Legal Status of US Troops Clarified
Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed an Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) on 15 August. Pompeo arrived in Warsaw on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Warsaw – a pivotal event in the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1920 and one of the most decisive events in Polish and European history. The agreement has first to be ratified by Parliament, then signed by President Andrzej Duda.
Currently, Poland hosts some 4,500 US troops but, according to a bilateral decision announced in 2019, this will grow by an additional 1,000. A joint document stipulates that a US military presence in Poland is now “enduring” rather than “rotational” and that Poland will have to spend roughly PLN500 million (€115 million) annually to host US troops. Additional infrastructure will also be to host additional US troops in an emergency: Minister Błaszczak suggested that, when the necessary work is completed, up to 20,000 US soldiers could be deployed to Poland during a crisis. Poland will provide free accommodation, food, fuel and storage facilities. Some investment will be made in civilian or civilian/military airports, such as Katowice-Pyrzowice, Wrocław-Strachowice and Kraków-Balice.
By October this year, a forward-deployed HQ for US V Corps will be established in Poland, responsible for command and control of all US troops deployed on NATO’s eastern flank. It will be commanded by Maj Gen John Kolasheski, who has Polish antecedents. His staff will consist of 200 troops on a rotational basis and is expected to become operational next year.
One of the most controversial elements of a US military presence on Polish soil was the legal status of US troops. During an official ceremony, Minister Błaszczak stated that US soldiers will fall under Polish jurisdiction except for acts while on duty, explaining that this part of the agreement is compatible with NATO’s 1951 SOFA agreement, adopted by Poland when it joined NATO in 1999. However, according to reports in the Polish press, in reality US troops will have legal immunity and Poles will not be allowed to enter their facilities without permission.
The enhanced US presence in Poland is fully endorsed by NATO member states from Central and Eastern Europe, particularly the Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia), who are particularly exposed to the threat posed by an increasingly assertive Russia.
Robert Czulda in Lodz for MON