The United States and Poland on August 15 signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which supplements the existing NATO “Status of Forces Agreement.” The deal contradicts widespread recent claims that the removal of some U.S. troops from Germany will weaken NATO and undermine deterrence against Russia.
The opposite is true. The agreement more effectively counters the threat from the east, not only by strengthening NATO’s eastern flank but also by modernizing U.S. and NATO defense capabilities and strategy by enhancing mobility, cybersecurity, space security, and information warfare. What’s more, the deal serves as a reference point for modernization of the Polish Army.
The agreement offers six vital benefits to the United States and Poland.
First, it signifies the fulfillment of promises contained the joint declaration President Trump and Polish President Andrzej Duda signed last year.
In Warsaw two weeks ago, Secretary of State Mike Mike Pompeo put his signature on the document that defines the legal framework, infrastructure, and burden sharing of the U.S.-Polish military collaboration. It is somewhat similar to defense cooperation agreements the United States maintains with Germany and other European countries, except the financial requirements are much more stringent. The previous agreement only dealt with the temporary presence of U.S. forces, such as for exercises.
The most important component of the new agreement is the transfer of the Forward Command Headquarters of the newly reconstituted U.S. Army V Corps to Poland. This includes intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities and infrastructure to support two combat brigades. This group will command not only U.S. forces in Poland but the whole eastern flank of NATO.
The V Corps is based in Fort Knox, Kentucky with its forces rotating throughout Europe. Prior to 2013, it was based in Germany. Its commander will be General John Kolasheski. In the future, six more U.S. military commands will be moved to Poland.
Second, the new agreement provides a legal framework for stationing of U.S. troops.
This agreement does not change the status of U.S. troops in Poland, as they will still be there on the basis of regular and continuous rotational presence. Their number will be increased to 5,500, and the cost of their maintenance borne by Poland in the amount of about 500 million złotys ($135 million) a year. Poland will also bear additional infrastructure costs. U.S. troops stationed in Poland will abide by rules that apply to all NATO members dating back to 1951, which Poland accepted when it joined the alliance in 1999.
Third, the agreement creates preconditions for the transfer of some U.S. forces from Germany to Poland.
Discussions about further reinforcements have already started but their quantity and location are not yet decided. The U.S. government last month announced the planned withdrawal of 12,000 U.S. troops from Germany. Of these troops, 5,600 will be moved to other NATO countries, while the remainder will return to the United States. President Trump announced recently that some of the 5,600 reassigned U.S. troops will be transferred to Poland. Altogether, Poland eventually could host as many as 20,000 U.S. troops.
Fourth, the agreement stipulates plans for the construction of infrastructure.
The Polish government assumed an obligation to construct infrastructure to both house and service U.S. troops and store equipment, and to build the necessary infrastructure for increased mobility, so additional U.S. troops could be flown in. This will involve modernization and expansion of airports in Warsaw, Kraków, and Katowice as well as improvements to roads and ports.
Fifth, the agreement provides for increased access to Polish facilities for training and military exercises, which will result in a greater number of exercises to be organized in Poland. Quite simply, Poland will become a hub for the American military presence in the region.
Last but not least, the agreement has an important symbolic dimension.
August 15 also happened to mark the 100th anniversary of the victorious Battle of Warsaw, where newly independent Poland defeated the Soviet Red Army as it was trying to conquer Poland on its way to Germany and the rest of Western Europe to spread the Communist revolution. Its defeat at the gates of Warsaw saved Poland’s independence and halted the red terror from consuming the continent.
What is equally impressive is that Poland managed to do it after only about a year of independent existence and despite the devastation of World War I, when it was just organizing its regular army with the assistance of the French Military Mission. This rare military victory was achieved with a combination of remnant military units from armies of the partitioning powers: Russia, Prussia and Austria, student and peasant volunteers, and Polish-Americans who hurried to help their ancestral homeland. American fighter pilots also made a great contribution to the war. It is decidedly one of the most influential military victories that changed the history of the world.
The withdrawal of some U.S. troops from Germany is long overdue. It creates opportunities for the reassessment of NATO alliance strategy and capabilities, especially mobility and new technologies, in view of modern requirements and concentrates attention and resources closer to the main threat to NATO. By any measure, it’s a cause for celebration.