With Michał Baranowski on the detachment of US troops in Poland, and on the unity of Allies talks Małgorzata Schwarzgruber.
How would permanent US military presence in Poland, which we strive for, change the security status of our country and the entire NATO’s eastern flank?
Contrary to Italy, Germany, Portugal and Turkey, there are in fact no significant allied and US military installations in the eastern flank states. Deployment of American permanent military bases would be a chance to balance the security status, and to firmly secure the interests of all countries in the region. It would be another decisive, also political, step showing that NATO is putting down its roots in Poland, and the division into old and new members is fading away. Enlargement of the US detachment in Poland to the level of division (from today’s rotational armored brigade) would also be of significant military importance. The biggest challenge in case of a conflict on the eastern flank would be the transfer of considerable allied forces to Poland and the Baltic states. Permanent presence of forces belonging to the most powerful NATO member would to a great extent solve this problem, and alter strategic calculations of a potential adversary.
How do you estimate the chances for establishing a US armored division in Poland?
Our proposition was positively received by the US administration and part of the US Congress. There is an ongoing discussion between the US Department of State, the Pentagon and the White House, and several important US politicians consider it a good idea. The Pentagon was officially asked by the US Senate Committee on Armed Services to give opinion on this proposition. The question is how to find those several thousand soldiers, as the United States currently do not have such forces that could be easily detached to Poland – Gen Ben Hodges talked about it during his last visit in Warsaw. The best solution would be to form new US Army troops, but this would obviously require a lot of time and money. The debate on the subject in Washington, as well as in Brussels, has only just started, because –after all – this proposition will have to be approved and financed by the US Congress.
Polish government allocates 2% of GDP to defense. Does this fact have an impact on our efforts to establish the US military presence in Poland?
Poland not only spends 2% of GDP on defense, but also 20% of its armed forces’ expenditure is allocated to modernization – which means that it fulfills two main NATO spending requirements. Not many countries have attained that. Such decisions make Poland a responsible Ally with a serious approach to solidarity and co-responsibility issues within NATO. President Trump appreciates that. He sometimes compares us to other countries which don’t meet these requirements. Americans also remember Polish engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq. Donald Trump seems to like Poland, but establishing a US base here cannot be his sole decision. The Pentagon will have to find enough additional military forces, and the Congress must approve. During the decision-making process, the Congressmen will consider all aspects of the Polish-American relationship – including such difficult ones as the 2018 amendment to the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) or the rule of law issues in Poland.
How important for Poland’s security is the eastern flank where NATO has enforced its presence since the last summit?
It’s essential. Poland is, strategically, the most important country at NATO’s eastern flank, and for that reason the Alliance and the Americans are represented here in large numbers. Contrary to the Baltic states, Poland has its own considerable military forces and a strategic depth, and is a natural pillar of NATO’s eastern flank. Our security is inseparably related to the security of other Allies, particularly the northern Baltic states and Romania in the south. Any activity against the Balts would directly affect Poland – and that’s why NATO presence is of key importance not only in Poland, but on entire eastern flank.
We are a security exporter – Polish soldiers are present also in the Baltic states and Romania. What is your opinion on our engagement in the initiatives taken up far away from Polish borders?
Within the allied solidarity, Poland takes on the 360-degree approach, which means it’s ready to defend at any direction, not only to the East and South, but also to the North. It also means that Poland should be engaged wherever NATO is. That’s why Polish military presence in Afghanistan, and now in the training mission in Iraq, has always been important. Apart from the South, now it’s NATO’s northern flank that’s gaining on significance. The territory of the North Atlantic between Greenland, Iceland and Great Britain is vital, also for the security of Poland. There is a noticeably intensive activity of Russian submarines there. In case of emergency, this would be the US troops’ maritime transfer route to Europe. Currently, Poland’s capability is insufficient to engage there, but we should keep it in mind.
How do you estimate the implementation of NATO Warsaw Summit’s declarations?
Positively. These decisions were ambitious. All four battalion groups are fully operational, we have joint exercises, and rotational US military presence. Most of all, NATO changed its approach towards the threats from Russia, and began to introduce deterrence policy. That’s a great success.
What are your expectations about the Brussels Summit?
I don’t think any breakthrough decisions will be made at this summit, rather those already made will be enforced. Several subjects will be discussed: deterrence and defense; support and troop mobility; expansion of the stability zone beyond the Alliance; cooperation with the European Union; establishment of new commands, and just distribution of expenditure on defense. The key issues are combat readiness and mobility of troops. In order for the rotational forward presence to be effective, we need to have the possibility to quickly react and redeploy forces. Hence the “4x30” combat readiness plan initiative, which means that by 2020 the allied forces will have had 30 mechanized battalions, 30 air squadrons, and 30 ships ready for combat within 30 days.
What is most important from the Polish point of view?
Transatlantic unity. It is the source of political and military cooperation. Without it, there will be no strong Alliance, and it would be hard to ensure security at NATO’s eastern flank. President Andrzej Duda talked about it at June summit of the so-called Bucharest Nine. This unity is expressed also in maintaining the sanctions against Russia by the EU and the USA. This is our best weapon.
For now, this unity has some cracks… The Allies have different opinions on nuclear agreement with Iraq or trade.
Yes, that’s true, there is a crisis in allied relations, because NATO states parted ways after G7 Summit. This crisis may even affect the attitudes during the upcoming NATO Summit.
Didn’t Donald Trump expect that the European states and Canada would react to duties imposed by the USA?
Donald Trump wants to show that his administration will run a brand new trade policy. His approach to many issues is personal, that’s why he withdrew the US support for G7 final declaration at the last moment. Although we talk about NATO summit, it is still not possible to separate military issues from, for example, economic ones.
Can these disagreements affect decisions to be made at the summit?
The stakes are high. NATO is no longer an exclusively military ally, it is a military-political ally. The same leaders that were sitting at the G7 table will meet at the NATO summit. We cannot assume that Polish-American relations remain unaffected while there is a trade storm outside. I’m not saying this atmosphere will soon cause any problems in Poland, but the Alliance cannot function properly when relations between the partners are so tense.
What is more important: the development of national military capabilities of individual NATO members or building joint competences?
NATO does not have its own forces, so it is important that national armies develop their capabilities and opportunities for allied cooperation. It is of particular significance on the eastern flank, where NATO battalion groups are multinational, and play the role of allied cooperation’s laboratory. The priority is permanent defense of own territory, and not, for example, operations in Afghanistan.
President Donald Trump always says that NATO security guarantees cannot be an excuse for the member states to delay the development of their own potential and modernization of the armed forces. An example here is Germany, where 1.2-1.3% of GDP is spent on defense, and German politicians explain that it is hard to make a decision on doubling the expenses on defense in their pacifist country.
Today, the German military budget is slightly higher than some time ago. Germany, however, plays such a significant role in Europe that it should also become responsible for common security. However, neither German politicians, nor society, see such a need, because they don’t see any danger.
Germany is not afraid of any threat from the East. NATO however can see it, and applies two-way solutions – deterrence and defense combined with political dialogue. How should NATO arrange their relationship with Russia?
We keep talking, but nothing changes. Not many Allies expect any specific results of the talks with Russians, but they are not willing to cease them in order to maintain the communication channels. The second reason is the will to keep the political unity in the Alliance as to this matter. However, the majority of efforts is focused on deterrence and enforced protection against non-conventional attacks. For a long time now, we have been witnessing an ongoing informational war, including the Russian interference in elections – the heart of western democracies. Also, there has been the first in NATO history chemical attack on the territory of the North Atlantic Alliance – I am referring to the attempt to poison Sergei Skripal in Great Britain. Despite the continuation of the dialogue with Russia, we shouldn’t expect the return of the “business as usual” relation.
What threats can stem from the aggressive policy of Moscow against the EU states and NATO?
In Poland, we can expect the attempts of Russian interference during local government elections, and then parliamentary elections. In the USA, the prevention of such attempts was unsuccessful. Quite effective in responding to a similar Russian attack were the French. It can also be seen that Russians engage in spoiling Polish-Ukrainian relations, so we should expect provocations there, too. The worst scenario, however, would be the aggravation of the conflict in Asia. If Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un broke the agreement, for Russia it would mean an open door to Europe, as the USA would have to concentrate on Korea. Neither NATO, nor the United States are prepared for simultaneous engagement into two such serious conflicts.
At the Warsaw Summit, NATO and the EU signed a declaration on development of their cooperation. How is it proceeding?
One of the most important aspects of this cooperation is the so-called “military Schengen zone”. One of the PESCO projects regards mobility. It is about regulations on fast troop transport across the European territory, and about developing proper infrastructure. Hybrid threats and IT attacks are also a challenge, and in that area, there is also going to be cooperation work, although NATO and the EU are characterized by entirely different work culture – so it’s not easy.
In response to new threats, the Alliance is to establish new commands: the USA will be responsible for the protection of maritime communication routes on the North Atlantic, while Germany will take care of logistics on the territory of Europe. Is there any chance one of the lower-level ground commands will be in Poland?
I think we have a chance for the command which would coordinate NATO presence in the Baltic states. Poland is perceived as the key country of the eastern flank, and as one serious about defense. There was even a discussion about locating the logistic command here, but Germany got it as it had for years been NATO’s strategic background in that field. Decisions about lower-level commands will be made after the NATO Brussels Summit. A good location for coordinating all northeastern flank would be Szczecin. However, nothing has been settled yet.
Translated by ANITA KWATEROWSKA
autor zdjęć: Marcin Królak