Amid deep concerns about the situation in Ukraine, the defense leaders of the United States and Poland met at the Pentagon April 17 and identified new areas in which their militaries can work together, including special operations, air force cooperation, and more exercises and training.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Poland’s Minister of National Defense Tomasz Siemoniak held discussions that Hagel described as being “focused on reinforcing our solidarity and our partnership for the future of the Polish-U.S. defense relationship, especially in light of the situation in Ukraine and its impact on European security.”
During a joint news conference after their meeting, Hagel told reporters this a critical time for the NATO alliance and the Polish-U.S. bilateral relationship, adding that it is also an opportunity to capitalize on the strong relationship the United States and Poland have built together over 25 years.
“The solidarity and partnership roadmap we discussed today identified new areas where we can work together, including special operations forces, air force cooperation, and additional exercises and training,” the secretary said.
“It will also look at how we can further build onto our joint aviation detachment and air missile defense collaboration.”
In recent weeks, the United States has augmented Poland’s aviation detachment with 12 F-16 aircraft and 200 support personnel from Aviano Air Base in Italy, the secretary said, noting that the department is committed to maintaining the augmented presence through the end of 2014.
“This is a clear demonstration of America’s bilateral commitment to Poland and to our other NATO allies in the region. The United States is also encouraging other NATO allies to contribute to the detachment,” Hagel said.
“Minister Siemoniak and I agreed,” the secretary added, “that it would be useful to open up the aviation detachment so that other nations in the region can participate.”
One example is Romania, Hagel said, the latest NATO member to acquire F-16s. Such a regionalized approach will help strengthen Poland and its neighbors, he added.
On air and missile defense, Hagel noted that as Poland explores options for its own new capabilities, the Defense Department should take advantage of the chance to work with Poland more closely, leveraging cutting-edge technology and enhancing NATO capability to benefit the entire transatlantic alliance.
“As Poland continues to invest in defense and military modernization,” he added, “the United States will increasingly look to Poland as a leader in the region and in NATO.”
The relationship between the U.S. and Poland and their shared commitment to NATO are critical to stability in Europe, the secretary said, adding that recent events underscore that the alliance and commitments to the alliance are as important as ever.
“As you all know,” Hagel said, “Secretary [of State John F.] Kerry is meeting now in Geneva with his counterparts from Russia, Ukraine and the [European Union]. We fully support these efforts to find a political solution and remain deeply concerned about Russia’s ongoing destabilizing activities in eastern Ukraine. De-escalation has been our focus and Russia must take steps to make that happen.”
The United States continues to stand with Ukraine, he added, noting that earlier this morning he called Ukraine Acting Defense Minister Mykhaylo Koval to tell him that President Obama has approved more nonlethal military assistance for health and welfare items and other supplies.
“These supplies include medical supplies, helmets, sleeping mats and water purification units for Ukraine’s armed forces,” Hagel said, “as well as shelters, small power generators and hand fuel pumps for Ukraine’s state border guard service. The United States will continue to review additional support that we can provide to Ukraine.”
During today’s meeting, the secretary said, he and Siemoniak agreed that Russia’s aggression has renewed their resolve to strengthen the NATO alliance.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen yesterday announced a series of measures the alliance would undertake to demonstrate this resolve.
The measures, developed by Supreme Allied Commander Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, the secretary added, include more air policing sorties over the Baltics, more allied ships in the Baltic and in the eastern Mediterranean seas, and military staff deployments to enhance NATO’s readiness training and exercises.
“NATO is also updating its defense plans and the United States has offered additional planners to help with that effort, Hagel said. “We’re also assessing what additional contributions we can offer to reinforce our allies in central and eastern Europe.”
The measures are not meant to provoke or threaten Russia, he added, but to demonstrate NATO’s continued dedication to collective defense.
“Article V [of the North Atlantic Treaty] is clear that an attack against any one NATO ally will be considered an attack against all members of NATO. The United States is fully committed to meeting its Article V responsibilities,” Hagel said.
Today’s meeting was the second between Hagel and Siemoniak this year.
Their first was in January in Poland when Hagel and Siemoniak visited the joint aviation detachment at Powidz Air Base where American and Polish airmen train and work side by side.
President Barack Obama and Polish President Bronis?aw Komorowski agreed in 2010 to strengthen the U.S.-Polish security partnership through increased cooperation between both nations’ air forces.
The first full-time stationing of U.S. troops in Poland was established in 2012 with an aviation detachment at Lask Air Base, about 90 minutes from Powidz.
In addition to strengthening cooperation, the aviation detachment allows Poland to host other allied air force elements and serve as a regional hub for air training and multinational exercises.