BRUSSELS — A new report warns Poland against the temptation of relying on a “Fort Trump” to guard against the threat of Russian aggression.
The recommendation by Friends of Europe, a leading think tank here, comes after the Polish government has lobbied Washington to permanently station American troops at a base in the NATO country, to be named after the American president. Warsaw’s aspirations were met with skepticism in Europe and by some U.S. defense experts, who fear that such a move could been seen as questioning the alliance’s commitment to collective defense.
The think tank’s report contends that Poland is led by a “reclusive politician haunted by feelings of national insecurity and historical grievance.” According to the study, the chairman of the ruling party Law and Justice, Jarosław Kaczyński, sees enemies and threats everywhere and safety, if at all, only in the “tightest possible” bilateral defence relationship with the United States rather than in the “collective embrace” of European partners and NATO allies.
The analysis follows what many in Europe view as a reversal in Poland from post-Cold War liberalism to a heavy-handed government exhibiting non-democratic traits. Last month, the Washington Post published an exhaustive report from Eastern and Central Europe that included Poland in a line-up of “new autocrats” digging in across the continent.
Friends of Europe study author Paul Taylor told Defense News: “It’s time to get real. The United States is not pulling any of its troops out of foreign entanglements in Afghanistan or Syria so that it can put them in a big, fat ‘Fort Trump’ in eastern Poland.”
He added, “At the very latest when President Donald Trump tweeted, ‘It’s time to bring our boys home,’ the light bulb should have gone on in Warsaw.
"America is disengaging from overseas commitments and focusing on growing rivalry with China. The U.S. Army doesn’t have a spare combat brigade, let alone an armored division, to tie down in central Europe waiting for the Russians to come.”
He went on, “For a Polish government to bet the store on securing a permanent U.S. Army base to guard against Russian aggression is sure to lead to disappointment. All the more so if the quest is coupled with confrontation with the European Union over the rule of law, souring relations with the main Western European powers, Germany and France, a weakening of the armed forces and security services through repeated purges, and ‘memory politics’ that upsets neighbors and allies.”
The Polish request for U.S. troops comes at a time when the country has never been more prosperous, stable and safer, both as a sovereign state as well as a member of NATO and of the European Union, the report notes. It is at peace with its neighbours and enjoys enviable rates of economic growth, investment and employment, it says.
“There are other ways to strengthen NATO’s eastern defences," argued Taylor. “Use European Union funds to expand dual-use road, rail, energy and airport infrastructure to facilitate military mobility.”
He also suggests giving NATO’s supreme commander pre-delegated authority to set in motion crisis-response measures.
“Both the EU and NATO are investing in improved cyber defences and better early warning of hybrid threats and disinformation. Poland lags in these areas. In that sense, a joint U.S.-European ‘Fort Trump’-initiative could be more attractive to the United States," said Taylor.
Martin Banks covered the European Union, NATO and affairs in Belgium for Defense News.