Poland has expressed its support for US President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) disarmament treaty with Russia. The eastern European country has been striving for a strong alliance with the US for years.
In Poland, Washington is regarded as the true guarantor of security, an association that has its roots in a historical fear of Russia.
Poland's Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said earlier this week in Brussels that Poland has "a similar" stance on the treaty as Trump.
"We share the view that Russia is violating the treaty by introducing new missiles. If the treaty has been breached, then a justified question arises as to whether it should go on," Czaputowicz said.
US missiles welcome in Poland
Foreign Minister Czaputowicz sees no threat to Poland's security in a formal termination of the treaty, arguing that the real danger is posed by Russia, not the US.
"Even if America were to build the weapons currently banned by this treaty, they would certainly not be used against Poland," said the foreign minister.
Poland's President Andrzej Duda also expressed "understanding" for Trump's stance during his visit to Berlin on Tuesday. The termination of the disarmament treaty would be "a consequence of the situation in Russia that has been going on for years, namely the systematic violation of the agreement," said Duda.
The president said that in the case of the treaty being terminated, Poland would be prepared to station US medium-range missiles on its soil.
Stronger ties to America
It was to be expected that the Polish reactions to Trump's criticism of the INF Treaty would be positive. The country is the largest NATO member of the alliance's eastern flank and borders Russia. With Poland's borders and territory repeatedly trampled on since the end of the 18th century — especially by Russia and Germany — and after more than 40 years of communism under the Soviets, fears of its powerful neighbor and the resultant yearning for security are particularly pronounced.
However, the reputation of former Western Allies is also tainted in Polish historical consciousness, because they signed off on the division of Europe at the Yalta Conference and then at the Potsdam Agreement of 1945.
Poland favors a direct military alliance with its transatlantic partner. Since January 2017, a rotating contingent of around 3,500 US soldiers has been stationed in Poland. But Warsaw still wants more with demands for a permanent presence of US troops, preferably divisions that would not be subject to rotation.
During the annual Warsaw Security Forum, experts and politicians expressed criticism of an increased US military presence, which President Duda only half jokingly refers to as "Fort Trump."
According to Frederick B. Hodges, former commander-in-chief of the US ground forces in Europe, a bilateral Polish-American project such as the permanent deployment of US troops would be seen by Moscow as a "confrontational maneuver."
Hodges expressed his surprise that the idea of building "an alliance within an existing alliance" comes from Poland — of all countries — because of Warsaw's constant protests that agreements are being made over its head.
And he is not the only one with doubts. Poland's former President Bronislaw Komorowski expressed his concerns on the country forging such a strong allegiance with the US. saying that in the long run it could damage Poland's relations with its European allies.
"The current government is undermining the country's security by weakening Poland's position in the EU and merely seeking an alliance with the US," said Komorowski.
The former president also said that Russia had no potential as a superpower and was merely exploiting the weaknesses of Western democracy with its policies.
The hope for American support
Marek Swierczynski, a security policy expert for Warsaw think tank Polityka Insight, sees the Fort Trump project as a logical consequence of Poland's pro-American policy, something every Polish government has shared since the Iron Curtain fell. Yet he also views it with concern.
"The permanent deployment of US troops would shift a hard line of defense 1,000 kilometers further east, marking a new line on Europe's map with a thick pen. We would become even more of a front-line state than we are now," says Swierczynski.
He accuses the Law and Justice (PiS) party government of lacking strategic thinking, pointing to a failure to consider how Moscow might react to Fort Trump. "In that case, it could well be that Russia's reaction would not be directly aimed at Poland at all, but rather against other countries." As a result, the analyst urges careful consideration from all sides before pursuing such a policy in earnest.
However, Swiercynski also notes that a stronger military presence in Europe has also been the US' goal ever since the annexation of Crimea. That's why he believes, despite criticism in Europe, that Poland's position could be welcomed in Washington.