U.S. Army moving East: Implementing Warsaw Summit Commitments
General Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. forces in Europe, announced in Warsaw last Friday that in the event of an attack from the east, the American military would deploy troops to Poland within five days. Through the end of April 2017, there will be an American battalion stationed in Poland at the military base of Orzysz. It will consist of 800 US Army soldiers, who will be guarding the so-called Suwalki Gap – the short land border strip between Poland and Lithuania seen as the point at which Russia could potentially cut off the Baltic States from the rest of NATO.
This announcement comes less than three months after NATO allies met in Warsaw for a summit in July 2016. For some members, the Warsaw Summit marked the beginning of a new chapter in the Alliance’s military presence in Central and Eastern Europe.
The commitments made at the summit in Warsaw should begin to be implemented in early 2017 when the U.S. Army deploys a heavy brigade to counter Russian aggression in the region. The 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division, based in Fort Carson in Colorado, will arrive in Europe in mid-January as part of the European Reassurance Initiative. The brigade of more than 4000 soldiers, 450 combat vehicles and 87 tanks will be transported to Poland for a war game. One of the battalions will later be deployed to Romania and Bulgaria and another to the Baltics. Poland, however, will remain the main base of the brigade.
“We are sending to Poland one of the best units of the U.S. Army. They will be independent units, ready for immediate entry into fight,” Gen. Hodges said in Warsaw at the event co-organized by the GMF and the U.S. Embassy in Poland. Though he did not reveal the exact location of the brigade’s stationing, it is expected to soon be announced by Polish Minister of Defense Antoni Macierewicz.
What General Hodges did disclose to the public that is of great importance for the security of Poland and the Baltics is the plan to send to the Polish base in Orzysz more than 800 U.S. soldiers from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment currently stationed in Vilseck, Germany. The division to be sent to northeastern Poland will be equipped with 67 Styker armored fighting vehicles and will be reinforced with additional artillery and anti-aircraft weapons. This unit should be in full combat readiness by the end of April 2017.
The decision to deploy U.S. soldiers to both Poland and the rest of the region clearly shows a shift in NATO policy from assurance to deterrence. If fully implemented, these plans will undoubtedly send a strong signal to the Kremlin of NATO’s unity and firm stance on defending its Eastern Flank. By moving from reassurance to deterrence Alliance with its Enhanced Forward Presence ends the military divergence between “old” and “new” members.
Despite the dynamic plans to bolster NATO-backed security in Europe, present procedural hurdles make it almost impossible for U.S. and Allied troops to operate freely.
General Hodges pointed out the absurdity of such bureaucratic barriers in saying that “right now, it is easier to move refugees around Europe than military convoys.” For this reason, the idea to establish a military Schengen zone in Europe should be a high priority on NATO’s upcoming agenda.
Finally, the upcoming American presidential elections should not be used to weaken the process of deployment. Congress Democrats and Republicans alike in are aware of the importance ensuring security to partners in Central and Eastern Europe. The money to do so is also there. Given this opportunity, Poland and the region should make an effort to deliver proper infrastructure for the U.S. troops to be stationed. Allies of this region should also remember to modernize their own military capabilities and use the presence of Americans to seek dialogue with Moscow.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.