Last week marked an important milestone for U.S.–Polish defense relations: A small detachment of U.S. airmen arrived at Lask air base in Poland and established the first permanent U.S. military presence in the country.
While this modest increase in the U.S. Air Force’s presence in Europe is a step in the right direction with regard to promoting U.S. security interests in the region, it does not make up for the Obama Administration’s lack of enthusiasm for NATO or the U.S. military posture in Europe.
It should not be forgotten that the Administration announced the inactivation of the 81st Fighter Squadron (A-10 Thunderbolts) and an air control squadron based in Italy.
Under current plans, this permanent detachment in Poland consists of only 10 Air Force personnel, and it does not look like this number will be increasing anytime soon. No U.S. Air Force planes will be permanently based in Poland. The detachment will only host periodic rotations of F-16 fighter jets and C-130 cargo aircraft.
The U.S. and Poland have enjoyed a strong bilateral defense training relationship. Now the U.S. needs to build the creation of this modest military presence into something that moves beyond symbolism and becomes more practical and robust in terms of military capability. As a recent Special Report from The Heritage Foundation stated:
The U.S. should consider permanently basing F-16 fighter jets in Poland and increasing the size of the permanent detachment to demonstrate a firm U.S. commitment to Poland, NATO, and the region. Furthermore, it would fill, albeit only partially, the capability gap created by withdrawing the A-10s from Europe.
A robust and permanent U.S. airbase in Poland would reassure the Baltic States through increased U.S. participation in NATO’s Baltic Air Policing and ensure that the U.S. maintains a critical air capability in Eastern Europe. Finally, it would send a signal of enduring support to the Poles, especially after the Obama Administration betrayed them by cancelling plans to base ballistic missile interceptors in Poland.
The U.S. military presence in Europe remains vital. It deters American adversaries, strengthens allies, and protects U.S. interests. Establishing a permanent U.S. military presence in Poland is a step in the right direction, but it does not make up for the Administration’s plans to hollow out U.S. military capability in Europe.