While Moscow’s aggressive actions have changed the way many in NATO view the threat posed by Russia, NATO’s eastern members have long considered Russia an existential threat and have planned accordingly. Poland, because of its large size, geographic location, and historical experience has become the lynchpin of security in Eastern Europe since joining NATO in 1999.
The U.S. can and should do more to assist Poland in building strong defense capabilities, improving interoperability, and increasing political willingness to use its influence to improve security in the Alliance. It’s also vital that the upcoming NATO summit, which will be held in Poland in July 2016, sees real improvement in the capabilities of the Alliance.
Poland is situated in the center of Europe, sharing a border with four NATO allies, as well as a long border with Belarus and Ukraine, and a 144-mile border with Russia alongside the Kaliningrad Oblast. Poland is the only NATO member state with a land border to the Baltic states. Poland’s 65-mile border with Lithuania, as well as Polish ports and airspace, will prove vitally important should the Baltics come under attack. According to reports, NATO contingency plans for liberating the Baltic states, codenamed Eagle Guardian, call for heavy reliance on Polish troops and ports, which has made some in Warsaw fearful about their own defense in such a scenario.
In June 2015 in the town of Nowa Sól, the local government removed a memorial to the brotherhood in arms of Polish and Soviet soldiers during WWII, which led to warnings of “most negative consequences”from Russia.
The Poles know from experience not to consider Russian threats to be empty. The best way to alleviate Polish concerns is for the U.S. to show a renewed commitment to NATO with a permanent and robust presence in Europe. NATO contingency plans must address the risk posed by Kaliningrad and Belarus to Poland. These plans must be frequently put to the test in exercises with strong U.S. participation.
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In Independence, Missouri, on March 12, 1999, Polish foreign minister Bronislaw Geremek spoke at Poland’s accession ceremony to NATO, promising that “we will not lack the determination, courage, and imagination, needed to reinforce our own capability as a member of the Alliance.” Poland has made good on that promise, spending 1.8 percent of GDP in 2014 on defense expenditures, a figure that is expected to grow to 2.2 percent by the end of this year. Additionally, Poland has served and sacrificed side by side with the U.S., losing 44 soldiers in Afghanistan and 23 in Iraq. Poland currently retains 150 troops in Afghanistan under NATO’s Operation Resolute Support.
Poland has invested in hard military capabilities and has shown a serious commitment to collective defense, becoming a key security contributor within NATO. The Poles have shown themselves deserving of U.S. political and military support. By assisting Poland, the U.S. can advance security in Europe while helping Poland take on a larger leadership role within the Alliance.
Full article: Poland: The Lynchpin of Security on NATO’s Front Lines (The Heritage Foundation)