The Polish government has recently requested a new base in Poland, and they are willing to pay two billion to have one, which shows their concern over an aggressive Russia and their commitment to NATO. This has inspired the usual concerns from handwringing “experts” that don’t account for the many reasons this is a good idea.
Poland has already received the Trump treatment from European elites and should receive the benefit of long-term American commitment in the region. The US has treaty obligations to the region, strategic necessity for being there, and an open invitation from the Polish government. They should build a base in the region.
Because of the Polish government’s request, this becomes an important sign of friendship. The US is supposedly hated in the world, but here is an ally wanting a closer relationship. The major concern from analysts is that this feeds Russian fears. But the Russians object over just about anything the US does in the region. Considering the Russian seizure of Crimea, intimidation of countries like Montenegro, the active undermining of Ukraine, and Putin’s aggressive nationalist rhetoric, the US has a much more solid case for needed defense in the region compared to hollow Russian complaints. The Russian reaction should be a factor in the decision-making, but those fears should not have veto power.
A recent RAND report succinctly cited those interests when they concluded that America would lose the next war with Russia. The geography of the Baltic members of NATO and extensive war games show that Russia has the ability to rapidly seize key territory before America can properly respond. RAND concluded that Russia could field as many as 25 battalions within 10 days of the start of hostilities, compared to 17 for NATO. That doesn’t sound like an insurmountable difference, except that NATO forces are overwhelmingly light and thus heavily outgunned by the Russians, and the geography of Eastern Europe doesn’t offer much strategic depth.
War gaming found the Russians would capture Riga, the capital of Latvia, within 48-60 hours. Over-optimistic training scenarios would have the US move a single division from Poland to the Baltic States. Yet they are supposed to do this in the face of intense Russian firepower, while also holding a key terrain feature (the Sulwaki Gap) against nearby Russian allies and an intensely militarized Kaliningrad pocket. In short, there are not enough heavy forces, artillery, and air assets stationed close enough to the area of conflict to provide proper deterrence, or with the assets needed in the case of active attacks, and a base in Poland would help solve these problems.
The US has already added several thousand soldiers in a joint NATO deployment to the Baltics. The base in Poland would actually be hundreds of miles farther from Russian territory than these deployments. Moreover, the biggest concern for these troops is that they would be more of a speed bump than a proper deterrence. The base would be an important step in making sure these soldiers are not needlessly hung out to dry.
Finally, there is a historical concern we should be aware of. In both World War I and II, Poland relied on Western allies like France and Great Britain to protect them from Eastern threats such as Germany and Russia. But the allied commitment to Poland was so sparse that after Germany invaded Poland, which invoked declarations of war from Britain and France, the Western European conflict with Germany was called the “phony war.” Infamously, the allies did so little to help in Eastern Europe that many Polish resistance fighters were slaughtered in Warsaw, which some say paved the way for Russian and Communist dominance in post-war Poland.