WARSAW, Poland — In his first official visit to Eastern Europe, U.S. President Donald Trump arrived in Poland on July 5 to attend the Three Seas summit the following day and praise Eastern European allies for their efforts to increase military spending in line with NATO requirements.
That commitment will likely result in ramped up defense buys, analysts predict.
Speaking at a public rally on Krasinski Square in central Warsaw, where a dense crowd of spectators gathered July 6, the president said his administration was committed to NATO's collective defense clause.
"To those who would criticize our tough stance, I would point out that the United States has demonstrated not merely with words but with its actions that we stand firmly behind Article 5, the mutual defense commitment," Trump said. "Americans know that a strong alliance of free, sovereign and independent nations is the best defense for our freedoms and for our interests. That is why my administration has demanded that all members of NATO finally meet their full and fair financial obligation. As a result of this insistence, billions of dollars more have begun to pour into NATO."
The Three Seas Initiative was established last year by Polish President Andrzej Duda and his Croatian counterpart Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović in a bid to boost regional ties — with a focus on energy and infrastructure — between 12 European countries situated between the Baltic, Black and Adriatic seas. Many of these allies, which predominantly are former communist bloc nations, have intensified efforts to acquire new weapons and expand their defense capacities as a response to Russia’s intervention in eastern Ukraine and its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
Defense budgets expand
The vast majority of the region’s leaders who attended the summit hoped Trump would condemn Moscow’s aggression against Kiev, confirm the U.S. commitment to Article 5 and praise Eastern European allies for ramping up their defense spending following his call for increased commitment to NATO’s operations. In addition to Poland, the participating countries included Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria.
Marek Jablonowski, a political science professor from the University of Warsaw, says the president’s visit to Poland is seen here as a demonstration of support to those allies that have complied with the 2 percent target and raised their share of military spending in gross domestic product.
"Countries such as Poland, Romania and Estonia say they increased their [defense] spending and joined the narrow ranks of member states that spend 2 percent of their GDP on their armed forces," Jablonowski said. "More countries from the region, such as Lithuania and Latvia, are planning to boost their [defense] budgets to prove their commitment."
Following his conversation with the U.S. president, Duda said they discussed matters related to the long-term presence of U.S. troops on Polish soil, bolstering NATO’s eastern flank and the topic of the conflict in Ukraine, among others.
Eastern European allies eye Western gear
"We also talked about the contracts that are related to the modernization of the Polish Armed Forces, about the agreement concluded between Poland and the United States, related to the purchase of Patriot missiles," Duda said. "We talked about the implementation of the Homar program."
Under the Homar program, Poland’s state-run defense giant PGZ aims to develop mobile artillery missile launchers in partnership with Lockheed Martin. Warsaw is also seeking a number of other military procurements, with some of the major programs including Patriot air-and-missile defense systems, fifth-generation fighter jets, and combat helos.
Last March, Warsaw announced it was submitting a revised letter of request to the U.S. government for eight Raytheon-made Patriot batteries, and hoped to sign a contact by the end of 2017. Poland estimates the deal to be worth about 30 billion zloty (U.S. $8 billion).
Polish Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz said in a July 6 statement that the two governments reached an understanding on the air-and-missile defense procurement.
"A memorandum stating that the government of the United States agrees to sell Patriot missile batteries in their most modern configuration, such as the one used by the U.S. military, was signed," Macierewicz said.
Meanwhile, numerous Eastern European allies plan to modernize their aircraft fleets by replacing outdated Soviet-designed fighter jets and helicopters with Western-made aircraft. Countries such as Croatia and Bulgaria are eyeing new fighters, while Lithuanian and Czech defense officials say they plan to purchase new helos for their respective armed forces. Romania’s government has unveiled plans to buy Patriot systems.
"Decision-makers throughout the region know that they need to show an increased military commitment and develop their defense capabilities. This is why acquisitions will most likely be on the rise … in the coming years," Jablonowski said.