What to do when one feels frightened of the big boys next door but knows that the rules prevent setting up a little fort to make oneself feel safer? Back in 1997, as we all know, NATO promised Russia that it wouldn’t build military bases in the former Warsaw Pact states that had chosen to join it. NATO will “carry out its collective defense and other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration, and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces,” the so-called NATO Founding Act reads.
So what to do if you are, let’s say, Poland and feel concerned about growing Russian aggression? The Poles, I understand, are in the process of developing a very smart proposal that they’ll present to the United States. In the Polish plan, American military equipment would be stored in Polish military facilities, paid for by Poland. It would be an American presence, but without humans and without the Americans footing the bill. It would, in other words, not be a military base of the kind the United States maintains in Germany or Italy. But the American equipment on Polish soil would form some sort of guarantee to the Poles that the Americans are committed to their security.
NATO, of course, already provides soldiers and planes to the Baltic states in permanent rotation. And soon, perhaps a parking garage for American tanks in Poland? Sneaky, it may seem. But taking Crimea was sneaky, too, and if there’s anything that has characterized Poles for the past couple of centuries it’s their almost resurrection-like abilities in the face of formidable adversaries.