NATO has a rich history to build upon but it needs to move its strategy center to the East.
For fifty years NATO was focused on deterring the Soviet threat by zealously guarding the inner-German border. The threat is just as serious today, but its geographic focus has shifted eastward. The NATO members along the Russian border should be the focus of immediate U.S. and alliance engagement and support.
Poland is the emerging economic magnet for Europe and demonstrates the greatest support for the national security alliance. It is the keystone to NATO’s eastern defense line. Poland is spending more than two percent of its GDP on defense and acquiring a range of advanced military systems, particularly from the United States.
The U.S. should pursue expanded security and economic relations with Poland, Romania and Hungary. Poland should be the new U.S. focus as Germany, France, and Britain reduce their physical investment in the Atlantic alliance. Poland has immediate aspirations for a military alliance with the U.S.
NATO is already prepositioning significant military equipment at a new depot in Poland. The U.S. Army has armored equipment – Abrams tanks and Bradley and Stryker armored fighting vehicles – based in Poland, and is rotating personnel to Poland on a regular schedule.
Poland wants U.S. forces based there full-time – specifically an armored brigade combat team. Permanently basing a U.S. armored brigade in Poland would require moving one from Germany or CONUS or creating an entirely new brigade. This is possible but would be expensive and presents both diplomatic and domestic political complications.
Poland also needs to finish modernizing its armored forces, and tanks specifically. Poland acquired several hundred Leopard tanks a few years ago, but no more are available. There are still some 500 Soviet-era main battle tanks in its inventory that need to be replaced.
As an enhancement to the current rotational arrangement, and in lieu of permanently basing an armored brigade in country, the U.S. should suggest Poland buy Abrams tanks and define a cooperative U.S./Polish industrial production plan for mutual benefit. Today, the Abrams is the only Western main battle tank available.
This initiative would be the most affordable for Poland and offers the quickest potential for implementation. The conventional deterrence benefits of such a development along the Russian border would be significant. U.S. policy should be to advance this idea in bilateral discussions with Poland.
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