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Thursday, August 16, 2018

DENNIS PATRICK: STATIONING US FORCES IN POLAND

            In view of the reproach President Trump received by armchair strategists following his Helsinki visit, one particular story received scant attention. Thank you Marc Thiessen for bringing that story to light in your Washington Post opinion piece on July 19, 2018 (Trump Can Shut Down Russia Critics With One Bold Move). Thiessen was the chief speech writer for President George W. Bush. He is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and writes a twice-weekly column on foreign and domestic policy for the Washington Post.

            In late May 2018 the Polish government presented President Trump with a formal proposal to move US troops from Germany to a permanent US military facility in Poland. The Polish government would obligate $2 billion to cover the cost of building such a base. The president should give careful consideration to the proposal.

            In a concise piece Thiessen laid out the rationale for accepting Poland’s proposal. Before reviewing Thiessen’s supportive rationale for the proposal, however, reconsider Russia’s threat to the West. Russia is not the world power it used to be. True, Russia holds nuclear weapons, but that is about all they have. The old Soviet Union is history and has split into 15 countries. The Warsaw Pact is history with many of the member states now members of NATO. Russia no longer has a presence in Cuba, Angola, Central America, and Ethiopia.

            The Red Army is gone. Russia does not have the large military ground force it once did. To sail from St. Petersburg to the Atlantic, the Russian navy must pass within range of 11 NATO nations. The Black Sea’s western and southern shores are now controlled exclusively by NATO.

            Russia does not have a robust economy. Her economy has shrunk in size to that of Italy. One thing Russia does have is Vladimir Putin – a former KGB officer with the desire to reassemble the old Soviet Union as it existed during the Cold War. That is a Herculean task.

            Now consider Thiessen’s contention that US troops in Poland would better position American forces strategically. It would certainly thwart Russian aspirations to reacquire the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. Aside from addressing deadbeat countries like Germany who only pay 1.24 percent of her GDP on defense, it also punishes Germany for blindsiding NATO in reaching an energy agreement with Russia. Germany pays Russia for gas sent by the Nord Stream 2 pipeline but it doesn’t pay her fair share for defense. Furthermore, the pipeline runs through Poland and Slovakia. Russia cannot afford to cut off gas supplies to Eastern Europe without cutting off lucrative deals with Western Europe and Germany. If Russia should accept that risk, the US, as a major energy exporter, could fill the void.

            Thiessen points out that the move would address another major US strategic concern regarding our ability to deter Russian aggression. US military commanders expressed concern that if they had to move east from Germany to counter a Russian threat “the most powerful military in the world could get stuck in a traffic jam” as “Humvees…snarl behind plodding semis on narrow roads” and “US tanks…crush rusting bridges too weak to hold their weight.” Stationing troops in Poland would remedy that problem. In its proposal the Polish government was quick to point out “a US permanent presence in Poland [offers] a more forward operating location than Stuttgart provides, would greatly alleviate well founded fears that fellow Eastern European and Baltic governments have that Moscow would be able to overtake defending forces prior to the support of US and NATO forces in Stuttgart could provide.”

            US taxpayers would also benefit from a US military move into Poland. The Polish government’s offer to pay up to $2 billion to cover the cost of building a military base supporting US troops is just a down payment. The offer also demonstrates the Polish commitment to share the cost for its own defense. This turns the tables on NATO members who do not share their fair share of the defense financial burden.

            Finally, Poland loves the US and President Trump as few countries do. When Trump spoke in Warsaw last year he was repeatedly interrupted by cheers of adoration. That would never happen in Germany.

            In the end, such a move would make Trump’s critics, who accused him of being too soft on Putin in Helsinki, look rather silly.

 

Dennis M. Patrick can be contacted at (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  

 

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