Date: 4 November 2019    Author: Martin Svárovský

US military presence in Poland from the regional perspective and potential Czech contribution

Motto: The central importance of codified doctrine lies not only in the particular way it can animate and optimize national military forces, but also in the efficient manner by which it can transmit messages to the adversary.

Presidents of the US Donald Trump and Poland Andrzej Duda during a bilateral meeting on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York. Both statesmen signed a joint declaration on deepening defense cooperation. US, September 23, 2019. © Radek Pietruszka (PAP)

Introduction When Russia started military operations in eastern Ukraine and illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, both sides of the Atlantic reacted by force posture changes and economic sanctions. Where the USA changed also its strategic doctrine, Europe has not. The Strategic Concept of NATO remains in place and basic doctrinal documents of decisive European powers witnessed tactical rather than strategic shifts. New deployment to Poland or the Baltic states reflects the adjustments in the US force posture. The goal of the deployment is to strengthen the resilience of the Eastern Flank of NATO. At the same time, these redeployments fit into the new US global strategy that envisages updates in overall US defense and deterrence architecture. Wide range of policy recommendations by the US strategic thinkers demonstrate the fact that the United States took the events in Crimea, eastern Ukraine and the meddling into the US elections altogether as a genuine game changer. Policy reflection of these recommendations is still evolving and so is hence the ultimate shape of the US military presence in Poland. US deployment to Poland as an integral part of the new American strategic doctrine The New American Strategic Doctrine The latest US National Security Strategy, the National Defense Strategy, or the Nuclear Posture Review, represent a significant shift in American strategic thinking and policymaking. Adversaries, rather than terrorism, are the center of attention. The US is openly declaring a resolve to approach them from a position of strength and points out the need to rethink the policy of engagement with rivals. The new US strategic doctrine does not see military force just as an instrument of urgent crisis management. It attaches a significant role to the military in pursuing America’s national interests. At the same time, the wording of all these doctrinal documents clearly indicates the will to cooperate with partners while handling different security issues from a position of strength. Naturally, Europe is identified as a key partner for the USA. Some elements of the American strategic doctrine deserve attention since they pose both a challenge and a chance for NATO:

  1. Peace through strength. This means tailored sanctions as an effective political tool with coercive potential, arms sales’ role in international relations or a substantial increase of the defense budget.
  2. US changes in nuclear doctrine and deterrence architecture. The United States declare the need to react to the significant development of both the capabilities and the military doctrines of adversaries. It argues for strengthening the integration of the nuclear and non-nuclear military planning with the aim to defeat the subject adversary’s strategy.
  3. US skepticism against arms control. The USA comprehends that arms control is an integral part of Russia’s military strategy: to advance its own military position while weakening that of its enemies.
  4. Great power competition, not terrorism, as a primary global issue. This paradigm changes the US strategy in some particular regions. The National Defense Strategy calls for “dynamic force employment” in an effort to prepare the US military for the transition from focusing on fighting terrorist groups to a possible great-power conflict with about the same force size. It calls for greater agility, more lethality, less operational predictability, higher readiness, irregular deployments, and maximum surge capacity.
NATO Summit in Warsaw. US President Barack Obama, Polish President Andrzej Duda, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Warsaw, July 08, 2016. fot. Andrzej Iwanczuk/REPORTER

The situation of NATO and its European Members On the other side of the Atlantic, the situation looks much different. NATO has decided not to change its Strategic Concept from 2010. The basic document defining the defense and deterrence posture of the Alliance (“Defense and Deterrence Posture Review”, DDPR) is from 2012 and is simply outdated. Albeit, subsequent official texts do cover defense and deterrence, such as the Warsaw Summit 2016 Communiqué, or the Brussels Summit 2018 Declaration, it is at least questionable whether they serve as a distinct actualization of the DDPR. For instance, in the text of DDPR, the primary role assigned to the tactical nuclear weapons is in disarmament policy. This is in sharp contradiction to Russia’s strategy on tactical nukes.  No country is considered as an adversary according to the DDPR and NATO seeks “cooperation on missile defense with Russia”. This year though, the Alliance adopted two new strategic documents: The “Political Guidance” that defines the level of ambition of NATO and the “Military strategy” that reflects upon a new character of threats. Both these documents are classified… What a different approach to the “messaging” role of doctrine from the American one! As for the military aspect, last three summits in Wales, Warsaw and Brussels proved the NATO’s adaptability on changed security environment, emerged adversary threat and the new warfare. NATO’s military structures work intensively and diligently on the necessary adjustments (deterrence, command and control, readiness and forward presence). Nevertheless, the weak points of the Alliance are somewhere else: first, the fragile political cohesion due to the divergent threat assessments.  Second, an insufficient European level of ambition within NATO. And third, the pace of the adaptation of NATO. Modular approach to NATO security The Alliance does plan to adjust its whole force structure to strengthen the security of the European theatre. The plan foresees three stages. The first two, covering the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force and the entire NATO Response Force, have their timeline until 2021. The third one, that will entail the force posture change of the entire European Theatre, should be ready by 2024. The same applies to the pace of the defense planning. For instance, the commitments of the Czech Republic from the latest NATO Defense Planning Process envisage the creation of a mid-armored brigade by 2025 and the full-fledged heavy armored brigade by 2026. All this is happening against the backdrop of extremely high readiness of the Russian forces. Readiness that is regularly checked in massive scale exercises with a highly problematic scenario. The Alliance estimates that the Russian troops are combat-ready within 1-2 days and within 3-4 days they can conduct limited, and within 8-10 days, major military operations in the territory of Baltic states. This means that the conflict can start tomorrow, regardless of the pace of the NATO multilateral adaptive processes. How to solve the puzzle of Russian readiness on one side and the rather slow process in NATO on the other? Apart from multilateral initiatives, like the NATO Readiness Initiative, the individual or bilateral solutions are needed. This is what one could call a “modular approach.” Reaction time is a decisive factor. Deployment in Poland is the key solution. The US forces in Poland have shorter response times for contingencies on the Eastern Flank compared to the forces that are stationed in the United States or in Western Europe. They can start degrading the Russian anti-access / area-denial capabilities and maneuvering to defend threatened points along NATO’s eastern frontier right in the initial phase of the conflict. Poland’s geographic depth would leave the U.S. forces less vulnerable to an initial salvo by Russian area-denial capabilities than if they were positioned in the Baltic states. Such forces could hold Kaliningrad at risk, particularly if accompanied by capabilities designed to counter Russian artillery advantages over NATO units, such as multiple launch rocket systems or high-mobility artillery rocket systems. Their effectiveness will be multiplied by the substantive increase of the readiness and aforementioned shorter response times of the Polish army. Western Europeans must widely accept this modular approach. It is in full harmony with the Article 3 of the Washington Treaty. The Czech Republic with its experience from difficult NATO debates accompanying the ballistic missile defense plan on its territory, should be supportive of Poland. In 2008, the U.S. Secretary of State and the Czech Foreign Minister signed an agreement on hosting a radar base for a planned U.S. missile-defense system. Only later, after the Alliance took its time to discuss implications of the project for the defense of the Alliance and to resolve diverging opinions as to “how”, the system was “NATO-ized”. The US military presence as a contribution to the resilience of Poland against external threats The military presence of the United States in Poland is in the interest of Poland, the region of Eastern Flank, as well as in the interest of the United States. The New American strategic doctrine says the US needs Europe for the deterring of Russia, one of the four main adversaries of the United States. The resolve of Poland, its commitment to contribute to regional stability, burden sharing and making the deployment cost-effective for the US government, strength of its own armed forces, support of the public and its adjacent position to the most vulnerable part of NATO – all this speaks in favor of deploying additional US capabilities to Polish territory. Hosting the US forces on very high readiness as well as an increase in readiness of its own army might also prove valuable for contingencies beyond the borders of NATO. Future modality of the US military presence in Poland; rotational and/or permanent The current U.S. posture in Poland includes a mission command element, an Armored Brigade Combat Team on a rotational basis, a Stryker infantry battalion serving as the Poland eFP battalion, limited combat support enablers, a US aviation Detachment and a sustainment task force. The number of U.S. troops in Poland is on annual average about 4,500. American strategists have been advocating for an enhancement of this posture for quite a while. Discussion focused on the combination of the division headquarters in Poland and the corps command headquarters in Germany, a permanent placement of long-range artillery, air and missile defense, prepositioned hardware stocks or an armored brigade combat team boosted by fire and combat support.  The question whether these enhancements will consist rather of strengthened rotational presence with prepositioned equipment, of a more permanent presence or of an enormous boost for readiness and capabilities of the Polish army, is still open. The composition of the enhanced military presence in Poland must correspond to the new American doctrine, mainly the National Defense Strategy. It is crucial for the Congressional approval of the necessary funds. Concrete tactical considerations within the new American doctrinal approach are still evolving. The emphasis on the rotational character of the US deployment has its advocates, such as gen. B. Hodges or Air Force Lt. Gen. Tod Wolters, U.S. European Command. The others, like gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, Wolters’s predecessor, advocate rather a mix of enhanced permanent and rotational presence. Recent declaration of the presidents Trump and Duda suggests that we will probably be witnessing some mix of all the three above mentioned components[1]: The final shape will be known after further US-Polish negotiations that might last up to one more year. Looking closely at the presidential declaration, four tactical elements seem particularly worth noting:


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  1. An open question about naval component. The presidential declaration does not refer to this. Yet, the “US dynamic force employment” counts on an increased naval posture. The situation in the Baltic Sea presents a particularly interesting opportunity. NATO naval forces, including the Polish ones, already have both numeric and capability advantages over the Russian assets. They are able to challenge the Russian improvements in A2/AD capabilities that threaten the ability of surface and aviation forces to operate freely.
  2. Another interesting point is the establishment of a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance squadron in Poland. The United States intends, the presidents claimed, to share information derived from this squadron’s operations, as appropriate, in support of “our defense objectives”. It is remarkable because it fits to general US strategic thinking, counting on autonomous unmanned aircraft for overcoming existing Russian A2/AD capabilities.
  3. An open question of further shifts (after the command structure) of forces from Germany to Poland. Experts like gen. Breedlow or former NATO DSG Wershbow do not recommend this. According to them, further enhancements should largely build on the significant US capabilities already deployed in Poland and could be complemented by capabilities from other NATO Allies.
  4. Integration of the Polish “Homar” program into the US enhanced force posture on the Polish territory. Poland, similarly to Romania, is going to purchase a Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) with the range of 300 km. American strategists are of the opinion that investment in the capabilities and capacity of long-range fires could undermine Russian advantage in fires capabilities. Programs to further develop long-range precision fires for the multiple launch rocket system up to 500 km have a significant role in these considerations.

NATO context Mandate of the Congress encourages the administration to take into account political consequences for NATO.  Polish diplomacy is well aware of the importance of the Alliance context. Positions of the key European Allies, besides the stance of the NATO structures as such, might play an important role. Recent Polish top-level meetings in Brussels as well as the language of the presidential declaration stressing the importance of the NATO context, are symptoms of this awareness. The support of the Czech Republic and other Allied countries on the Eastern Flank within the expected NATO debate on the US deployment to Poland should be regarded as relevant. US deployment to Poland is about their security. The meaning of the US and NATO presence in Poland for the resilience of the Eastern Flank of NATO For countries most exposed to the Russian threat, strengthening of the defense and deterrence posture of NATO is among their highest priorities. Indeed, the best way to defend our states is to secure a state of affairs in which the enemy will not launch an attack. We have to ask ourselves whether our present contribution to the deterrence in the Eastern flank of the Alliance is sufficient. A potential enemy of the Alliance will not come to believe our resolve by simply reading NATO’s Strategic Concept. The whole picture comprises of military doctrines and preparedness of individual NATO members. The worst possible scenario on the NATO’s Eastern Flank The most relevant crisis scenario on the Eastern Flank is a possible Russian attack on the Baltics. Russia has capabilities needed for its realization (the actively built Anti-Access/Area-Denial concept covering the whole Baltics; sufficient firepower of armored brigades; elite parachute division in the Pskov Oblast; regular exercises). We have to analyze the question of why Russia would conduct an attack, even though it knows that its fight with NATO in the Baltics would eventually be lost. There are various factors in Russian reasoning, such as the relative considerable stability of Russian regime or an opportunity to boost extreme Russian national pride, and in its view an elevation of its position on the international arena, by means of a quick overrun of the Baltic states and a subsequent agreement with the West, similar to the “six-point peace plan” of the Russo-Georgian War in 2008. By launching a risky venture in the Baltics, Russia would assert its position in the international arena even more than in Syria. The Baltic states would be given a lesson and a clear message would be sent to all other countries thinking about NATO membership: “Even though the membership in NATO will provide you a guarantee of aid (Article 5 of the Washington Treaty), it will not prevent you from ever being attacked.” In such a scenario, the Alliance would be confronted with the necessity to carry out an operation liberating the Baltic countries. Even in the best course of action, the liberation operation would require certain time to gather forces. Some military simulations estimate this time to be 35 days. The closure of the Suwalki Corridor by Russian forces would create a very difficult obstacle for the Alliance to overcome. These factors, plus the eventuality of Russian limited nuclear de-escalatory strikes, the long range hi-precision strike danger would make any counteroffensive from NATO likewise very difficult. Additionally, the liberation operation would demand launching strikes against targets (surface-to-air, surface-to-surface) that are located in close proximity to the Baltics, i.e. on Russian soil. It poses a risk of further escalation and increases the political sensitivity even more. Russia’s offer of a “political solution”, during the course of a conflict, would give a further spin to an extreme political challenge for NATO’s political cohesion. The probability of this scenario is not high. Nevertheless, we must be prepared for even a low-probability scenario. The legitimacy of working with such scenarios is evident by simply looking at the current numbers of Russian forces in the region or at their, regularly practiced, readiness. There are other possible modalities of a potential attack, as it can be waged sub-strategically (via the cyber domain; singular or limited attacks on vessels or aircrafts or on important railroads), accompanied by massive (dis)information campaigns. From the political point of view, an attack under the Article 5 threshold could be even more dangerous for the Alliance than a conventional attack above it. It can fuel extreme sensitive political discussion about what should be the appropriate reaction. In any case, the argument of “doves”, meaning that when considering an attack against the Baltics, Russia must reckon with the possibility of a “devastating conventional defeat”, which discourages it from attacking, does not seem plausible. It is hard to believe that the Western political representation, much less the public, would accede to such thing as inflicting a “devastating conventional defeat” on Russia.[2] On the contrary, there would be an enormous pressure calling for closing a deal with Russia (in the manner of the six-point peace plan of the Russo-Georgian war) already during the liberation operation. Russians must know this very well, therefore the political vulnerability of the West will play a much bigger role in Russian calculations than the possibility of a “devastating conventional defeat”.

Tree planting ceremony commemorating the B9 and the 70th anniversary of NATO, Warsaw, April 4, 2019. fot. Mateusz Grochocki/East News

The response of the West comes from the Eastern Flank itself If these adventurous thoughts are indeed in the minds of Russian strategists, we must ask ourselves whether we are able to reduce their attractiveness. Polish as well as US forces on very high readiness on the Polish soil help with this, together with the armed forces of the Baltic states. The Baltic states and Poland form a single operational space connected with the vulnerable Suwalki Corridor. It is prudent to assume that the territories represent a single integrated operational-strategic challenge in the Russian eyes as well. Baltic armed forces are continuously and consequently expanding their heavy forces. All three of them have made purchases that considerably boosted their military capabilities. Especially the progress in building heavy armored units and self-propelled artillery is of great importance. On top of that, regardless of their size, armies of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia are well-trained, and their staff is characterized by patriotism and high motivation. Thus, the three Baltic countries and Poland are increasing their contribution to the Alliance’s deterrence capabilities. While assessing the Czech contribution to NATO’s defense and deterrence capabilities, we have to distinguish between assurance measures and deterrence measures. Czech Army must focus more on high readiness and deterrence capabilities. The deployment of a mortar platoon to the eFP battalion in Latvia or mechanized company in Lithuania on stand-by regime are such examples. Yet, a plan to build a new airborne regiment, as the Czech General Staff plans, can have its reasons as well. Yet, it will have a deterrence meaning only if it is trained and equipped for snap contingency in the Baltic territory. Similar applies to the Czech participation in the building of follow-on forces within German “Nation Framework Concept”. Robust follow-on forces of NATO are needed, but the very topical issue for our security is the readiness and the deterrence on the frontline. The impact of the US military presence in Poland and the new American doctrine for the security of the Czech Republic. Recommendation for the Czech Foreign and Security Policy.  The Czech Republic has adopted many aspects of NATO’s Adaptation into its own strategic documents, planning and capabilities development. Nevertheless, for the Czech Republic supporting the new US strategic doctrine means complementing NATO obligations with bilateral and multilateral arrangements, in line with the ‘modular’ approach explained above. When it comes to the ‘forward deployment’ and ‘high readiness/fast reinforcement’ aspects of the US strategy, the obvious option is a forward positioning in Poland, in close cooperation and regular exercising with Polish and US forces. The Czech Republic earmarks the 7th mechanized brigade for the collective defense task and for this purpose it is affiliated with the Multinational Division North-East Headquarters in Elblag. This affiliation currently encompasses only a provision of exercise plans for the brigade as a member of a larger multinational formation. However, the level of cooperation could be upgraded substantially to an actual rotational deployment of the brigade’s battalion-sized task force in the Elblag’s area of responsibility, with essential combat support and combat service support.

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Besides an actual rise of the number of troops in the area, thus directly contributing to the need to deploy more forces in the area for deterrence, regular rotation of the task group to its home brigade would also greatly expand the brigade’s knowledge of the area and main reinforcement routes, thus also contributing to the credibility of NATO’s reinforcement approach. Such a measure would certainly be very costly, but given the planned increase of the Czech defense budget, the priority of the collective defense task, and the likely future redeployment of forces from crisis management operations, the necessary resources should be found. Other options include increase in exercises in the Eastern flank. The new airborne regiment (to be set up from 2020) could also contribute to this task. The new unit is intended for rapid deployments to address quickly emerging crises. The Czech Republic plans that this unit will be ready for deployment in a matter of hours. As aforementioned reasons depict, this ability ought to be frequently exercised on the Eastern flank, joining other multinational units operating in the area. Special Forces of the Czech Armed Forces are, too, expected to be employable in full spectrum of conflicts, including those of high intensity. Since Special Forces has no practical experience with these scenarios, they could exercise regularly with its US and Polish counterparts – some analysts have even proposed for the US 10th Special Forces Group activities with the Polish Special Forces Command in Krakow to be made a permanent training platform for SOF of Polish and Baltic countries. Czechs could join such an effort and jointly exercise the employment of SOF in high intensity scenarios. In addition to supporting deterrence through the forward deployment and high readiness/reinforcement, Russia’s possible attack would count on the inability of the Alliance to agree on a swift and overwhelming response. Kremlin has been stoking the indecisiveness of NATO as a whole and individual Allies through the non-military aspects of the hybrid warfare. This is something that Moscow has been doing for years: supporting anti-NATO and pro-Russian parties and pressure groups, using economic projects to bind influence groups or whole governments to itself and attempting to delegitimize opponents. Such a long-term campaign alone could significantly affect resolve of some Allies. And it is likely that in the event of a Russian military adventure against the Eastern flank of NATO, the non-military aspect would play a significant role, precisely to prevent fast and resolute decisions – protests by Russian sympathizers, blockades of reinforcing troops and many more. Deterrence can be built up against hybrid campaigns by credible attribution of the source; naming and shaming; the proportionate responses showing that hybrid attacks will be consistently answered and in a collective and united way. Here, the Czech Republic also has an important role to play. It is a known fact that Russian intelligence is very active in Prague and makes effective use of diplomatic cover – the Russian Embassy in Prague is by far the largest in terms of diplomatic personnel and it is confirmed in public reports of Czech intelligence agencies that a substantial number of this personnel are intelligence officers. It is also believed that Russian intelligence uses Prague as a hub for its operations in the region of central Europe. Czech services should therefore step up their efforts to uncover and disrupt Russian malicious activities and degrade Russian influence network, making its effective use in a crisis with NATO less likely. Likewise, a rather robust Czech institutional base for combatting cyber and information threats should prioritize working against Russian hybrid threats and the military Cyber and Information Operations Command should also focus its activities on exercising operations in support of national and Allied effort in the Eastern flank. And one, rather daring option that would address both aspects of deterrence (forward deployment + reinforcement, and preventing Russia’s non-military disruptions) is to make the 7th mechanized brigade (and possibly other force elements, such as a Gripen air defence detachment) to be put on alert and ready to start the movement to Poland automatically based on certain Russian threat indicators. A bilateral defense agreement with Poland would be concluded that would specify events which would trigger putting the brigade on alert – such as full mobilization of Russian Western Military District, and the brigade’s movement to reinforce the Eastern Flank – for example after the first land military incursion into NATO’s territory. Since this would be agreed by the sides and mandated by the parliaments in advance, Russia would not be able to disrupt at the time of NATO’s contemplation of a counter-attack. In line with ‘modular approach’, this has to be later coordinated with NATO collective defence plans. Conclusion Year 2014 meant a genuine change for the United States. Its main doctrinal documents call Russia a competitor with revisionist ambitions. No change in this is expected any time soon. Some experts even call the current situation “Cold War II”. We, the Europeans, do not only need to thoroughly analyze the new American doctrine, but we also need a frank strategic debate on political level to determine whether this trend in the US foreign policy represents an opportunity for Europe, or not. Coherence of the Alliance and complementarity between NATO and US armies are of paramount importance for the Eastern Flank.  While the NATO eFP battle groups and the US rotational brigade combat team both have warfighting capabilities, they lack a comprehensive and coordinated battle plan between NATO and the United States, as well as adequate enablers— including intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets; air and missile defense; and long-range fires. A Russian conventional attack on a very short warning could defeat these forward-deployed NATO and US forces before reinforcements could be brought to the theatre. Increasing the capabilities of NATO ground forces in Europe—through an enhanced U.S. presence, boosted readiness of European NATO forces and large-scale exercises—will strengthen the Alliance’s ability to deter Russia. United States may also seek a few European partners to participate beyond their contributions to the US-led NATO eFP battle group in Poland. Allies could contribute to the force posture in Poland in several ways: increased rotational presence (e.g., the UK, Germany, or another ally could deploy forces with the current US rotational BCT), deployment of enablers, deployment of special forces units, and deployment of their own aviation and naval detachments to support exercises and training. Such eventualities should be debated with greater urgency in the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic is encouraged to welcome and support the US presence in the region. As shown above, there are several options how to contribute to the Polish-US effort. As for the regional context, the countries most exposed to the Russian threat need to become “agenda setters” on the global scale. One of the strategic issues that might be addressed by them is the growing doctrinal gap between Europe and the USA. Namely, the format that is the “Bucharest Nine”, gathering these countries, provides a good platform for such European strategic and doctrinal debate. The aim of it is to come up with a constructive agenda for the transatlantic bond and for the Eastern flank of NATO while keeping the political cohesion and solidarity of the Alliance.


[2] A truly “devastating conventional defeat” would mean the NATO forces would keep going 100 km further after liberating the Baltics and would seize some land from Russia – as a punishment and as a clear proof of Russia’s defeat.

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