Polish General: “We are not very happy that the U.S. military involvement in Europe will be smaller”

Gen. Mieczyslaw Cieniuch Chief of the General Staff, Polish Armed Forces

From Marcus Weisgerber and Vago Muradian, DefenseNews:  Gen. Mieczyslaw Cieniuch last week made his first official visit to the U.S., where he met with a number of U.S. leaders, including Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The general also met with Missile Defense Agency leaders to discuss the planned European missile defense shield, in which Poland plays a critical role; leaders of U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command; the NATO Supreme Allied Commander Transformation; and an Air National Guard base in Tucson, Ariz., that trains Polish F-16 pilots. . . .

Unlike many European nations, Poland’s military budget is not declining; 1.95 percent of the country’s gross domestic product is put toward defense. However, the country’s defense industrial base is becoming more focused.

Q. U.S. President Barack Obama announced a new U.S. defense strategy that calls for the Pentagon’s posture in Europe to "evolve" over the next decade. It hints at a shrinking U.S. presence in the region. What is your reaction to the strategy?

A. Budget constraints are a normal situation nowadays, especially in Europe nobody is surprised that we would have some budget problems. However, now we have a situation when the [Defense Department] budget is decreasing even in the U.S., which is quite unusual. Of course, we are not very happy that the U.S. military involvement in Europe will be smaller than today’s, especially from the Polish point of view, because we are a border country of the [NATO] alliance. However, I don’t think that we have direct threats emanating from any of our neighbors, but the absence of U.S. troops in Europe might create some problems in the future. The U.S. is going to decrease the number of the land forces – but it will continue to modernize the services which is, from our point of view, good news.

Q. A number of Eastern European nations have privately expressed concerns to the Pentagon about its troop drawdown. That said, the U.S. has said it would have time to respond to a crisis in the region. Is that a satisfactory answer for you?

A. For us, it’s better to see U.S. troops in Europe, but we understand that the U.S. military potential is significant enough to maintain the capability to project power of forces to any region of the world.

Q. The Pentagon has said that it wants to do innovative engagements around the world for training and partner building. What does that mean to you as Poland’s chief of staff?

A. The Polish military traditionally values training and military exercises with the U.S. forces. Whenever we can, we invite the U.S. to take part in military exercises on Polish territory and we continue cooperation on many fields.

Q. Do you think that the countries in Eastern Europe are going to play an increasing role in security on their own?

A. Generally, countries in our region are looking at defense very seriously. Because of history and their own experience, they try to keep their armed forces at a proper level. At the same time, countries from Western Europe have different threats. Most of their threats are linked more with domestic issues such as immigration, terrorist attacks or extremism, whereas, countries from Central-Eastern Europe while realizing those challenges, are also thinking in terms of traditional threats, which are very much connected with NATO article 5. . . .

Q. Is it important where the remaining U.S. troops in Europe are based, and how would Poland like to see that happen? What will you bring up with Gen. Dempsey during your meetings?

A. The best military bases for U.S. troops are in the Polish territories, of course. But I understand that if you have existing military bases it is difficult to change. We should start the discussion: What are U.S. troops in Europe for? For contingency plans. From that point of view, Germany is a good enough location for American troops. The Polish territory is good as well, but we don’t have American bases in our territory. The future will show.

Excerpts from interview with Gen. Mieczyslaw Cieniuch Chief of the General Staff, Polish Armed Forces.  (photo: Polish Ministry of National Defense)

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