been consulted with all European partners. Second, because Poland wants to co-finance the US stationing and to that extent accepts the link between security policy solidarity and willingness to pay. And thirdly, because Poland is taking steps towards a "substantial" and sustained presence of allied military with the measures now envisaged (albeit without a schedule); The measures include the "permanent" stationing of a further 1,000 soldiers, in addition to the up to 4,500 soldiers who are already present; the deployment of US special forces and a squadron of reconnaissance drones; the establishment of an air force base for better deployment of forces; the further expansion of infrastructure for the US units located in Poland. This undermines the assumption cherished by states like Germany in their communication with Russia that the policy of NATO stationing on the eastern flank is still based on the NATO-Russia Founding Act. The latter is irrelevant for Poland insofar as, according to the Polish view, Russia has already suspended the basic document with its behavior in Ukraine.

Energy policy rapprochement

Apart from military aspects of security policy, Polish-American cooperation is also deepening in energy policy and economy. Warsaw is not only relying on US resistance to the Nord Stream 2 project, but above all on increased imports of American energy sources as part of the Polish diversification efforts. The Polish gas supplier PGNiG has signed contracts that will enable the import of up to 9.4 billion m³ of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the USA from 2022. The entire amount may not reach Poland (the Świnoujście LNG terminal is to be expanded to a capacity of 7.5 billion m³ by 2021; the installation of a floating platform in the Gulf of Gdańsk is planned for further LNG imports). Still, U.S. supplies are an important step in meeting Poland's goal of stopping buying gas from Russia by 2022, when Gazprom's long-term contract with Gazprom expires.

Poland currently consumes around 18 billion m³ of natural gas per year, but demand is expected to rise to 21 to 22 billion m³ in the next five years. In addition to gas from in-house production (around 4.5 billion m³ annually), there will in future be deliveries from a new pipeline that will provide access to gas on the Norwegian continental shelf (Baltic Pipe, up to 10 billion m³ annually). It is also possible that a considerable part of the imported gas volumes could be resold to other markets in Eastern Europe. In the future, Ukraine will play an important role. Poland could become a relevant country for the transit of US gas to Ukraine in the medium term. In this way, the USA would support Poland in its endeavors to become a regional center for the distribution of (also) gas of American origin. A combination of economic and security considerations also plays a role in the American and Polish opposition to Nord Stream 2. Both sides fear that (cheap) pipeline gas from Russia or Germany, which is pushing its way into East Central European markets, could thwart their plans.

Energy industry cooperation is politically embedded. When US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry visited Poland in November 2018, a joint declaration was signed by the two energy departments. It outlines a broad spectrum of areas of cooperation, from civilian nuclear energy to cyber security, "clean coal" processes, energy efficiency, network resilience and fuel storage. During the Perry visit, American and Polish experts also completed a joint exercise on cyber security in the energy sector. In the project organized by the operator of the Polish electricity network PSE, American experts (for the first time in Europe) gave training courses on securing critical infrastructures. As part of President Duda's visit to Washington, an intergovernmental agreement on bilateral cooperation in the civil use of nuclear energy was signed. This led to speculation as to whether US investors might be able to participate in the construction of a Polish nuclear power plant.

Russia and Ostpolitik

From the Polish point of view, the USA has always been a close ally when it comes to pursuing regulatory goals in Eastern Europe or in dealing politically with Russia. This stems not least from a strongly geopolitically inspired approach to politics in both countries towards developments in the post-Soviet space. Both in Warsaw and mostly in Washington, the idea of ​​having to put a targeted halt to alleged Russian expansionism and neo-imperialism dominated in the last three decades - in the form of a further political and ideological westernization of countries in Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus up to and including the request to do so To offer states the prospect of NATO membership. Even if Poland did not participate in the delivery of "deadly weapons" to Ukraine after the escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, it recognized in principle the need for the United States (and Canada, for example) to support its eastern neighbor with such means .

Counterweight and power amplifier

After all, the close relationship with the USA offers Poland a kind of “political lever” with which it can enhance its own position in the EU. For the PiS government, which is skeptical of integration, a well-functioning alliance with the USA is also a counterweight to "Brussels" and an alleged Franco-German dominance in Europe. Warsaw is betting that Poland will gain in relevance for the United States and, in view of the Brexit of Great Britain and a drifting Turkey, it could even advance to become a “replacement” for these two traditionally important European allies.

The American point of view: Poland as a »hub« in the region

Poland is an interesting partner for the USA and especially the Trump administration for a number of reasons. As a country with the greatest political, economic and military potential in East Central Europe, it is an important ally of America in its endeavors to reduce the regional influence of global rivals, specifically Russia and China. While Poland is a natural ally of the USA in the case of Russia, this was not entirely clear with regard to China. After all, Poland took part in China's 16 + 1 initiative (a format of cooperation with countries from East-Central and Southeastern Europe), hoped for results from the Silk Road Initiative and, like many countries in Europe, set about expanding its relations with China. In contrast to the governments of other states from the eastern part of the continent, Warsaw remained rather cautious. When an employee of the Polish branch of the telecommunications company Huawei and a Polish security expert were arrested on suspicion of espionage in January 2019, this was also a signal to China, with which Poland wanted to clarify the terms and conditions, so to speak. At the same time, however, it was primarily a message to Washington that was intended to underline that the USA can in principle count on Poland in its China policy.

Poland becomes more attractive for the USA to the extent that it can develop its regional networking and cooperation activities. It is no coincidence that Poland likes to present itself as the primary political and economic-infrastructural platform in East Central Europe, which extends to Southeastern Europe and Eastern Europe. Basically, this means the role of a regional leading power, which as such is to become the USA's first point of contact in Eastern Europe. The Three Seas Initiative (3SI) co-initiated by Warsaw is also effective in this context. Although Warsaw denies any geopolitical intention of the group, which focuses on topics such as infrastructure, transport, economic development or energy, it at least potentially has a strategic component. The heterogeneity of the states between the Baltic Sea, Adriatic Sea and Black Sea should prevent the initiative from becoming an instrument for American interest politics. Meanwhile, the 3SI Summit in Warsaw showed that Poland is able to create a 3SI + USA framework. The initiative was then »Europeanized« and the inclusion of Germany accepted, but it doesn't have to stay that way. In any case, from the American point of view, the 3SI is definitely a forum with potential, in which Poland plays an important role.

This is all the more true of Poland's regional security policy activities. Poland, together with the Baltic states and Romania, forms a cluster of particularly sensitive countries in terms of Russian policy. Together with these and other states on the so-called NATO eastern flank, which are more pragmatic when it comes to Russia, Poland belongs to the "Bucharest Nine" (B9). This loose grouping of younger NATO countries from the eastern part of the alliance wants to keep the alliance's efforts for more security and more effective defense capabilities on the agenda.At a meeting of the “Bucharest Nine” in Slovakia in early 2019, the Polish President used the image of the security policy hub for Poland (Stroke) in the region. Together with the Baltic states and countries critical of Russia from Northern Europe, Poland is also an important actor in the security structure of the Baltic Sea region for the USA. As recently as June 2019, the US Senate emphasized the special security policy importance that Poland has as a key country in the defense against possible Russian aggression against NATO members in eastern Europe due to its geostrategic location and its military potential. With this, the Senate justified its approval of the increase in the US military presence, among other things.

From Washington's point of view, the option of weakening EU cohesion through a close relationship with Poland should not be underestimated. US administrations have in the past tended to encourage Poland to pursue an active policy in the EU and to deepen relations with Germany and France. As a strong Atlanticist, Poland should, as it were, help shape mainstream European politics. That seems to have changed under the Trump administration. For them, an EU capable of acting is a competitor and, in particular, a dominant position for Germany is a problem. A US-friendly caucus or at least an important ally loyal to Washington can, in their eyes, help to divide the EU apart.

After all, Poland can be part of international coalitions that symbolically legitimize or even support American action (as was once the case in the Iraq war). The Warsaw Middle East Conference in February was also apparently intended to demonstrate that the US can mobilize a fairly wide range of countries that think similarly about the situation in the Middle East. Here, too, it can be about the cohesion of the EU. Due to its security policy priorities, Poland is quite ready to oppose the Iran policy of most EU partners and even put its own economic interests aside (Iran would be an interesting oil supplier for Poland). In terms of Israel policy, too, Poland is fundamentally close to the American approach. There are quarrels between Poland and Israel (and between the USA and Poland) over questions of the Polish-Jewish relationship: Dispute over the revision of the Polish law on the Institute for National Remembrance (so-called Holocaust law); Cancellation of the Visegrád-Israel summit due to the non-attendance of the Polish Prime Minister; US bills to support Jewish property claims also to the address of the Polish state. Although these quarrels put a strain on the Polish-Israeli relationship, it turned out to be relatively robust in view of the explosive nature of the issues in both countries. Although there will be no political hinge between the USA, Poland and Israel for the time being and Poland will not be an unconditional supporter of American policy towards Israel, after the election campaigns of the current year in Poland and Israel, for example, there could be a calming down again. If the USA made polish good behavior in the Middle East and especially in Israel policy a condition for more security-political solidarity, Warsaw would probably accept that.

Germany and Poland: Transatlantic Drift?

As Poland deepens its ties with the United States, doubts about the reliability of the United States in general, and the Trump administration in particular, are growing in Germany. The USA has made a swing to a global political guiding principle, which is characterized by conflicting great power interests and the resulting expectations of solidarity. This idea and divergent German and Polish reactions to it also have an impact on the German-Polish relationship. This results in a potential for divergence and controversy that should not be underestimated.

The political pattern of increasing great power conflicts launched by the Trump administration generates random gains for Poland (windfall profits) in the form of increased US engagement with the aim of curbing Russian influence. In Germany this development is received with concern and consideration is given to either strengthening multilateral mechanisms or even upgrading the EU to a counterweight to the USA and looking for new "balancing" partners. Poland, on the other hand, favors strengthening transatlantic ties and solidarity with Washington. His behavior towards China or in Middle East politics arises from the clear will to pass American loyalty tests.

Polish affinities, especially in the time of the PiS government, also apply to Trump's view of international politics as an arena for rival states in which a policy of strength is necessary to assert sovereignty and freedom. This only partially coincides with the German preference for an approach that is based on negotiation and involvement, even with difficult partners. In this respect, Germany relies on deterrence when dealing with Russia and Détente, deterring Poland in front Relaxation. This is exemplified by the debates about the treaty on medium-range nuclear systems (INF treaty) and its end. In Germany there is concern about an uncontrollable armament dynamic, in Poland the American view is shared that Russia has broken the treaty for a long time; therefore, in the absence of a consistent control regime, tough counter-resistance is indicated.

Accordingly, well-known differences in threat perception are emerging in a new guise, which affect not only Russia but also the USA. While the US is seen as a guarantor for security in Europe under Donald Trump in Poland, the US president in Germany is increasingly perceived as a risk to the world and Europe (to a greater extent than Russia or the Russian president).

However, there are still manifold overlaps between the security policy of Germany and Poland. Although Germany is more open to the security and defense policy efforts of the EU than Poland, like its eastern neighbor it does not strive for security policy emancipation of Europe from the USA. Berlin also sees the dazzling discussion of "strategic autonomy" primarily as a starting point for raising European capabilities, but not as the starting point for an exit from transatlantic relations. Like Poland, Germany is therefore in favor of a common security and defense policy (CSDP) with a sense of proportion and for an "inclusive" approach to its further development in the form of permanent structured cooperation (PESCO).

Both countries also have a fundamental interest in increasing NATO's military effectiveness and credibility. This is evidenced by, among other things, Germany's leading role in NATO's advance presence in Lithuania, other measures that follow from the Alliance's summits in Newport and Warsaw, and Germany's support for newer steps aimed at improving the defense capabilities of the allies (such as the 4x30 initiative NATO).

Against this background, Germany could take a number of considerations into account when dealing directly and indirectly with Poland.

  • The dialogue should continue to emphasize fundamental commonalities with regard to transatlantic relations. This applies both to security policy and beyond - Germany and Poland are in the same boat, for example when it comes to global free trade.

  • The foundation of the German-Polish security dialogue should be the commitment to the Euro-Atlantic anchoring of both countries. The importance of transatlantic relations is emphasized, but neither a US-only policy nor a European decoupling from the United States is desired. In this context, Germany should point out the risks of security bilateralism with the USA, in particular the possibility that different zones of solidarity could arise in the alliance and security commitments could be de-Europeanized - namely if reinsurance is uncoordinated through bilateral cooperation with the USA is deepened; European partners could then see an improvement in security on the eastern flank as a Polish-American project.

  • A German-Polish security council of foreign and defense ministers would be a visible expression of a clear will to enter into a security policy dialogue. This would not only reflect or develop existing forms of bilateral cooperation (for example between the Bundeswehr and Polish armed forces or in armaments policy), but above all strategic issues could also be debated. Even if such an institution and its effects have to be assessed with sober realism, it would be a symbolic confidence-building measure.

  • Finally, Germany should accentuate its security policy dialogues and military cooperation with other countries from the eastern part of NATO. There are already in some cases close ties with the Czech Republic. The security and defense policy exchange with individual partners in East-Central and Southeastern Europe would, on the one hand, be a response to the advances that the USA is making to the countries of the region. On the other hand, it is precisely the bilateral dialogue that offers opportunities to take into account the security policy specifics in the region. In relation to the Baltic states and Romania, it is a matter of conveying credibility and strengthening their European-Atlantic orientation. Countries like the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Hungary, which are more pragmatic about Russia, should be won over as balanced partners in the region for an objective dialogue in NATO and the EU.


The primacy of the USA is and will remain a constant in Polish security policy. Trust in the USA as the only effective guarantor of Poland's security, whether justified or not, is consensus in the otherwise rugged landscape of Polish foreign and European policy. A possible change of government in Warsaw will change little - even if Poland may then define itself less pro-American and again more strongly Euro-Atlantic. The fact that the Trump administration is pursuing an American return to Eastern Europe in the context of its approach to confrontational great power conflicts in order to curb Russian and Chinese influences there is in line with Poland's strategic interests. Poland is keen to develop security ties with the USA and its military presence, be it within the framework of NATO or in the form of privileged bilateralism. Despite all the uncertainties, a new containment strategy by Washington offers Poland an opportunity to avert the scenario of a post-American Europe. Germany is urged to continue to seek dialogue and cooperation with Poland on security and defense policy issues. However, it must be aware that Poland's preferences are stable.

Dr. Kai-Olaf Lang is a Senior Fellow of the EU / Europe research group.

© Science and Politics Foundation, 2019

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The current reflects the author's opinion.

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ISSN 1611-6364

doi: 10.18449 / 2019A37