Permanent US military base in Poland not a good idea - Gen. Hodges

Placing a permanent US military base in Poland would undermine NATO's unity and cause unnecessary tensions with Russia, former commander of US Army Europe, General Ben Hodges, wrote in the European edition of Politico magazine.

General Hodges was referring to recent reports that Poland was ready to finance the permanent presence of US troops on its territory and was willing to offer up to USD 2 bln to the US government to support such a move. The reports were a surprise for most allies, who gathered for a NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Warsaw in late May.

In his piece, the general stresses that NATO's successes had stemmed from unity and cohesion among its members, therefore "any policy that risks undermining that should be examined with a highly critical eye."

Poland's proposal is exactly such a case, Ben Hodges argues. "Such a move should only be taken if consensus can be achieved among all our allies that it would enhance deterrence and improve the overall security situation for NATO," he writes, adding that it is "unlikely to happen".

The deployment of permanent US bases in Poland or any other Central and Eastern European country would be seen by a number of allies as "unnecessarily provocative". "It would give Moscow an easy opportunity to claim that NATO is an aggressor and to respond in some way in order to protect Russian sovereignty," Hodges claims.

"Unlike the current program of rotational forces, which cycle in and out over limited periods and then return to their home base in the U.S., a permanent base would require U.S. installations, families, schools, shops and all the other infrastructure that comes with it. Some would see this as a violation of the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, the road map for security cooperation between the two entities. Moscow certainly would," the general argues.

"The move could also create additional friction with allies who are already at odds with each other over Washington’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the recently-announced tariffs on steel and aluminum," he adds.

The military official says that a permanent base is in fact unnecessary. "The current exercise and deployment program and other important measures — including the placement of equipment needed for armored brigades in pre-positioned stocks — are part of a robust effort to ensure an adequate deterrent against a possible Russian attack," he writes.

"Still, it’s fair to look at Warsaw’s proposal. Eastern allies believe that the presence of U.S. forces would significantly increase the deterrent effect, because they believe that Russia would never attack and risk a kinetic confrontation with U.S. forces and the possibility of Russians killing Americans," the general observes.

Hodges claims there are other ways to achieve this without undermining the Alliance's cohesion, for example by expanding the use of rotational forces to "all of the eastern flank nations — from Estonia down to Bulgaria as well as in Ukraine and Georgia."

Ben Hodges is a retired lieutenant general in the US Army. He commanded United States Army Europe in 2014-17. He is the Pershing chair in strategic studies at the Center for European Policy Analysis.