Alan Lis: The case of ‘Fort Trump’

Since the collapse of communism, the United States has been widely recognized as the main ally of Poland, and the core guarantor of Polish sovereignty and security. For many years now, Polish authorities (nevermind of their political and ideological identification) have tried to secure the permanent presence of the US Army on the Polish soil. Over time, this issue has become also an element of a domestic political game. The current government formed by Law and Justice party (PiS) and its smaller allied parties, has been trying to get the US to establish a permanent US Army base in Poland. President Andrzej Duda, while visiting the White House in September 2018, suggested establishing such base, which would be named after the US president – Fort Trump. 

For many average Poles, the main external threat to the country comes from Poland’s powerful neighbour, Russia. Society’s views on that issue are reflected on Polish parliamentarians, vast majority of whom, if asked, would openly claim that Russia poses the greatest danger to Poland’s sovereignty. Such views, which strongly inform Polish mentality, have inevitably been inherited from the few decades of the oppressive communist rule. Since it collapsed, Poland has made a turn to the West, and became a member of both EU and NATO, which, along with the alliance with the US, constitute the ‘security umbrella of Poland’. Through the membership in the EU, Poland is politically and economically bound with almost thirty other European states, whereas NATO offers more of a military protection, especially since the outcomes of the 2016 NATO summit in Warsaw were introduced and multinational battalion battle group was deployed in Orzysz, north-eastern Poland.

However, if, as already mentioned, NATO already provides security provisions, then why ‘Fort Trump’ is important for Poland? Mainly because it is widely believed that an additional form of protection from Russia and its expansionist policies would not be harmful. Despite Poland is a member of both, the EU and NATO, none in Poland would see a permanent US Army base as exaggeration, especially considering what has been going on in Eastern Ukraine since 2014. Additionally, the permanent presence of the US Army would undoubtedly strengthen Poland’s position in the region- by many means, Polish authorities have been trying to portray their country as the leader of the Central and Eastern European region over years- and would highlight the close relations between Warsaw and Washington. 

Before that happens, funding for this project must be approved, and the idea itself needs to find the support of the majority of American lawmakers. However, there are strong voices in the US towards enhancing its military presence in Eastern Europe, considering deterioration in bilateral relations with Russia. The Atlantic Council, think tank based in Washington, issued a report in December 2018 arguing for just that, and pointing at Russia’s military build-up in the Kaliningrad Region (the one Poland shares border with) and hybrid warfare that Moscow has engaged in.

Understandably, Russia is not likely to favour the idea of a permanent US Army base in Poland. It is very probable that ‘Fort Trump’ would fuel Moscow’s argumentation that Western states and organizations, by deploying their forces so close to Russia’s borders, ultimately not only undermine its security in theory but actually pose a direct threat to Russia and its security and interests in a closeness of its traditional sphere of influence. Whether establishing ‘Fort Trump’ would be a direct reason for a more serious escalation between Washington and Moscow remains to be seen once the base is officially set up. What is going to be a likely outcome is deterioration of bilateral relations between Warsaw and Moscow, as well as further Russian military build-up in Kaliningrad, and perhaps, Belarus. However,  the bilateral relations between Warsaw and Moscow will, with a high dose of probability, experience deterioration. 

Setting up the permanent base is, however, not only in the interest of Poland but also the US and NATO. It would vitally increase the security of the Eastern European NATO members against the aggressive actions carried out by Russia- be it by using its regular units or ‘little green men’. It would also prove President Trump’s support for NATO and its multinational forces deployed in Poland- notably, majority of whom are American- after showing a rather dismissive attitude towards NATO for a prolonged period of time. As President Andrzej Duda is expected to visit the White House on 12th of June, the eventual decision should be made public exactly then.