Is A Polish Missile Crisis Looming?
A political crisis ominously reminiscent of the Old Cold War’s Cuban Missile Crisis is quickly brewing in the midst of the New Cold War and World War C after the American Ambassador to Poland publicly suggested on Twitter that the country might be willing to host the US’ nuclear capabilities if Germany goes through with some politicians’ demands that America remove its nuclear bombs from their territory. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov quickly responded by warning that such a provocative move would violate the 1997 Russia-NATO Founding Act, thus further worsening Russian-American relations and reversing the recently promising progress made towards finally reaching a “New Detente“. The timing of the American Ambassador’s statement also comes just days after Poland’s publication of its new National Security Strategywhich claims that “The most serious threat is the neo-imperial policy of the authorities of the Russian Federation”.
Poland’s Phoenix-Like Return To Geopolitical Prominence
Whether one agrees with that assessment or not, it shouldn’t be unsurprising for historical and contemporary geopolitical reasons. Poland’s relations with Russia are extremely complex, and the US has sought to take advantage of this fact to advance its regional interests after the end of the Old Cold War. It’s much easier for Washington to do this when Warsaw is desperately seeking a reliable ally to help it “balance” against Moscow. To this end, Poland has committed to modernizing its military with $133 billion worth of new investments into cutting-edge equipment and even offered to foot the approximately $2 billion bill to build a so-called “Fort Trump” on its territory to house American troops. In exchange, Warsaw wants more American investments and active support for its plans to expand its regional “sphere of influence” through the “Three Seas Initiative” (TSI), which overlaps with Washington’s own interests in the geostrategic Central-Eastern European space.
Is Poland Really Lacking Strategic Vision?
Russia understandably feels uncomfortable with its historic rival’s vehemently pro-American policies, especially since they’re explicitly directed against its national security interests. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zakharova wrote earlier in the week on Facebook that “The use of old Cold War patterns testifies to the absence of strategic vision” in support of comments given by former Polish President Walesa to TASS during an exclusive interview where he criticized his successors by saying that “They don’t think ahead. They don’t have any ideas. They seek to build something on old foundations.” Truth be told, while their views are understandable in terms of their own personal perspectives, Poland does indeed have a long-term strategic vision even though it veritably builds upon old foundations. After all, the whole point in allying with the US is to “balance” against Russia prior to rolling back its perceived “sphere of influence” so as to restore Poland’s historical one.
Rhetorical quibbles aside and returning back to the lead-in news item that inspired this analysis, it’s perfectly in line with Poland’s new National Security Strategy and related long-term strategic vision against Russia for it be enthusiastic about the possibility of hosting American nukes. This category of weapons is a symbol of prestige in International Relations so Poland hopes that some of it will rub off on the country itself if this scenario comes to pass. In addition, its leadership is calculating that such a move would enhance its “balancing” capabilities vis-a-vis Russia, confirm Poland’s official status as the leader of the geostrategic Central European space, and keep Moscow’s attention like it’s been trying to do over the past few years already. Despite that being its intentions, RT’s Scott Ritter — a former US Marine Corps intelligence analyst — sharply condemned this possible move in a piece about how “US nukes in Poland would not be a deterrent, but a MASSIVE provocation for Russia“.
“A Truly Bad Idea”
It’s unlikely at the moment that the US will go through with its suggestion made by its Ambassador to Poland for several reasons, not least of which have to do with the dangerous brinksmanship that this unprecedented step could provoke. The influential Brookings Institution think tank explained why “US nukes in Poland are a truly bad idea“, arguing that this would be expensive, the bases would be within the range covered by Russia’s Iskandr-M ballistic missiles and S-400s in Kaliningrad, Russia would be needlessly provoked, and NATO would be divided. The first three points are valid whereas the last one doesn’t matter in any practical sense since the bloc couldn’t stop the US and Poland if they had the political will to follow through with this suggestion. This very discussion itself is important, however, since it proves that Poland is rapidly replacing Germany as the US’ preferred European partner.
The American Agenda
The US is upset with Germany because of the EU’s high tariffs on some American imports and Berlin’s increasingly close relations with Moscow as embodied by the Nord Stream II pipeline. From the vantage point of American strategists, this emerging axis has the latent potential to mitigate their country’s influence on the continent in the long term, with it being feared (be it with or without reason) that Germany might facilitate some of Russia’s speculative geopolitical agenda in Europe in exchange for its reliable exports of low-cost energy and cooperation on other areas of mutual interest. For historical reasons and due to the nationalist outlook of Poland’s ruling party, this also seriously worries Warsaw as well, hence the perfect confluence of interest between it and Washington in this respect. It therefore follows that the US’ grand strategic interest lies in progressively transferring its base of operations in Europe from Germany to Poland over the coming decade.
The US & Poland: “Perfect Partners”
It doesn’t matter whether US nukes follow or not since it’s this observable trend that’s most important to focus on in the contemporary context. The US regards Germany as unreliable since it believes that Berlin could cut deals with Moscow behind Washington’s back to preserve and possibly expand its control over this bloc if it thinks that the Eurasian Great Power is offering it better deals than its traditional trans-Atlantic partner like is the case with Nord Stream II’s low-cost gas when compared to more expensive American LNG. Poland, however, is firmly in the pro-American camp since this Middle Power’s nationalist government has decided to employ the Neo-Realist rationale of relying on the US to “balance” against Russia and prospectively even against Germany sometime soon too. Since Poland literally does everything that the US wants and more, going as far as putting its money where its mouth is with “Fort Trump” and US LNG, it’s not hyperbole to describe it as America’s “perfect partner” and the likely center of its future geopolitical plans in Europe.