Why Poland is So Eager for a Fort Trump

Acting in America's national interest is a good thing. But sometimes our allies are in more precarious positions than we appreciate.

America still enjoys unprecedented post-Cold War goodwill from Eastern European countries, though it seems bent on taking it for granted. Poland and the United States recently celebrated 100 years of their special relationship at a soirée in Warsaw, and for good reason. Washington strongly backed Poland’s membership in NATO, granted in 1999, and its accession into the European Union in 2004. In turn, Poland committed a significant number of troops to the U.S. military mission in Iraq and the NATO mission in Afghanistan. It also has a thriving expatriate community in America, a country that millions of Polish Americans helped to build.

Much ado has been made in the West about Poland’s rightward shift under the currently governing Law and Justice party. There was also a considerable brouhaha in America’s mainstream media over President Trump’s summer 2017 visit and speech in Warsaw. Vox labeled his remarks—Trump’s first major European address—an “alt-right manifesto.” Follow-up meetings between Trump and Polish President Andrzej Duda in 2018 led the U.S. ambassador to Poland to call American-Polish relations “the strongest ever.” In particular, Duda’s proposal for a “Fort Trump” U.S. military base in Poland, and for possibly waiving American visa requirements for Poles, piqued the interest of various observers.

Granted, the relationship hasn’t always been sunshine and roses, with a clash late last year between Mosbacher and the Poland’s government over a documentary on Polish neo-Nazis. Nonetheless, the general trend of friendliness abides. Writing last year in The Hill, Mosbacher and the Polish ambassador to the U.S., Piotr Wilczek, stated that “the 10 million strong Polish diaspora in the United States, together with the sizable number of American and Polish exchange program participants and alumni in both countries, deepen our mutual understanding and enhance our cooperation in many fields.”

As for Fort Trump, while Poland wants permanent U.S. boots on the ground, Trump wants NATO countries to shoulder a heavier defensive burden, so the proposal remains only a proposal. Currently, Poland hosts rotating American troops and NATO units. TAC contributor Doug Bandow criticized the calls for a Fort Trump in The National Interest late last year, arguing that America would get nothing out of stationing troops in countries like Poland and that “NATO is defense welfare for Europe.” Bandow further posited that a permanent American troop presence in Poland is militarily unnecessary and would be a foolhardy provocation of Russia in today’s already tense global climate.

Bandow is, of course, largely correct—at least from a geopolitical standpoint. Particularly in the wake of the American and Russian withdrawal from the INF treaty, it would be unwise to escalate matters further. However, a sometimes overlooked perspective in such discussions is that of allied nations themselves. While it’s entirely reasonable for the U.S. to pursue an “America First” policy in foreign affairs, it’s also reasonable to see that the commitments and extensions of American power abroad are unique because of our position as the world’s superpower. Among America’s deep bench of historical and strategic allies—Poland, Georgia, the Kurds, and many others—discussions of military cooperation are often cynically assessed. Nations and peoples with tragic and heroic histories are viewed and judged purely for their worth as buffer zones, proxy fighters, and bulwarks against the threat of the day. Countries such as Poland—economically and militarily integrating with the West—are often treated as an afterthought by their powerful Western backers.

Poland doesn’t have faith in NATO to protect it from Russia in the event of a confrontation or escalation of tensions, especially given what happened in Ukraine and the strategic position of the Russian city of Kaliningrad. So the nation, which was upgraded last year by FTSE Russell to “developed” status, has followed the trend of many Eastern European countries—including, partly, Ukraine—that wish to enjoy the benefits of U.S. military and economic cooperation but end up also bearing many of the costs and stresses. One is reminded of the Republic of Georgia, which has partnered closely with the United States and Western militaries but was left holding the bill when Russian troops rolled in following Georgia’s attempt to take back the breakaway region of South Ossetia in 2008. Then-Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili was reassured by Vladimir Putin that Russia was not overly invested in the separatist regions (as recounted in Thomas de Waal’s excellent book Caucasus). Moreover, the since-exiled Saakashvili was further encouraged of a unified U.S.-Georgian response by his close friend and ally, the late Senator John McCain.

While the American response to the Russo-Georgian War may indeed have been (disastrously) different had McCain been elected president in 2008, the American non-response was indicative of the realpolitik that still underlies much of its international relations. It’s worth noting that at the time, 2,000 of Georgia’s most elite and battle-hardened troops from its 4th Brigade were deployed in Iraq to aid America’s mission, and thus not available to defend their country. In fact, one of the few to step forward and offer strong support for Georgia was the Polish president Lech Kaczński, whose speech in Tbilisi just prior to the outbreak of the war is still well remembered by Georgians today.

Poland has deep historical reasons for its aversion to Russia and economic and strategic reasons for partnering with the West. Not least of these is its desire to counter Russian firm Gazprom’s Nord Stream II gas pipeline and bolster its Three Seas project to build up infrastructure and energy ventures along the Adriatic, Black, and Baltic seas (where Poland already plans to build the Baltic Pipeline through Denmark). Poland wants to free itself from dependence on Russian energy and become an important energy exporter to Central and Eastern Europe. It’s worth noting that the American LNG is already shipping into Poland. As Mosbacher and Wilczek wrote last year, “We both strongly believe that energy security and diversification is vital to every country’s security and independence. A single supplier should not monopolize the European energy market. Projects that obstruct the diversification of energy sources, notably Nord Stream 2, pose a threat to European security.”

At the end of the day, a return to countries prioritizing their national interests could be a positive development, leading to a de-escalation of antagonisms between massive power blocs. It is also likely that ramping up NATO pressure might drive Russia closer to China geopolitically and serve no pragmatic purpose. On the other hand, understanding the precarious positions occupied by America’s allies can be a worthwhile lesson in humility. It can remind us that the whole world does not revolve around American interests. It can help us see that countries wanting only a better future are too often caught in tough bargaining positions.

Paul Brian is a freelance journalist. He has reported for BBC, Reuters, and Foreign Policy, and contributed to The Week, The Federalist, and others.  You can follow him on Twitter @paulrbrian or visit his website www.paulrbrian.com.

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17 Responses to Why Poland is So Eager for a Fort Trump

  1. SteveM says:

    Re: Poland doesn’t have faith in NATO to protect it from Russia

    What evidence is there that Russia has any interest in attacking Poland?

    I’ve asked this not rhetorically a hundred times: What would be the strategic rationale and objectives for Russia to attack any country in Europe? Where exactly can I find this “Putin Manifesto” with Russia’s Master Plan for world domination?

    Russia’s strategic objectives are clear. I.e., a pan-Eurasian economic union in which the greater Europe would be a primary bilateral trading partner.

    And Russia would invade Europe to totally wreck that plan? And Russia would be happy to invade Poland and then even if successful have to oversee and control 40 Million subversive malcontents?

    Someone please tell me why Russia would be that stupid.

    No, it’s the War-Mongers in Washington and at the Pentagon that are stupid, irrational and crazed. Shooting off their big mouths churning up fear-monger fantasies to sustain the obsolete and unaffordable America the Global Cop Gorilla model.

    Why? Because there are money and fame in it. On top of the intrinsic sociopathic lunacy that drives Beltway Meatballs like Nut-Job Bolton, Fat Pompeo, Nitwit Pence and the gas-bagging Generals.

    Taxpayers should be absolutely disgusted by how many TRILLIONS of their dollars are being flushed down the toilet by the pathetic Hacks in the dystopian Swamp that is Washington DC.

    Only since the lapdog MSM is the communications mouthpiece for the Swamp Creatures, the taxpayers are barely aware.

  2. JR says:

    Poland has a pipe dream.

  3. Sid Finster says:

    Want to tork a Pole off? Want to bring out the best in Zygmunt or Katarzyna, really provoke him or her into a spitting mad Donald Duck meltdown?

    Simple – point out that the only reason that Polish people are alive in Poland today is because of the Red Army.

    Nazi Germany was ready, willing and able to exterminate Poles as a people. Not only that, but the Nazis and their Ukrainian collaborators were off to a blazing start before the Red Army showed up.

    That’s not to excuse anything the Soviets did, but what they did was not because they hated Poles per se. The other irony is that Poles will forgive Germans anything.

    Expect lots of hysteria, here and anywhere else.

  4. Peter Doucette says:

    It is interesting to note the increase in people who are arguing that the US and its Western European allies should not do anything to antagonize the Russians by showing support for Eastern European NATO member countries for fear the Russians will tilt towards China.

    This seems to be a rather dated way of thinking based on some past world order that is or has disappeared and is not very creative. If the US and its European allies would be a bit more creative they might recognize that if they want to keep Russia from tilting towards China they might have a better chance it they offered Russia the opportunity to join NATO and even perhaps the EU. As the old saying goes; “hold your friends close and your enemies closer”.

    If Russia declines such invitations so be it but other than being a nuclear power Russia has more to gain from being part of the West than deluding itself in to thinking that China won’t try to dominate Russian any less than it currently perceives the West as trying to do.

    For Eastern European countries that have been the proverbial punching bag between Russia and Western powers for centuries might finally come to an end if Russia was drawn in to the West and had to accept the territorial integrity of the member states that were part of the same alliance.

    Russia has been viewed as the enemy of the West for many years but if the West doesn’t want to see Russia tilt towards China then perhaps it is time to be more creative in how the West demonstrates to Russia that partnering with the West is the better alternative.

  5. Kirt Higdon says:

    So we need another country with a millions-strong ethnic lobbying group in the US on whose behalf we are committed to go to war? Isn’t Israel already one too many of those? And Poland wants us permanently basing troops there as well? Can the rulers of the US be so stupid? Probably yes.

  6. Christian Chuba says:

    The people in the U.S. who got us out of the INF are eager to install U.S. missile bases in Poland, the Baltics, and Ukraine. This is all part of a military escalation.

    If you believe we will win this arms race then yee-hah.

  7. SteveK9 says:

    SteveM said it for me. The idea that Russia would invade Poland is absurd. Peter, I’m afraid it is long past time to prevent an alliance between Russia and China … that is going ahead at a very rapid pace. It will never reach the stage of a military alliance, as neither country needs an ally there, but economically, that relationship is growing very fast. Power of Siberia gas pipeline will begin pumping gas before the end of the year … 38 billion cubic metres per annum to China … 30-year contract, and that is only one of many projects.

  8. German_reader says:

    @Sid Finster
    “The other irony is that Poles will forgive Germans anything.”

    lol, I guess that’s why the Polish government is trying to bring up the issue of German reparations for WW2 again (to much popular acclaim in Poland). The idea that Poles have “forgiven” Germany is fantastical, the Nazi issue is constantly brought up by Poles in Polish-German relations.

    As for Mr Brian’s piece, it strikes me as totally dishonest, this isn’t about Poland’s interests, the idea that today there’s a serious risk of Russia invading Poland is nonsense. No, this is about US pursuit of global hegemony and elimination of Russia as a great power. Moves to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO were always insanely provocative and would have caused a severe reaction by any Russian government. The idea that Americans have done this out of pure altruism or that it’s genuinely in the interest of European peace and security is absurd, but of course such a view feeds into comfortable illusions about America’s inherent goodness and its exploitation by ungrateful European free-riders.

  9. Lul says:

    About the forgiveness, when it comes to the war with Russia, Germany will loose as well. This is targeted against Russia and Germany as well.

  10. California says:

    Everyone here sure seems certain that Russia would *never* invade Poland. Has some revolution occurred in human history and nature that I’m not aware of?? Russia and Poland have been at loggerheads their entire history. If you think this is somehow the end of history you and FF should fly away together to cloud coo coo land.
    I don’t think Poland should look to the US to protect it against Russia- we never will. However to say that Poland is in no danger against the Russians is idiotic. When Russia conducts war games its imagined enemy is often Poland. When Putin needed to create a national holiday he chose to revive the memory of the expulsion of the invading Polish army from Moscow some 600 years ago.
    If you don’t know much about the long and sordid history of these countries you should probably not comment on it.
    When in Poland the sense of danger is palatable. The Poles know their history well. Their greatest hope now is another 40-50 years of peace. They’re not overly optimistic about their chances.
    When you go to Poland you are in an oasis. It is the last European country. They should designate the whole country a UNESCO world heritage site. We should all seek to protect it for that reason alone.

  11. Brendan says:

    Or, aimed at moving the intellectual and moral Western axis to the East , from London/Paris to Berlin/Warsaw.

  12. Sid Finster says:

    @California:

    So what Polish territory do you claim that Russia covets? On what basis do you make this claim? Hell, Russia hasn’t even bothered to invade Ukraine, in spite of the fact that the Russian armies would finish Ukraine off in a matter of days or hours.

    Meanwhile, surely you know that *the* Russian national struggle is The Great Patriotic Fatherland War, fought against Nazi Germany, not Poland. as it was, Poland lost some fractious and underdeveloped Ukrainian and Byelorussian lands, and received potions of Germany. Poland also became much more ethnically homogeneous as a result.

    That said, V.V. Putin did not need to revive the expulsion of the Poles some 400 years ago. That was the low point of Russia during the Time of Troubles, and nobody in Russia needed to be reminded.

    That said, it was the *anniversary* of the expulsion that gave rise to the national holiday that you mentioned. Not some mythical Russian obsession with invading Poland. Russia has plenty of more recent conflicts with Poland to consider, if there were

    Poles desperately want to be western, European. They’re like the kid brother that wants more than anything for his older siblings to acknowledge his existence, but at the same time feels that he can never measure up, never be cool enough to hang out with them. When I lived in Poland, Poles were disappointed that an American, coolest of the cool, would bother to learn Polish rather than snub them the way they felt they deserved.

    By contrast, as long as the cool older siblings make an enemy of Russia, Poles can do so too, in hopes of ingratiating themselves with their big brothers, and hoping that maybe some of his coolness will rub off on them.

  13. Tom Piatak says:

    It is touching to see the deep faith that so many here profess that Russia will never have designs on Poland.

    It’s as if there never was a First Partition of Poland, or a Second, or a Third. It’s as if the Red Army never invaded Poland in 1919. It’s as if there never was a Nazi-Soviet Pact, which made possible the Nazi invasion of Poland on September 3, 1939 as well as the Soviet invasion of Poland two weeks later. It’s as if the Soviets had not chosen to replace the Nazi occupation of Poland with a Soviet occupation of Poland.

  14. Oscar Peterson says:

    @Tom Piatak

    So your logic is that because X happened in the past, it must necessarily happen again in the future?

    It follows from that that Mexico should be quaking in its boots. I agree that one should not discount any scenario absolutely, but this isn’t the 18th century. Why would Russia want to occupy Poland at this juncture? What is the Russian grand strategy that would make that a goal?

  15. California says:

    @ Oscar and sid Finister

    Just because you can’t imagine a scenario that would lead to the Russians occupying Poland doesn’t mean that such a thing can’t and won’t happen. Many people thought the same before convulsive periods of history.
    As Tom Piatek observes, it’s happened many times in the past. It’s part of the Russian identity to hate the Poles (and vice versa). Have you read any Dostoevsky??

    Do the Poles have a weird inferiority complex as regards the West? Sure. What does that have to do with the reality of being invaded??

    Do you know who the first victims of Communism were? Even before the kulaks? Yes, the dirty ethnics Poles who had the misfortune of living in Russian territories.

    And yes, obviously communist Russia was primarily fighting the Nazis during WWII as it was the Nazis who broke the pact that divided Poland between them (why would they invade Poland in 1914??? There was not good reason for it!). But that didn’t stop them from stoping their forward march on the shores of the Wisla while the Polish uprising fought with shoe stings and home made guns against the Nazis to make sure as many Poles were killed as possible before they marched through.

    No one is suggesting that Poland is a power on the par of Russia. No one is suggesting that at this juncture in history Poland is a major threat to Russia. What some people are suggesting is that some countries and some peoples have a longer historical memory than we Americans have. Just because it doesn’t seem immediately rational to you that Russia would invade Poland does not mean that it’s not a real possibility for which the Poles are intelligent to prepare themselves for. May God grant them another half century of peace.

  16. California says:

    Whoops – 1914 should obviously read 1939. My apologies.

  17. The Reticulator says:

    Why would Russia occupy Poland again? The feeling among Russians that they want to be a great nation again is strong. Not among everyone, but among a significant number of people. By that, they mean they want some semblance of their old empire back. Putin will play to that in order to stay in power. Many of the defects of his regime will be overlooked if he can play that card. For those Russians who are more liberal-minded, Putin can invent atrocities against Russians that they need to protect again. He played this card very well in South Ossetia. It’s easier in places like Latvia, where there are more ethnic Russians, but most likely he would take on Latvia and Estonia before he’d take on Poland.

    How the United States can respond or help is a good question, but it would best not to pretend to be too stupid to understand what is going on. If people play the I’m-too-stupid-to-understand card, that’s likely to get the United States drawn in against our interests.

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