When United States and Polish officials signed a deal to support more combat troops in Poland, the country’s foreign minister, Jacek Czaputowicz, said the move put American troops where they needed to be.”The presence of American troops in Poland enhances our deterrence potential because we are closer to the potential source of conflict,” Czaputowicz said in a joint appearance Saturday with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“It is important that they should be deployed in Poland, and not in Germany,” Poland’s top diplomat said. “The art of war assures us that the capability of deterrence is higher if the army is deployed in the right place.”The boost for Poland is part of a Trump administration plan to pull some 12,000 US troops from Germany announced last month. While 1,000 of those will join 4,500 US troops already in Poland, others will move to Belgium or Italy or back to the US, available to be sent back to Europe or other world hotspots should the need arise.For decades, US personnel stationed in Germany have been viewed on both sides of the Atlantic as the foundation of the post-World War II order. At the height of the Cold War, the US maintained up to 400,000 troops in Europe, the majority in Germany.As was the case in decades past, the potential source of conflict remains Russia — and the threat of possible incursion, as alluded to by Czaputowicz.However, elected officials in the US and among its NATO allies said the move to reposition troops could actually benefit Moscow.
Where is the right place for US troops?
Nick Reynolds, a land warfare research analyst at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London, doesn’t see much benefit from the US plans.”Moving ground troops to Belgium and Italy puts them farther away from areas in which they are likely to be needed,” Reynolds said. “Even if they went to northern Italy, and a crisis happened to occur in southeastern Europe, transport links would make moving them slightly more time consuming.”Consider where the possible flashpoints are.In a paper written earlier this year, before the troop movements were announced, Iulia-Sabina Joja, a post-doctoral fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, painted three scenarios that involve conflict around the Black Sea, including new flareups with Ukraine near the Crimea.Getting ground forces in numbers to those spots from Italy means getting them through the mountains of the Alps, which would not be in the way of a move from Germany.Even though Poland is closer to Russia, the potential Black Sea hotspots and another possible flashpoint along the border with the NATO allies in the Baltics,boosting troops in that country isn’t necessarily the answer, Reynolds said.
Numbers vs. location
But where US troops are in Europe may be missing a bigger point, said Reynolds, the RUSI analyst. “What is a more important issue is that the US does not keep adequate forces in Europe if the intention is to be able to quickly respond to a contingency involving Russian aggression,” he said.And the NATO allies can’t do the job alone. “NATO forces are also working with too few units compared to the size of Russian forces that they would potentially face, at least until larger and heavier US forces could arrive from the continental US,” Reynolds said.
The Trump administration’s pullout from Germany doesn’t address another US/NATO deficiency in Europe — it doesn’t have enough runways that can handle alliance fighter aircraft.”This is absolutely the issue that NATO faces in the air domain with being unable to adequately disperse its aircraft — particularly fighter and strike aircraft, which need longer and better-reinforced runways — to avoid having them concentrated on a few airfields that are therefore easier to target with long-range precision fires, either destroying the aircraft on the ground or negating their ability to use airfields by rendering the runway unserviceable,” Reynolds said.