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As Poland Hails US Troop Deal, Germany Fears Weakening of NATO

By Henry Ridgwell August 17, 2020

Poland has hailed a deal struck with the United States to base more troops in the country, saying it enhances the "deterrence potential" against Russian aggression.

But the U.S. move follows a decision to halve its troop presence in Germany, and other European NATO allies fear the alliance is being undermined by political infighting over defense spending levels.

There are already around 4,500 U.S. troops in Poland, part of a rotating deployment in eastern Europe. The new agreement, officially called the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), will see an additional 1,000 U.S. troops on the ground. The U.S. Army's V Corps headquarters will also be relocated to Poland from Germany. Poland says the number of U.S. troops could be rapidly increased to 20,000 if required.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed the deal Saturday in Warsaw alongside Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz.

"Troop levels matter. The number of soldiers someone has someplace – as a former tank officer, I know that," Pompeo told reporters at a Saturday press conference at the end of a four-nation tour of central and eastern Europe.

The deployment is strategically significant, defense analyst Jonathan Eyal of Britain's Royal United Services Institute, told VOA Monday.

"This is about a deterrence. A deterrence to Russia and a reminder to all Europeans that all member states of NATO are entitled to the same security guarantee."

Poland said the deal will help defend against threats from Russia.

"Not only the physical presence and deployment is important, but it is also important to have troops deployed precisely in the locations where they should be deployed. And here we agreed together with my colleague, Secretary of State (Pompeo), that the presence of American troops in Poland enhances our deterrence potential, because we are closer to the potential source of conflict," Czaputowicz said at Saturday's press conference.

"It is important to our security, and it is important that they should be deployed in Poland and not in Germany," he added.

President Donald Trump announced plans last month to move 12,000 U.S. troops out of Germany, accusing Berlin of failing to meet the NATO defense spending target of 2% of gross domestic product. In 2019, Germany spent around 1.38% GDP on defense. Trump said about half of the troops would be sent home, with the rest deployed to other NATO allies.

"Germany owes billions and billions of dollars to NATO, and why would we keep all of those troops there?" Trump told reporters in July. "We are protecting Germany. So, we're reducing the force because they're not paying their bills. It's very simple. They're delinquent."

U.S. officials say the partial withdrawal of troops from Germany and the deployment in Poland are not linked. Berlin has warned the moves could weaken the NATO alliance.

Eyal argues that changes are long overdue.

"In reality, what it is, is a proper recalibration of (the) alliance more than 30 years after the end of the Cold War. What is the point of having many troops massed in Germany for purely historic reasons but having no troops in the countries that feel most vulnerable and are indeed most threatened by threatening noises from Russia?" Eyal told VOA.

NATO allies deployed several thousand troops in eastern Europe following Russia's forceful annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014. Moscow has called the presence of U.S. troops in Poland as a "threat to its security."

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