President Donald Trump on Wednesday said Poland would build a facility to host 1,000 American troops, as the eastern European nation boosts military co-operation with the US in the face of increased assertiveness by Russia.
“Poland will soon provide basing and infrastructure to support [the] military presence of about 1,000 American troops,” Mr Trump said at a press conference with Polish president Andrzej Duda. “The Polish government will build these projects at no cost to the United States.”
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office earlier on Wednesday as he welcomed his Polish counterpart, Mr Trump had said they were discussing a number of 2,000 troops.
The decision to base 1,000 US troops in Poland would complement the 4,500 American forces who currently spend time in the eastern European country on a rotating basis. Mr Trump said the troops would be redeployed from somewhere else in Europe.
“We’d be taking them out of Germany, or would be moving them from another location,” Mr Trump told reporters. “It would be no additional trips to Europe.”
Poland has pushed the US to establish a permanent military presence in the country due to concerns about Russian influence in the region. During a visit to Washington last year, Mr Duda said he would like to “invite more American troops to Poland”. At the time, he said Warsaw would provide $2bn to build the facility, and told Mr Trump: “I hope that we will build Fort Trump in Poland together.”
Speaking in the Oval Office on Wednesday, Mr Trump refused to say if the 1,000 troops would constitute a permanent presence in Poland. He also stressed that it was up to Poland to decide how to name the facility.
“That’s up to them. I have nothing to do with naming it. Fort Trump. That’s all I need, Fort Trump. You people would have a field day with that,” Mr Trump told the reporters. “They can name it whatever they want.”
Mr Trump also took the occasion to repeat his frequent criticism of Germany for not spending enough on its own defence and failing to meet the Nato commitment to increased defence spending to 2 per cent of gross domestic product.
“Germany is at 1 per cent. They should be at 2 per cent. And they’re not getting there fast. We have 52,000 troops in Germany. We’ve had them there for a long, long time. So we probably moving a certain number of groups to Poland if we agree to do it.”
Mr Duda’s visit to the White House is the fourth by a central European leader in the past three months. It underscores the Trump administration’s drive to re-engage with the region, which was not a high priority under President Barack Obama, and which has been unsettled by the increasingly assertive stance of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
A troop increase, the result of intensive negotiations between Washington and Warsaw over the past nine months, would be a boost for Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, which has clashed repeatedly with Brussels in recent years and made stronger ties with the US one of its strategic priorities.
Poland last year signed a $4.8bn deal to buy Patriot missile defence systems from the US, and last month enquired about buying F-35 fighter jets. Mariusz Blaszczak, Poland’s defence minister, visited a US air base to meet units equipped with the jets earlier this week. Mr Trump said he had arranged for an F-35 to fly over the White House while the two presidents were meeting.
Poland’s geographic position as the linchpin of Nato’s eastern flank has made it an important ally for the US. But the central European nation has also won favour in Washington as a result of its willingness to spend heavily on defence — something Mr Trump has frequently demanded of US allies.
Poland is one of the seven Nato countries to meet the bloc’s spending target of 2 per cent of GDP on defence. Warsaw has pledged to spend 185bn zloty ($48bn) by 2026 on modernising its armed forces.
Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato general secretary, said in a statement that Wednesday’s announcement “shows the strong commitment of the United States to European security and the strength of the transatlantic bond.
“Today’s announcement is part of Nato’s measured, defensive and proportionate efforts to strengthen our deterrence and defence. It is fully in line with NATO’s international commitments. When the world changes, we have to adapt to make sure that we can continue to protect all allies,” he added.