Great Expectations: Looking Ahead to President Trump’s Visit to Poland

By Kamil Szubart

President Donald J. Trump will visit Poland on July 5 and 6, 2017, ahead of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany. The visit primarily will focus on political and security-related issues, as well as economic cooperation between the United States, Poland, and the other countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

From the Three Seas to the Silk Road

During his visit to Eastern Europe, President Trump first will hold bilateral talks with Polish President Andrzej Duda and then meet with political leaders attending Three Seas Initiative (TSI) Summit in Warsaw.

TSI was launched in 2016 thanks to Poland’s inspiration and consists of 12 countries from Central and Eastern Europe: Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia (the Visegrad Group or V4 Group); Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia (the Baltic States); and Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Austria. The primary purpose of TSI is to enhance multilateral cooperation among the participating countries and to formulate a joint position within the European Union (EU).

The meeting of Trump and the TSI leaders seems like a clear signal by the Trump Administration that it wants these countries to enhance political, military, and economic cooperation among themselves and the United States. The United States seems to be alarmed by the growth of interest in Central and Eastern Europe by China, which has proffered the “16+1” initiative to these countries.

The “16+1” concept is China’s mechanism for bringing together European countries either from the EU or aspiring to join the EU—including countries such as Serbia and Belarus—and strengthening their economic cooperation with China. Beijing is offering these countries a strategic partnership within the framework of the Silk Road Initiative which will allow China and its economy access to overseas consumer markets, especially the EU.

A Frosty Forecast for the G20

President Trump should expect a frosty greeting from Western Europe’s leaders at the G20 Summit in Germany due to his recent announcement of the US withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, his scolding about military expenditures by NATO countries, and his failure to emphasize the United States’ commitment to NATO’s Article 5 during a meeting of NATO Leaders in Brussels in May 2017.

On the other hand, Trump wants to highlight the importance to his Administration of countries from Central and Eastern Europe, as well as US leadership on NATO’s Eastern Flank, where the United States leads one of the four Battalion Battle Groups, established within the framework of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in Poland and the Baltic States at the 2016 NATO Summit in Warsaw.  

Support from Poland and the other countries from the eastern region should, therefore, be a desirous for the United States during robust future talks with Western European allies at NATO.

Furthermore, the Trump Administration looks forward to achieving economic goals regarding the dynamic GDP growth of TSI countries. For instance, Poland’s GDP is expected to grow by approx. 3.5% in 2017, and Warsaw continues its efforts to modernize the Polish Armed Forces, mostly based on equipment purchased from the United States. Raytheon—with its Patriot missile defense system—is currently vying for the highest arms industry contract in the history of the Polish Armed Forces ($10 billion). Additionally, the UH-60 Black Hawk—manufactured by Sikorsky—is being considered as a new main helicopter for the Polish Land Forces. The US arms industry can also look forward to announcing other government defense tenders, such as purchasing attack helicopters to replace the mothballed Soviet-era Mi-24 “Hind” gunship.

Protecting the Eastern Flank by Looking West

For Poland and Polish authorities, the visit of President Trump will build international prestige, and the visit is an undisputable success for long-term efforts taken by Polish diplomacy. It will also confirm US engagement in NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence along NATO’s Eastern Flank and the role of Poland as a strong NATO member country that politically and militarily has been supported the United States in every conflict since 9/11.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and political changes in Central and Eastern Europe, Poland, along with other countries in the region, has established treaties with the EU and NATO, as well as a strong US commitment to Europe, as crucial cornerstones of its foreign and security policies. Since the 1999 NATO enlargement, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary have pursued strategic partnerships with the United States, and this trend has mainly been seen in Poland that holds the strongest military, political, economic, and demographic capabilities among all countries in the region.

Poland’s pro-American orientation intensified after the 2015 parliamentary and presidential elections and the victory of the Law and Justice Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS) and presidential candidate Duda respectively.

Poland, therefore, welcomed the United States’ Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Proposal, especially the amount of $64.6 billion in the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget that provides resources in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan, Operation Inherent Resolve against Islamic State, and US presence in Central Eastern Europe through the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI).

Particular attention is being paid to the ERI, announced by President Barack Obama during his visit in Poland and Estonia in June 2014. It is considered by Poland and other US allies in the region as a guarantee of further US commitment to maintaining its defense capabilities and to defending European allies. Warsaw might also expect an increase of the US military presence in Poland, which could more efficiently deterrence Russia against aggression in the Baltic States.

Strengthening Domestic Policy Through Foreign Policy

A strategic shift of Poland towards NATO and the United States has also been fueled by the long-time weakness of the EU in the field of defense and security capabilities, ever since the Treaty of Lisbon (signed in 2007, in force since 2009), under the name of the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP).

Poland also counts on efficient cooperation with the United States in the United Nations Security Council. On June 2, 2017, Poland was elected for the sixth time as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, gathering 190 votes out of 192 voting UN member states, with two abstentions.

Poland—along with Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, and Peru—will start its two-year term on Jan. 1, 2018. Sitting on the UN Security Council will allow Poland to play a leading role in the discussion on global security issues and in seeking peaceful solutions to ongoing conflicts worldwide. Moreover, by being a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Poland will have a chance to increase its international prestige, to forcefully articulate the goals linked to Poland’s foreign and security policy, and become more actively engaged in strengthening and shaping global order.

Finally, Poland—along with the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia—await President Trump’s support to their resistance to the EU’s 2015 migrant resettlement program that seeks to resettle 160,000 refugees across EU countries, a program that is causing a major rift inside the EU.

The defiance is supported by a majority of citizens and is focused very strongly against immigration, particularly from Islamic countries. The official position of V4 countries is that a quota system to redistribute refugees within the EU will not work because many countries are not those in which refugees would like to stay, preferring to leave for Germany. Moreover, the quota system as a permanent mechanism that would allow the European Commission to distribute refugees according to individual economic indicators would be the breach of national sovereignty, according to V4 Group.

In addition to political and military-related aspects of the bilateral and multilateral relations with the United States, Poland looks forward to tighter cooperation in transport, energy, and the IT sector, which will make the region more competitive and therefore more attractive for American business. A first definite effect of the deepening cooperation between the United States and Poland was the first ever liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipment from the United Stated (specifically, Louisiana) that arrived in Poland on June 7, 2017. For Poland, and other countries in the region, LNG is the fruit of a new energy policy that is allowing it to reduce near-total dependence on Russian imports. New Polish infrastructure follows closely behind Lithuania’s move to open a floating LNG terminal.

A Two-Speed Europe? Potential Consequences for Poland and the TSI Nations

President Trump’s visit to Poland will arguably not significantly change the place of Central and Eastern Europe within the priorities of US foreign policy. However, the Trump Administration may use Poland and other countries in the region as a foothold on which to rest its European policy and to accompany it through tough talks with Germany, France, and Italy, the nations seemingly most skeptical of Trump and his vision of transatlantic relations.

President Trump’s support for the TSI might help build its credibility with American business, which has access to both the financial and technological means necessary to implement particular projects. However, tightening of bi- and multilateral relations between the United States and TSI countries might have implications for their position within the EU and might subsequently split them off from the core of the union, especially if they decided to embrace their ties with the United States and continue to resist EU migration policy.

What could evolve is a “two-speed” Europe that would allow a core group of EU countries to press ahead with closer cooperation and integration on finance (e.g., tightening the Eurozone), tax policy, and national security, leaving the TSI countries on the periphery of union.

 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.