President Trump's vision of shrinking the American military footprint in Germany is proving disruptive for the existing power equation in the European Union — and Poland is on his side.
US President Donald Trump's "America First" policy has rattled the geopolitical balance carefully managed by European powers under the umbrella of NATO. Trump's approach towards his European allies is more bilateral, ignoring their collective role in defining the security of the European Union. Now, countries like Poland, Estonia, Greece and the UK are falling for his bait.
In early June, as Washington announced it would cut its troops’ presence in Germany by 25 percent, Poland's foreign policy circles were abuzz debating whether the Trump administration would move them to Warsaw, according to Reuters.
The US envoy to Poland, Georgette Mosbacher, an aide and a friend to Trump, had already dropped hints about giving Poland a bigger role in securing America's geopolitical interests. On 15 May, Mosbacher suggested that Germany should “reduce its nuclear potential and weaken NATO” and “perhaps Poland, which pays its fair share, understands the risks and is on NATO’s Eastern Flank, could house the capabilities”.
Four days prior to that, Mosbacher praised the US-Poland security arrangement in light of the joint air exercise between the two countries.
"Our commitment to Poland's security is ironclad'', Mosbacher tweeted.
For Warsaw, the statements coming from Washington's envoy fulfills its ''need for visible reassurance”. But for regional experts, it's classic American policymaking that they’ve seen before: through bilateral visits, both in Warsaw and in Washington, industrial deals aimed at boosting the country's military sector or by expanding military presence in NATO's eastern flank. The US administration even allowed the quick resurgence of populism and ethnocentrism, which paved the way for the country's far-right to cement its grip on power, even refusing to comment on its worsening human rights situation or to criticise the growing tide of Islamophobia in the country.
Poland wants to retain a more active role within NATO. Polish policymakers have the long-standing ambition of heading the Central European region in security matters hand in hand with the White House, while tweaking Moscow's nose.
Polish government sees Washington's interference as benevolent, a way forward to address its growing concerns in light of Russia's increasing clout as a regional power.
''We have seen evidence that the United States is truly interested in having a stronger strategic partnership with Poland. At the same time, Poland seeks to attract a greater security commitment from the US”, says Eugene Chausovsky, a geopolitical analyst at Center for Global Policy, an American research policy institute.
''From an agreement reached last year to expand the US military presence in Poland by 1,000 troops to more recent discussions of transferring some US military personnel that are set to be cut from Germany to Poland, the US government has signalled an effort of closer military cooperation between the two countries that has been underway for several years'', says Chausovsky.
For Poland, America first.
In May, Poland's National Security Bureau (BBN) updated its National Security Strategy (The New Security Strategy), placing Polish-US cooperation as the centrepiece of the country's security axis.
Polish hawks like to win Trump's attention with ambitious goals, such as the Fort Trump project, a multi-billion-dollar deployment of US troops to Poland's eastern border. In May, the National Security Bureau (BBN) introduced a nuclear policy in an attempt to start a discussion about Poland's participation in the NATO nuclear sharing program.
The opportunity arose after the German Social Democrats (SPD) leader, Rolf Mutzenich, said that Germany should ''exclude the stationing of U.S. nuclear weapons in the future''.
The US embassy in Warsaw was quick to respond in a tweet saying the American nukes can be taken out from Germany and brought to Poland. This left Polish policymakers a little surprised.
Twists and turns
The Trump administration's newfound fondness for Poland is informed by realpolitik.
Artur Wroblewski, a political scientist at Lazarski University in Warsaw, told TRT World that the US is probably putting Germany through a loyalty test.
"The Trump administration checks the loyalty by employing psychological, diplomatic or economic checks on allies'', says Wroblewski.
Would Washington sacrifice the security guarantees to Poland as part of the bigger game being played in US-German relations?
"Although Berlin's relations with Washington have plunged into a political uncertainty because of the traditionally antimilitarist Social Democrats, Germany is still sexy for Trump''.
The Kremlin meanwhile slammed the US envoy's offer to deploy nukes in Poland. In an interview with RIA NOVOSTI news agency, First Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov criticised it saying that ''pressuring partners and pitting other allies against others is not a constructive approach''.
Russia’s artful diplomacy in reaction to Mosbacher’s tweet, has “sown the seeds of distrust”, causing some embarrassment for the Polish leadership.
The head of Poland’s National Security Office, meanwhile, in an interview for Polish state television, denied statements that Warsaw was negotiating a 'nuclear deal' with Washington.
Michal Baranowski, an analyst with the German Marshall Fund of the United States on NATO's unity, said ''Poland is focused on strengthening NATO's interoperability. Nuclear sharing program is being discussed, not negotiated. That makes a huge difference''.
On 10 June, NATO press officer Matthias Eichenlaub told TRT World that Germany has been "very serious about its commitments to NATO."
"Nuclear capabilities are a vital part of NATO’s security environment in Europe. Germany hosts an extended deterrent guarantee. Also for Poland,'' he said.