Eyeing increased US presence in the region, Poland revamps military spending

Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak (L) at second day of Nato Defense ministers council at Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 04 October 2018. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

Poland’s Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak announced on Thursday (28 February) that by 2026 Warsaw would spend around €43 billion on modernising the Polish armed forces. 

The new Technical Modernisation Plan foresees the purchase of new submarines, naval helicopters and missile defence systems as well as 32 new American fifth-generation aircraft F-35 as a replacement for post-Soviet MiG-29 and Su-22, the Polish defence minister said in Warsaw.

“We know how to modernise Poland’s military, and we will do it,” Błaszczak wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

Although the programme of the defence ministery leaves open when the new equipment will be acquired, Błaszczak announced that “as a rule” modern equipment in general will be directed at strengthening the eastern region of the country.

“I created a new division located east of the Vistula. As a rule, modern equipment will be directed there. Strengthening of the eastern flank is a measure aimed at strengthening the capabilities of the Polish army, but also constitutes a significant strengthening of the entire NATO Eastern Flank,” he said.

In 2017, NATO had decided to station four multinational battle groups in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as part of an effort to bolster security and deterrence after Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

Warsaw also feels increasingly threatened by Russia. Since the right-wing conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government took office, it revived the calls for a permanent US base in the country with “boots on the ground” dubbed ‘Fort Trump’.

“Successive Polish governments have argued for equalising the level of security and the physical presence of NATO troops across the territory of the alliance,” former Polish foreign minister Radosław Sikorski told EURACTIV, pointing out that this is also not something specific for this government only.

“Germany has permanent bases; Britain has them, Italy, Spain, and Turkey – why shouldn’t Poland have them as well?”, he asked.

All the countries mentioned had US bases from the times of the Cold War. Russia is extremely hostile to seeing US presence in what it sees as its natural buffers.

For now the request has been rejected by the US government. Washington merely said that it would increase its military presence in Poland by several hundred soldiers. There are currently about 5,000 US soldiers stationed there within the framework of a rotation model of NATO.

US Ambassador to Poland, Georgette Mosbacher, announced that “the US plans to significantly increase its troop numbers in Poland as the Trump administration ratchets up its engagement in Central Europe.”

Poland requests permanent US base, suggests naming it ‘Fort Trump’

President Donald Trump said on Tuesday (18 September) the United States is considering a request from Poland for a permanent US military presence in the fellow NATO country, acknowledging that he shares Poland’s concerns about possible Russian aggression.

“The Poles are an important ally. They are investing their 2% without even coaxing,” the diplomat underlined in a recent interview with the Financial Times, emphasising that Poland was ready for a 40 billion modernisation of its army. Poland’s willingness to play a role in the strengthening of European defence mechanisms, so the diplomat, was of key importance to Polish-US relations.

Błaszczak in his programme announcement also spoke about further defence expenditures. In 2017, the right-wing PiS government introduced a law, which gradually increases defence expenditures to 2.5% GDP in 2030.

The recent spike in defence spending of the conservative government is also viewed as an attempt of cementing alliances outside the European Union framework.

Just over two weeks ago, Poland and the US sealed a multi-million euro arms deal. During a visit by US Vice President Mike Pence in Warsaw in mid-February, Poland ordered 20 mobile missile launch systems worth the equivalent of €365 million. In March 2018, the Polish government had already ordered a €4.19 billion Patriot missile defence system from the US.

One of the other priorities mentioned by the minister is the expansion of cyber forces. However, no particulars have been made, except that three billion zlotys are to be spent for the purchase of modern cryptographic and IT equipment.

[Edited by Georgi Gotev]

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