Following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine, the U.S. began a process of returning military forces to Europe and pressing its NATO allies to increase their defense expenditures and armed forces. More than 20 years after the end of the Cold War, many issues that were assumed to be settled needed to be readdressed. Where would additional U.S. forces be deployed? Which NATO allies could be counted on to up their defense game? How could NATO best protect its eastern flank abutting Russia?
Increasingly, the answer to many of these questions is Poland.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO essentially stopped worrying about deterring high-end threats, and many members reduced their defense budgets as a result. U.S. ground forces in Europe declined to just two relatively weak brigade combat teams. Other NATO countries ended conscription, shrunk their military establishments and allowed much of their equipment to age badly. In addition, NATO stopped practicing many of the maneuvers that would be critical to an effective defense of Europe, such as the movement of large-scale reinforcement throughout the continent.
West Germany was once the centerpiece of NATO’s anti-Soviet defense and host to hundreds of thousands of U.S. and Allied forces. Today that role is increasingly assumed by Poland, one of the most stalwart members of the alliance. It is one of only six countries to meet NATO’s goal of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense, has welcomed U.S. forces returning to Europe, and has undertaken a serious and sustained program of military modernization.
The views and opinions expressed in this issue brief are those of the author.
|Daniel Gouré, Ph.D., is a vice president at the public-policy research think tank Lexington Institute. Goure has a background in the public sector and U.S. federal government, most recently serving as a member of the 2001 Department of Defense Transition Team.