US mulls stronger presence in Poland

U.S. Defense Undersecretary for Policy John Rood met Wednesday in Warsaw with Polish defense officials to negotiate a permanent presence of U.S. forces in the country, a project Poland has wanted for some time, and it has pitched to the U.S. as “Fort Trump.”

Proposals for some kind of U.S. military facility in Poland have been around for decades, and the idea has been a subject of active discussion since Russia’s adventures in the Ukraine in 2014. In its most recent defense authorization bill, Congress ordered the Pentagon to issue a report on the possibility. But the idea failed to get any serious traction in Washington — until President Andrzej Duda met with President Trump in September, offering money and naming rights.

“We have come forward with what we think is a very serious robust offer and we’re working out some of the technicalities this very week, when we hope to have a solid foundation to work from having coming out of this meeting,” Katie Wheelbarger, Rood’s deputy for international affairs, told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

The Poles have pushed for a division-sized installation and in September offered to pay $2 billion for a base. Wheelbarger on Wednesday called the offer “very generous” — but some analysts have said it would likely fall far short of the total cost of such a base. Right now, the number of U.S. troops in Poland varies significantly from month to month, but the annual average is about 4,500. They generally belong to two groups: a rotational U.S. brigade near the German border; and a U.S.-led multinational group of 1,000 soldiers near the Suwałki gap, the sole land bridge between Poland at the Baltic countries.

Wheelbarger said that if the Polish deputy minister of national defense, Tomasz Szatkowski, accepts Rood’s offer, then the State Department would take over negotiations on the “actual technical agreement.” She suggested that it would take “probably six months to a year” for the agreement to be finalized.

However, there were no details on the specifics of the U.S. offer — including whether it hewed closer to the Polish request for a full division or something smaller and potentially more dispersed.