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Poland Wants an American Garrison: Let Germany Do It!

07 Jun 2018

Doug Bandow

For years American officials have variously demanded, urged, and
begged European governments to increase military outlays. For years
the Europeans have instead reduced their spending, manpower, and
procurement. There has been a slight uptick in their defense
efforts under President Donald Trump, but most NATO members,
including large and important nations such as Germany, Italy, and
Spain, aren’t coming close to meeting the official standard of
spending 2 percent of their GDPs on defense.

Now Poland, which fell just short of that level last year, is
requesting that Washington establish a permanent base and garrison.
Warsaw says it will kick in a couple billion dollars, while
Washington can pick up the change on its way to confronting
nuclear-armed Russia in a crisis.

But instead of sticking America with yet another tab, it would
make more sense for Poland to send its bill to Berlin. German
Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for European leadership on
defense. But her coalition partners won’t let the continent’s
dominant nation and biggest economy meet its military obligations.
The Germans should garrison their neighbor in return for the

The transatlantic alliance made sense when it was established in
1949. Western Europe was still recovering from World War II and
Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union was a cautious predator. The continent
required time to reestablish something approaching a reasonable
balance of power.

Before taking office
Trump seemed to understand that European free-riding was
counterproductive. What about now?

Still, Dwight Eisenhower, who served as NATO’s first
Supreme Allied Commander, warned against a permanent American
presence that would “discourage the development of the
necessary military strength Western European countries should
provide themselves.”

Allied outlays remained anemic even after the continent’s
recovery. The end of the Cold War triggered a rush to demobilize
while NATO expanded toward the new Russian Federation’s
shrunken borders—despite contrary Western assurances given to
Soviet and later Russian officials. Few considered how to defend
new members, essentially treating the alliance as a
gentleman’s club to which every respectable nation should

The Russo-Georgian war of 2008 and especially the 2014 conflict
between Ukraine and Russia have since reminded Europeans that NATO
is, in fact, a militaryalliance. Yet only
“new” Europe, as Donald Rumsfeld called it, seemed much
worried about Moscow’s intentions, demanding guarantees that
the alliance would hold off Vladimir Putin and his hordes.

“Old” Europe offered its formal assent but not much
more. Instead, Washington created a special budget line to augment
its forces in Europe. First came the European Reassurance
Initiative, which then morphed into the European Deterrence
Initiative. At $6.5 billion this year, the EDI spends more than
Belgium, Denmark, Romania, and Greece devote to their entire
militaries. Meanwhile, the pending National Defense Authorization
sets as policy an “increased United States presence in Europe
through additional permanently stationed forces, including
logistics enablers and a combat aviation brigade,” along with
“increased United States pre-positioned military equipment,
including munitions, logistics enablers, and a division
headquarters” and “sufficient and necessary
infrastructure additions and improvements throughout

Vladimir Putin is an unpleasant character, but he is not
suicidal. Russia today looks a lot like the pre-1914 Russian
Empire, intent on having its interests respected and its borders
protected. Taking back Crimea, which hosts the Black Sea base at
Sevastopol, and preventing Georgia and Ukraine from joining NATO
were obvious and important interests. But Putin would stand to gain
little from triggering full-scale war by invading one or more of
the Baltic States or Poland, the most nervous alliance members.

Most of Europe agrees with this assessment. The specter of
Russian aggression simply does not frighten. Europeans recognize
that Russian troops are not going to march through their
neighborhoods, so why spend more on defense? Especially since Uncle
Sam can be trusted to play his default role.

The recent increase in allied outlays isn’t great and
isn’t likely to be sustained. Only four European countries
last year hit 2 percent of GDP on defense. Most of the others are
unlikely to ever reach that level, irrespective of their

All this has left “New” Europe dissatisfied. So
Warsaw wants the U.S. to offer extra protection directly, even
though we already maintain two combat brigades in Germany and Italy
has an equivalent force that rotates through Eastern Europe.
Warsaw, however, wants its very own American garrison.

Declared the Polish defense ministry: “Poland is a
steadfast ally of the United States and is committed to advancing
our shared interests and values, which increasingly are being
threatened by Russian interference. A permanent U.S. presence in
Poland will ensure that both nations can continue to advance,
strengthen, and protect these values and interests.”

At least the Poles offered to contribute $1.5 billion to $2
billion to the effort, saying, “The Government of Poland
understands that such a burden must be shared,” and
“such expenses cannot and should not be financed by one
country alone.” Which, admittedly, is contrary to what most
European governments believe.

Still, this is an awful idea. First, Moscow doesn’t
threaten America. And nothing suggests Russia plans to attack
Poland. Merely being in NATO does not entitle member states to a
U.S. military unit stationed within their borders.

Second, Polish analysts worry that the proposed contribution
will be deducted from outlays to improve their own country’s
military. Lukasz Kister of the Jagiellonian Institute warns that
“The proposal to pay the U.S. for ensuring our security
raises doubts we will be able to finance the modernization of our
own armed forces.”

Third, the proposal ignores the fact that the major cost of
commitments such as NATO isn’t in overseas basing, but in
creating extra units. The more and greater Washington’s
military guarantees, the larger the force that is required.

Fourth, American soldiers are not mercenaries to be rented out
to the highest bidder. If the Poles really believe themselves to be
at risk, they should spend not 2 percent of GDP on their military,
but 5 or 10 percent, perhaps even more. They should ask themselves
how much their freedom is worth.

There is, however, an obvious solution. Some 240 years ago Great
Britain hired “Hessians,” who came from several German
principalities, to fight against American revolutionaries. Poles
could hire modern “Hessians” to guard Poland.

After all, Chancellor Merkel responded to President
Trump’s criticism of Europe’s defense dependence by
calling on Europeans to “take our fate into our own
hands.” Alas, Berlin’s behavior has yet to reflect her
rhetoric—but Germany is contributing 450 soldiers to a NATO
mission in Lithuania. That’s a start.

The biggest problem today is that Berlin’s actions
don’t match its words. In 2014, Merkel’s last
government promised to hit 2 percent of GDP by 2024. She recently
said reaching that level is “not completely beyond the
imagination.” But in 2015, total German defense spending
dropped to 1.1 percent. During last year’s election campaign,
the opposition Social Democrats hardened their position against
expenditures that, from Berlin’s standpoint, make no sense,
since the likelihood of a Russian attack on Germany is only a bit
greater than that of a Martian invasion.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen recently expressed
a desire “to reach defense expenditures of 1.5 percent of GDP
in 2025.” However, the coalition budget caps military outlays
at 1.3 percent.

This helps explain the judgment of the Atlantic Council’s
Jorge Benitez: “The readiness of the German military is
abysmal.” During a recent assessment, the German army had 244
tanks, but only 95 were battle-ready. None of the country’s
six (count ‘em, six!) submarines were in service. Not one
Eurojet fighter was combat-ready. Just 8 percent of German soldiers
said they trusted their weapons.

Alas, admitted Hans-Peter Bartels, parliamentary commissioner
for the armed forces: “the Bundeswehr as a whole cannot
currently be used in the collective defense.” With dramatic
understatement, he noted: “Additional efforts are

Obviously the Bundeswehr could use Poland’s $2

What does Europe need for its defense? Inadequate resources is
not a problem. The continent enjoys about 12 times the economic
strength of Russia. Italy’s GDP alone is larger than that of
Russia. Moreover, the Europeans have more than three times
Russia’s population.

Yet none of the nations worried in principle about Russian
aggression act worried about it in practice. Bulgaria, Estonia,
Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, and Romania respectively devote 1.53,
1.73, 1.75, 1.80, 1.99, and 2.08 percent of their GDPs to their
militaries. That compares to America’s 3.57 percent.

They have no reason to do better so long as the U.S. will do it
for them. President Trump said that European laggards would be
“dealt with,” but they have no reason to change as long
as Washington continues to subsidize them. For instance, despite
its irresponsible defense policy, Germany continues to host some
35,000 American troops.

Before taking office, the president seemed to understand that
America’s defense of Europe was counterproductive. But he
surrounded himself with officials determined to increase U.S.
military entanglements. And the Polish government is lobbying hard.
Opined Polish defense minister Mariusz Blaszczak: “The
decisions on this matter are moving in a good direction,” by
which he meant bad for the American people.

The president should tell Warsaw no. If Poland doesn’t
want to raise more of its own soldiers, then it should hire a few
Hessians from its German neighbor.

Doug Bandow is
a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special
assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is author of Foreign
Follies: America’s New Global Empire.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in CATO Journal