Poland is seeking a permanent American military base on its soil at the expense of cooperation with European allies, according to Paul Taylor, Senior Fellow at Friends of Europe and author of the new Friends of Europe report ‘”Fort Trump” or Bust? Poland and the future of European defence’ that emphasised the risks of such a strategy. However, Polish speakers at the report’s launch said their country’s geographical exposure to Russia and history of abandonment by European allies made it uniquely vulnerable. Hence, it has needed to place special importance on its relations with the US.
The shift comes at a time when Poland is more prosperous, stable and safe than ever before. Its memberships of NATO and the European Union have helped maintain peace with neighbours and generate high rates of economic growth, investment and employment. Yet Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party, is haunted by feelings of national insecurity and historical grievance, said Taylor. These have led Kaczyński to pursue bilateral defence ties with the US rather than strengthening collective activities with European partners and NATO allies.
“Poland has embarked on quite a sharp change of direction in its national security policies,” said Taylor, noting that the pivot to Washington coincided with a deterioration of Warsaw’s relations with the EU over the rule of law, and with the main west European powers, Germany and France.
“Poland is pursuing a risky strategy and setting itself up for disappointment. There may be short term political benefits before it sinks in that ‘Fort Trump’ is not going to happen.” President Donald Trump was not pulling US forces back from Syria and Afghanistan in order to park them in a base in eastern Poland waiting for the Russians to come, he said. Washington’s main security concern was China, not Europe.
One reason for preferring the US is its military might and Europeans’ relative lack of defence activity, noted Anna Maria Anders, Polish Secretary of State and Senator. “The European Union, instead of doing something about common defence, spends a lot of time talking about it,” she said. “Poland will always be sceptical about Europe because of 1939 – when France and Great Britain did not come to its aid.”
For some Poles, western Europeans don’t understand the traumas that their country has been through – first during the Second World War and then under the Soviet Union’s domination of Eastern Europe. “Western Europe knows very little of Poland,” said Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, a Member of the European Parliament and former Polish Minister for European Affairs. “We feel in touch with history more than you do after 60 or 70 years of happiness. On the US, it is not a risky strategy. It is the only strategy.”
Donald Trump appears less committed to NATO than previous US presidents. Though he is unlikely to pull the US out of the alliance, Poland would still benefit from wider cooperation with other NATO allies and the rest of the EU, said Jamie Shea, a Trustee of Friends of Europe and former Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges at NATO. “Poland has an interest in getting involved in European defence projects,” he said – “not just in the Mediterranean but to fill the gaps in NATO defence.”
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