Poland Hopes to Use Britain to Stick Washington with Bigger NATO Bill

Poland’s new government wants a deal with Great Britain. Help us get a NATO (meaning American) garrison, and we’ll agree to limit European migrant flows to Britain.

British Prime Minister David Cameron was rebuffed when he sought Warsaw’s support for his European Union reform plan. However, over the holidays, Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said, “Of course, Britain could offer something to Poland in terms of international security.” He went on to complain that “there aren’t, aside from a token presence, any significant allied forces or defense installations, which gives the Russians an excuse to play this region.”

Indeed, as host of the July NATO Summit, Polish President Andrzej Duda will make the issue a priority: “We need a greater presence of NATO in this part of Europe.” He called for allied bases in Poland and said: “We need more guarantees from NATO, not only we as Poland but the whole of central and eastern Europe in the current difficult geopolitical situation.”

No one seriously expects the Dutch, Italians, or Spanish to provide permanent garrisons for Poland. The Germans, who publicly oppose the idea, won’t be coming.

Only Britain and France are realistic candidates, and both reluctantly halted further cuts in their military budget. They aren’t likely to tie up significant combat units in Poland.

Which leaves you-know-who. The United States will be cajoled to continue defending a continent which doesn’t see much need to defend itself.

Last year, NATO-Europe collectively spent about 1.5 percent of GDP, well short of the two percent member objective. Only Estonia, Greece (to confront Turkey), Poland (first time ever), and the United Kingdom made that level.

Even two percent isn’t much if you believe your country is threatened by the authoritarian, aggressive power next door. And Latvia and Lithuania can’t be bothered to spend that much. Turkey also fails the two percent test, despite threatening fellow NATO member Greece, whining about the impact of the Syrian civil war, and shooting down a Russian plane over Syria.

Everyone simply assumes America will do whatever is necessary.

Of course, Russian threats are not as great as the Poles would have others believe. Poland appears secure. Moscow is unpleasantly aggressive, yet its ambitions appear bounded, largely limited to preventing further NATO expansion up to Russia’s borders. Nothing suggests that Vladimir Putin wants Russia to try to digest millions or tens of millions of Georgians and Ukrainians, let alone troublesome Poles living in historically Polish territory. Despite Russian threats against central and eastern Europeans, Moscow lacks the military and economic capability to make those threats credible.

The Baltics, with varying populations of ethnic Russians, also don’t appear to be of much concern to Russia. Attempting to grab a majority-Russian city or other territory would offer few benefits at high cost.

Washington should stop being complicit in the European game of playing the United States. America no longer can afford to defend its populous and prosperous allies.

However, Europe will do nothing so long as America does almost everything. Washington must do less.

If London supports Polish plans for a NATO garrison at the Warsaw Summit, let Britain offer the first troops for that purpose. Anyone else voting yes should be invited to join in too.

As I note in National Interest online: “U.S. officials should note that America remains a bit busy elsewhere—fighting in Afghanistan and the Middle East, garrisoning Japan and South Korea, patrolling the world’s oceans, and maintaining troops all over ‘Old Europe.’ Washington will allow the Europeans to take the lead in their continent’s defense.”

The case for a U.S.-dominated NATO disappeared years ago. The Europeans should discuss how they will defend themselves in the future.

Poland wants to make a deal putting a NATO tripwire on its territory. Washington should make clear that, irrespective of what other nations want, the Americans won’t be coming.