Polish President Andrzej Duda’s proposition to US President Donald Trump, to build a permanent US military base on Polish soil and name it “Fort Trump” quickly went viral around the world. President Duda revealed that such an offer had been made at a joint press conference in Washington following a bilateral meeting between the two presidents in the White House. Trump’s reaction, smiling and raising his eyebrows in satisfaction to the proposal of naming the base after him, instantly drew the attention of the international press to the issue of a permanent US military base in Poland. Many observers argued that Duda’s intention was just that, raising awareness in the West about Poland’s ambition to not be treated as a second-rate NATO member any longer while also stroking Trump’s ego in order to work his way into the US president’s good graces
More than a month has passed since the two Presidents met in the White House and the Polish side is pushing forward. The Polish Minister of Defence, Mariusz Błaszczak, has just returned from the US after finishing another stage of discussions with White House National Security Advisor John Bolton.
Following the meeting with John Bolton, which lasted longer than expected, the Polish Defence Minister, said that the negotiations concerning a permanent military base in Poland are moving in the right direction. He also revealed that their discussion had touched upon the INF treaty and how Russia continually breaks it. The treaty signed in 1987 between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev banned the deployment of all short and intermediate range nuclear and conventional missiles in Europe. Citing Russia’s decision to often ignore the treaty’s provisions, President Trump announced on October 20th that he was withdrawing the US from the treaty. Poland has for years been objecting to Russia’s militarization of the Kaliningrad exclave, which borders with Poland. The Poles believe that the deployment of short-range Iskander missiles with nuclear capabilities clearly goes against the INF treaty. Poland has expressed that the US decision to withdraw from the INF treaty is reasonable and hopes that it could encourage the Americans to agree to locate a permanent base in the country.
After his meeting with John Bolton, the Polish Defence Minister also added, that the Polish government will keep its promise to contribute with $2 billion to the construction of the military base. He later stated, that if the expenses go up, the country will be ready to cover them. The first steps have already been made. A joint Polish-US group, with experts from the Pentagon and the Polish Ministry of National Defence have started looking into the exact requirements for a potential base in Poland. In July, the Washington Post reported that the Pentagon has ordered a report on the costs and implications of a partial withdrawal or transfer of the near to 35,000 US troops permanently stationed in Germany. One of the scenarios studied is a transfer of troops to Poland.
The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the House and Senate this summer and was signed by President Trump on August 13th, includes a provision mandating the Pentagon to conduct a study on the feasibility of a permanent base in Poland.
The Pentagon is also obliged to submit recommendations regarding possible locations in Poland of such a base by March 2019. The Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jacek Czaputowicz stated in October that he hopes that a final decision regarding the base could be made by Washington as early as next spring.
The Polish Minister of Defence, Mariusz Błaszczak has already announced that he will continue talks on the topic in Washington DC in mid-November, when he will meet the American defence secretary, James Mattis.
In the meantime, the Polish public has its fingers crossed that the division of NATO states in Europe, existing since the fall of the Berlin wall, into first and second-grade NATO members is about to come to an end.