By Jeremy Lott
Last week, the Obama administration announced it would send 1,000 troops to Poland on a regular rotation as part of ongoing efforts to shore up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO’s) Eastern flank.
These American troops, said President Obama, will “serve shoulder to shoulder with Polish soldiers” to help out one of our country’s “most committed and important allies.”
Poland is indeed an American ally and stories of the Polish people’s resistance under Soviet Rule are stirring stuff. Still, there are two significant problems with Obama’s call on this one.
First, and nothing against Poland here, most European nations are not living up to their obligations under NATO to provide troops and other support for collective defense.
The Wall Street Journal reported that America spent more on its military bands last year than five of our lowest spending NATO allies spent on their entire militaries. Now, maybe America’s military spends too much on fanfare, but come on!
The fact that American spent more strings and brass sections than Slovenia, Latvia, Luxembourg, Albania and Iceland tells us that European countries have gotten far too used to America keeping the peace for them. In fact, only 5 of the 28 NATO member states (including Poland as one of the exceptions) are spending the agreed upon 2 percent of Gross Domestic Product for defense.
NATO is supposed to be a collective security guarantee, with all allies chipping in and pulling their weight. Even Obama admits that many European nations really aren’t doing that. They are instead spending those funds on more lavish European welfare programs, among other things.
Obama’s decision to send troops into Poland only makes it more likely that they’ll continue to cheap-ride on American taxpayer-funded forces in the future.
Second, Russia will take this very badly. It could do something rash as a result.
The Military Times reported that “by using rotating battalions, the U.S. is technically living up to a 1997 treaty with Russia that prohibits ‘additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces’ in Eastern Europe,” but strongman Vladimir Putin will be entirely unsatisfied by that lawyerly excuse. And indeed Putin complained about “anti-Russian hysteria” emanating from the latest NATO Summit.
The fact that an action will piss Russia off is not always good enough reason for not doing it. Yet at a minimum it should make our leaders stop and think things through for a moment before going ahead. That doesn’t seem to be the case here.
Over the weekend, Obama said “there can be no business as usual with Russia” until it settles the issue of Eastern Ukraine. The region has been the site of fighting between official and unofficial Ukranian and Russian forces for several years now and the subject of negotiated ceasefires that are always threatening to come undone.
It’s understandable that Obama would be frustrated by this and that Eastern European nations, being right next door to Ukraine, would worry about future Russian encroachments. But is the right response to preemptively send in forces, or is that simply inviting more trouble?
America already has forces in Europe that could be redeployed to Poland to help our NATO ally if Russia did anything truly threatening. Is it worth sending 1,000 of our already stretched-thin troops on regular rotation just to make a statement?
We don’t even need a Magic 8 Ball to answer, “All signs point to no.”
Jeremy Lott is a senior fellow at Defense Priorities.
This piece was originally published by The Washington Times on July 24, 2016. Read more HERE.