Thursday, June 07, 2018

Poland: Where Prudence and Diplomacy Intersect

A retired former American commander in Europe doesn't want American Army bases in Poland.

I noted the offer in a recent weekend data dump:

The Poles would really like it (and are willing to help pay for it) if American troops would remain in Poland. The Russians continue to be their a-hole selves in response. Maybe this is where REFORPOL comes in.

On the Polish offer, the author of the initial article cited says it is a bad idea because there is no NATO consensus for the move (and there are divisions over the Iran deal and tariffs); because it might bolster Russian claims that NATO is a threat; that it might be seen as a violation of the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act; that prepositioned stocks make the move unnecessary; that Congressional representatives would not want to lose a brigade in their home state to be stationed in Poland; and that the alternative of rotating our brigades from the continental United States increases our readiness.

I'm scratching my head at most of those reasons.

Indeed, the author rejects the legal argument over the founding act:

I absolutely don’t believe [putting US brigades in Poland] is a violation. The Russians blew [the founding act] out of the water when they invaded Ukraine and changed the security environment envisioned at the time when the act was signed.

I think that the Russians blew out of the water the right to claim anything NATO does to redress low defense levels in the east is threatening. And if the Russians are as paranoid as they seem, anything we do short of putting brigades in Poland will also bolster Russian claims of a threat with no less fervor. And if Russia is just posturing even though they know damn well that NATO is no military threat to Russia, why go along?

I simply dismiss the Congressional opposition. If any Congressional delegation opposes moving a brigade to Poland to defend America, they should be shamed publicly. The purpose of our Army is to defend America and not to bolster local economies. Making that claim should be an embarrassment.

As for rotational brigades being enough? Well, we don't have enough to rotate more than a single armored brigade through Europe given other responsibilities. Is that really a replacement for brigades on the ground? I see the rotational exercises as useful practice for moving units across the Atlantic and across Europe to the crisis area. This is completely separate from the issue of units on the ground in Poland.

The consensus issue is reasonable. This should be a NATO decision. But I find it outrageous to suggest that Europeans can rightly hold NATO defenses hostage over tariffs and the withdrawal from the horrible Iran deal. Is America justified in not meeting NATO obligations to defend European NATO members over non-defense issues that we raise? Heck, is America justified in not defending European NATO members who fail to meet the defense spending goal by the deadline coming up in 2024 (that's from memory, so I could be off)? Are the Europeans really willing to establish that precedent? This argument should not even be dignified by inclusion in the legitimate consensus issue.

This, I think, is a reasonable and decisive objection:

[A] base in Eastern Europe is unnecessary. The current exercise and deployment program and other important measures — including the placement of equipment needed for armored brigades in pre-positioned stocks — are part of a robust effort to ensure an adequate deterrent against a possible Russian attack.

I hadn't read that NATO is putting prepositioned stocks in Europe for multiple brigades as I called for in that cited 2008 post on REFORPOL--building on the old REturn of FORces to GERmany, REFORGER. I thought Russia blew the 1997 agreement out of the water when Putin invaded Georgia.

I find that stationing of equipment a superior choice than putting actual combat brigades in Poland. I don't want actual American brigades there not because I fear worrying Russia or giving them excuses to complain--those ships sailed long ago over far less--but because I worry we'd be tempted to ship the few brigades available in Poland north early in a crisis and put them in a kill sack, in a replay of the French Dyle Plan in 1940.

We certainly should put a couple armored brigades back in Germany, I think, along with a corps headquarters. With a parachute brigade and Stryker brigade already in Europe, plus the rotational armored brigade kept up, we'd have the force sized to what I argued we should keep in Europe (although heavier now, in light of the Europe situation), back in 2003 (starting at page 28).

So the bottom line is that despite disagreements on many of the arguments that I think weaken the best reason not to do it, I agree with the general over not putting brigades in Poland right now because prepositioned equipment is a sufficient response (and I agree on the consensus issue).

Let's build up the stocks in Poland, the ability of NATO to defend them from missile and air attacks, and the logistics infrastructure in eastern Europe to support moving and supplying NATO forces in the east. If Russia still wants to act like an enemy ready to pounce after we've done that, then we can consider stationing American and other NATO brigades on Polish soil.