By Kamil Szubart
The second overseas visit of President Donald J. Trump to Europe began in Warsaw, Poland, on July 5 and 6, 2017. President Trump’s visit to Poland lasted less than 24 hours. However, he held bilateral talks under four eyes with Polish President Andrzej Duda and met with the leaders of 12 countries from Central and Eastern Europe taking part in the Three Seas Initiative (TSI) Summit in the Polish capital city.
“President Trump’s visit to Poland was an apparent success of Polish diplomacy.”
The last part of the visit was the public speech delivered by the US President in Krasinski Square, in front of the monument commemorating the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis costing 200,000 lives, mostly innocent civilians.
During the visit, Trump was accompanied by family members (First Lady Melania Trump, daughter Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law Jared Kushner) and officials from his Administration (Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and National Security Advisor Herbert R. McMaster). Unexpectedly, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not appear in Poland due to the growth of tensions in the Korean Peninsula; he joined the US delegation at the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany.
Military & Economic Issues Surrounding the Visit
The agenda of the visit was consumed with issues related to the US military presence on NATO’s Eastern Flank, emphasized by the Polish authorities, and economic cooperation—especially liquid natural gas (LNG) shipments—between the United States and Poland and other countries from Central and Eastern Europe.
A bilateral meeting with President Duda, which lasted only 25 minutes, focused on the US presence on NATO’s Eastern flank within the framework of the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence initiative, according to the 2016 NATO Summit’s decisions. Moreover, Trump and Duda discussed the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and its potential consequences for the region, as well as economic aspects of the US-Polish relations.
Ahead of the meeting, the Polish Ministry of Defense signed a memorandum with the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) represented by US VADM Joseph W. Rixey, DSCA Director. The US government has agreed to sell Patriot missile defense systems (PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement) to Poland. The memorandum between the both governments opens the road to the second phase of negotiations between the Polish Ministry of Defense and Raytheon. Negotiations should finish with the signing of a Letter of Agreement at the end of 2018.
During the bilateral talks, the Polish president insisted on strengthening the US military presence in Poland, turning the current rotation presence into the permanent presence of the US Armed Forces on Polish soil. Polish authorities attach vital importance to the US military presence in Poland. Currently, the US leads as a “framework state” one of the four NATO Battalion Battle Groups in Orzysz. Additionally, the Armored Brigade Combat Team formed by the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division from Fort Carson, Colorado, is deployed to Zagan. Eventually, the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System (AAMDS) will have been built in Redzikowo in northern Poland.
Although Trump declared nothing new, he assured Poland and other European allies of the United States’ commitment to NATO and Article 5 of Washington Treaty. Moreover, he mentioned again the necessity of increasing military expenditures among European allies. The president underlined that Poland is one of an exclusive group of only five NATO member states (the United States, the UK, Greece, Estonia, and Poland) whose military spending meets the criteria of at least 2% of GDP with at least 20% of the annual military budget invested in modernization.
At the end of the meeting, both presidents touched on the Ukrainian crisis and on migration into the European Union. However, President Trump did not make particular declarations, only urging Russia to cease its destabilizing activity in Ukraine and elsewhere (e.g., in Syria).
The Chaos of the Joint Press Conference
Following the bilateral meeting, a joint press conference devolved into more discussions about President Trump’s campaign against what he terms “fake news” and the failures he sees that were made by President Barack Obama and his Administration. President Trump also unexpectedly called on the West to “defend our civilization.”
However, the press conference soon veered away from matters to do with Poland. Trump spent much of his press conference time responding to questions about the anti-CNN wrestling video footage he broadcast via Twitter and allegations on Russian interferences into the 2016 elections by saying that “nobody knows” who meddled in the elections. Trump went even further into this subject area and asked his counterpart, President Duda, about the situation in Poland and whether he is also a target of “fake news” spread by Polish mass media. The question caught the Polish leader by surprise.
Another off-topic subject that arose at the joint press conference was the latest North Korean test of the intercontinental ballistic missile, marking a significant step forward in its WMD program and an escalation of the nuclear standoff with the United States and the rest of the world.
The TSI Summit and Its Economic Background
The discussions at the Three Seas Initiative (TSI) Summit were focused on economic aspects of the further cooperation between the United States and the 12 countries of Central and Eastern Europe. President Trump said that the region has a particular importance to him, emphasizing the Slovenian roots of the First Lady, and he added that the United States stands with the TSI nations and looks forward to the opportunity to expand an economic partnership.
The energy-related issues referenced long-term LNG shipment contracts and further transit of natural gas to Poland and other countries in the region. Trump assured those present that he would be encouraging US energy companies to establish long-term cooperation with their Polish partners, by building or developing LNG hubs in Poland, Lithuania, and on Krk Island on the Croatian shore.
Trump’s Public Speech to the Polish People
In front of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising Monument, President Trump referred to some landmark points in the Polish history and assured that the United States is determined to defend its European allies according to the NATO obligations. Speaking of NATO, Trump indicated that “our defense is not just a commitment of money, but it’s a commitment of will.” These words appeared to be directed at Western Europe—notably Germany and France—and what the United States sees as their insufficient military expenditures, laid out in the last two NATO summits in Wales and Poland.
Trump also made multiple references to generals Kazimierz Pulaski and Tadeusz Kosciusko, the Poles who fought for American independence during the American Revolutionary War, and to the 1920 Miracle of the Vistula when the Polish army countered the Bolshevist invasion of Poland and Western Europe.
A Success for Polish Diplomacy
President Trump’s visit to Poland was an apparent success of Polish diplomacy, which took steps to invite and then, alongside its American counterpart, to organize the visit. It will also have an impact of the Polish foreign policy conducted by the current Polish government and by President Duda. First, Poland seems now to have a chance to enhance its bilateral cooperation with the United States in the realms of energy, defense, and transportation. This future cooperation should also be extended to other countries of the TSI, although among them, Poland holds a dominant position due to its political, military, and demographic factors.
Secondly, Poland is one of the real exceptions among NATO member states that fulfills its commitment to spending 2% of GDP on military purposes. This makes Poland a credible partner to the Trump Administration. The decision to sign a bilateral memorandum between the Polish Ministry of Defense and the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency also allows for the opening of negotiations between the Polish authorities and Raytheon on purchasing Patriot missile defense systems, something that won’t be the US arms industry as a whole, which is interested in selling further US weaponry to Poland.
The visit to Warsaw inevitably brought benefits for President Trump. Firstly, it was a clear signal to the American people that a shift in US foreign policy toward European allies can be effective. Secondly, it was apparent in Poland that there are still European governments and societies that are not keen to criticize Trump’s controversial positions or mob orations. On the contrary, Trump was cheered by crowds in a country that, since the end of Soviet domination in the region, has remained one of the most pro-American countries and anti-Russian countries in Europe. The visit to Warsaw, then, was also a signal to Moscow.
Thirdly, Trump’s stated assurances about the US commitment to NATO and its obligations should calm down European allies throughout the Old Continent, while assuring a US commitment to the European security architecture should also quiet allegations about a pro-Russian foreign policy in the Trump Administration. Lastly, steps taken to strengthen the energy cooperation between Eastern and Central Europe and the US is a further blow to Russia, which would like to be the leading gas supplier to the countries of the region.
INSCT Research and Practice Associate Kamil Szubart is a 2017 visiting fellow at INSCT, via the Kosciuszko Foundation. He works as an analyst for the Institute for Western Affairs in Poznan, Poland, where he is responsible for German foreign and security policy, transatlantic relations, Islamic threats in German-native-speaking countries and topics related to NATO, CSDP, OSCE, and the UN. Currently, he is working on a doctoral dissertation examining US-German relations in the field of international security since 9/11.