On 15 August 2020, Poland marks the centennial anniversary of its stunning victory at the “Battle of Warsaw,” the culminating battle of the 1919-1920 Polish-Soviet War. Marshal Piłsudski’s “master stroke,” battle plan, reversed fortunes, the Soviets suffered an epic military disaster, while Poles triumphed in the “Miracle on the Vistula.” In the fight for freedom one hundred years ago, Americans went to battle with Poland against the Soviet Red Army, and as they did, they stood “on the shoulders” of Poles who had fought for American independence almost 150 years earlier - as Colonel (Retired) Ray Wojcik, Director, Center for European Policy Analysis writes for Defence24.pl.
This August 15th in Warsaw, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – a former Cold War era U.S. Army Captain - alongside Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak, signed the historic U.S.-Poland Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), while proud American soldiers stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Polish allies in Armed Forces Day commemorations and events. It’s a continuing sign of solidarity with Poland and the region, following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, continued sponsored War in Ukraine’s Donbass, and its wider campaign to divide the West, NATO and the EU.
The timing of Pompeo’s visit could not be better as he emphasized America’s commitment to Poland, and Central/Eastern Europe (CEE) allies and partners. Importantly, he signaled that America stands together with her allies and partners, for the Belarussian people and their freedom, against a regime crackdown on democratic forces in the wake of unfree elections. This comes amidst concerns about renewed Kremlin pressure on Belarus to accept terms for even more control by Moscow. The parallel to 1920 should not go unnoticed when as Russia’s Gen Tukhachevsky put it: “To the West! Over the corpse of White Poland lies the road to world-wide conflagration. March on Vilno, Minsk, Warsaw!”
For Poles, 15 August is a trifecta holiday as it is the Catholic Church’s Feast of the Assumption, it marks the Battle of Warsaw and is therefore celebrated as Polish Armed Forces Day. Pompeo’s visit is significant, the culminating event during an important multi-nation tour underlining cooperation, assurance, deterrence and defense. He is the highest-level U.S. cabinet official in history to join Poland’s Armed Forces Day. It’s a fitting capstone event, as two weeks earlier, the EDCA was poignantly unveiled at the historic “Kopiec Kościuszki” (Kościuszko Mound), named after General Tadeusz Kościuszko, a figure at the heart of Polish-American friendship.
It might be said, the spirit of Kościuszko participated as the new U.S.-Poland defense agreement was promulgated, including the commitment of further American troop deployments, to bolster security and defense of Poland, and her NATO East Flank neighbors. Importantly in the context of Pompeo’s messaging, it’s good to recall that Kościuszko is not only a hero to Poland and America, but to Lithuania and to many in Belarus. It’s no accident that Poland and Lithuania are working closely together to energize EU and U.S. attention on Belarus and the threat Russia poses. Meanwhile, Lithuania, is the safe harbor for Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the Belarussian opposition candidate who fled her homeland for safety, as post-election demonstrations turned violent.
Forgotten to many about the Polish-Soviet War period, are important contributions allies provided to Poland’s struggle for independence. Great powers wiped Poland off the map of Europe for 123 years, but after WWI, Poland seized the “moment” to change history. The outcome of the Polish-Soviet War, would determine whether Poland remained free, and if it were to fall, then Germany and most of Europe would suffer the scourge of Lenin’s “Red Wave” of Communist revolution.
Poland needed help. While France, Canada and Hungary provided important advisory, training and material support, it was America which sent thousands of mostly recent Polish immigrants, to join their former countrymen. Nearly 25,000 Polish-Americans left the safety of their new home, eagerly making the transatlantic deployment to join General Haller’s “Blue Army,” playing an important role in the final stages of WWI in France, and then in the Polish-Soviet War. It’s an interesting parallel today, that in a crisis, the EDCA provides for immediate deployment of up to 20,000 American troops to Poland.
Making U.S. support to Poland’s independence a “joint” effort, a daring group of airmen led by Captain Merian Cooper, also put their futures on hold to fight for Poland’s freedom. Cooper served in the Army Air Corps in WWI, then volunteered to join the fight for Poland’s independence recruiting some of his fellow airmen. Though Cooper is more well known for his making of the film “King Kong,” it was his charismatic leadership, admiration and love for Poland, which helped defeat the juggernaut of the Soviet Red Army.
These American contributions are great examples of the abiding bonds of Polish-American friendship. One need only look around in Poland today at the continuous presence of 4,000-6,000 U.S. troops, to understand the larger picture.
Cooper and his men were inspired by Gen Tadeusz Kościuszko and Gen Kazimierz Pułaski’s volunteerism, commitment and sacrifices in America’s War for Independence. Cooper’s great-grandfather imbued him with the history of these Polish-American patriots, about how he had personally served under the command of Gen Pułaski, including how the “Father of American Cavalry,” a Pole, laid down his life for the cause of American freedom. He told him how Kościuszko, helped Gen Washington “engineer” Continental Army victories, notably at Saratoga, and West Point. As Cooper saw it, he and his men were on a mission to repay a debt to these soldiers and to Poland. Thus, the all-American “Kościuszko Squadron,” was born, and went to battle for Polish freedom.
Kościuszko is back
It’s fitting in this context, that Gen Kościuszko presided over a more recent Polish-American victory. On August 4, at a ceremony in Kraków, a ceremony took place at the Kościuszko Mound, the oldest monument to Kościuszko in the world. There, DefMin Mariusz Błaszczak, U.S. Ambassador Georgette Mosbacher, General James McConnville, Chief of Staff U.S. Army, General Jarosław Mika, General Commander, Polish Armed Forces (PAF), and LTG Chris Cavoli, Commanding General (CG), U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR) announced the important new U.S.-Poland Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). The U.S. Army’s V Corps flag was unfurled, and its commander, LTG John Kolasheski, was promoted. The ceremony marks the return of the Army’s V Corps to Europe, notably with the V Corps Forward Headquarters (FWD HQ), the “V Corps FWD” assigned to Poland.
With the good fortune of selection of a Polish-American to command the V Corps, and its FWD HQ assigned in Poland, perhaps one day V Corps will properly be dubbed, the “Kościuszko Corps!” For now, there is no doubt of the important historical and continuing contributions made, and sentiment evoked by heroes like Pułaski and Kościuszko in the Polish-American relationship. Such history runs deep, and commemorations for these generals take place annually in hundreds (perhaps thousands) of locations in America, Poland and beyond. A prime example, each year at West Point, cadets of the “Kościuszko Squadron,” partner with the American Association of the Friends of Kościuszko at West Point, and gather with hundreds of Polish diaspora, and others, at the Kościuszko monument, the 2nd oldest memorial to Kościuszko. They solemnly commemorate his life and legacy, while on the bluffs above the Hudson River, Gen Washington’s “Engineer,” keeps a watchful eye, guarding his American allies at the Academy he inspired.
Poland, then and now - “Center of Gravity”
Edgar Vincent, Viscount D’Abernon, British Envoy to Warsaw during the Polish-Soviet War, observed that the Battle of Warsaw, is among the most consequential battles in history. It was newly reborn Poland, trying to shape a nation from three parts subjugated to former empires, which stood in the way as the West’s “Center of Gravity,” Lenin hoped to destroy. Lenin utterly failed; his plans dashed literally, at the gates of Warsaw.
Today, in the face of renewed Russian aggression in Europe, the EDCA is the latest signal of U.S. recognition of the vital American-Poland relationship, and the pivotal “Center of Gravity” role Poland plays on NATO’s Eastern Flank. The agreement includes three important initiatives: (1) U.S. commits the V Corps FWD - 200 personnel - to Poland; (2) Poland makes significant improvements in diplomatic, legal and other coordination procedures to support the presence of U.S. forces; (3) Poland commits to financially support U.S. forces present in, and operating from Poland.
Why an EDCA with Poland?
There is no question that Poland’s size and geographic position in the heart of Europe, bordering Russia and Belarus, make it automatically important to U.S. and European allies, but what makes Poland so vital to the Alliance?
It’s easy to see why Poland provides the bulwark to which U.S./NATO can operate in, from, and through, on NATO’s Eastern Flank and beyond. It’s why the U.S. enduringly deploys thousands of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Special Operations Forces (SOF) to Poland, and has selected Poland as the nation to position its V Corps FWD – the only U.S. Corps capability in Europe. Poland has added significant capabilities to its arsenal, most importantly for 3 decades, training and educating tens of thousands of its officers, noncommissioned officers, soldiers and civilians in US/NATO courses, schools and on training complexes. Combine this with the vast experience the PAF have acquired in 30 years of leadership, commitment and shared sacrifice deployed “shoulder-to-shoulder” with U.S., NATO, Coalition and EU forces – the visible transformation is obvious.
Poland spent the better part of the 20th century occupied by Russia, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire. The EDCA is the latest manifestation in Poland’s 3-decade relentless march to strengthen security ties with the U.S. and the West. Just a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and eager to demonstrate its Western orientation and commitment, Poland began to “show up” with whatever it could muster, wherever and whenever the U.S. and NATO asked. From rescuing Americans in Baghdad in 1990, and supporting Operation Desert Shield and Storm with medical capabilities, Poland continued showing up, to Haiti, the Balkans, Afghanistan, EU missions in Africa, Syria and back to Iraq again. Just 4 years after joining NATO, Poland was among only 3 allies to deploy with the U.S. on day-one combat operations in Afghanistan (2002), and Iraq (2003) – only the UK and Australia had the political will to provide such support. When in 2003, the U.S. needed a mature Western ally to lead the Multinational Division Center Sector South (MND-CSS) in Iraq, none volunteered, but Poland previously abandoned by the West, stepped forward and adeptly led 33 nations (at peak) in the MND. From 2008-2013, Poland was the only CEE ally, to take responsibility for an entire province in Afghanistan.
Poland is growing its force structure to upgrade the readiness of its active force, while reestablishing, and building a new more lethal, Territorial Defense Force. It is renovating brigade and divisional capabilities. As COL Jim McDonough, former U.S. Army Attaché to Warsaw underlined: “It is notable that with three standing divisions, Poland already has two more active divisions than the U.K., the country that Americans most often view as our strongest ally.” Beyond that, Poland is in the process of establishing a fourth division, the 18th “Gen Buk,” Mechanized Division, to cover its exposed southeastern flank. Poland is one of the few allies in Europe, which can organize, coordinate, host and execute large scale multinational exercises – ANAKONDA and DRAGON series, for example. Poland also participates in sophisticated Division-level formats at the U.S. Training Center in Grafenwoehr, Germany – even commanding U.S. brigades in these exercises. Poland is partnered with the U.S., to build similar training capacity found at Grafenwoehr, at its Drawsko Pomorskie Training complex (DPTA).
Poland is a leader, or member in multiple regional security and defense (or security/defense - related) initiatives including: (1) Poland sounded the alarm when Russian aggression needed a stronger and more coordinated response, spurring NATO’s Multinational Corps Northeast (MNCNE) to increase its readiness level to “High,” to match NATO’s 8 other Land Corps; (2) Poland temporarily “broke” its own 16th Division’s Command and Control (C2), to provide the organizational basis to establish NATO’s Multinational Division (MND) Northeast (MNDNE); (3) Poland and Romania, are NATO’s Baltic/Black Sea heavyweights for U.S. allied-partnering in Operation Atlantic Resolve (OAR) – this means hosting thousands of enduringly present forces; (4) Unique Poland-Romania regional cooperation with unit exchanges and Romania joining NATO Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) rotations in Poland; (5) Unique Poland-Germany cooperation with intensifying armored forces allied-partnering and unit exchanges; (6) V4, notably leadership in EU V4 battlegroups and an EU Operational HQ in Kraków; (7) Co-founder and leader in the EU’s Eastern Partnership; (8) Deployed continuously alongside Lithuania, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, and the UK in the US-led Joint Multinational Training Mission Ukraine (JMTGU); (9) A leader in the Three Seas Initiative (3SI), setting the example by contributing the first, and most to the 3SI common-fund, which Poland helped organize; (10) Poland’s leadership and innovation with its Solidarity Transport Hub (which will improve Military Mobility in the region); (11) Poland is co-chair with Romania in the Bucharest-9; (12) Partner in the German-led Baltic Maritime Coordination Center, Rostock; (13) George C. Marshall Center-led Germany-Poland-USA Trilat; (14) Baltic States – Poland (B3P) efforts including Poland’s own “shock exercises” – SPRING STORM, providing emergency coastal missile capabilities to Baltic allies; (15) Unique and intensifying Poland-Lithuania cooperation, especially regarding the “Suwałki Corridor” region; (16) Poland-Ukraine-Lithuania cooperation in the Poland-based Multinational POL/LIT/UKR Brigade; (17) Poland is host to a number of important NATO and regional military exercises, most recently hosting the majority of U.S. forces in EXERCISE DEFENDER-20; (18) Poland is host to an American Ballistic Missile Defense base, Redzikowo; (19) Poland hosts and rotationally commands NATO’s Joint Force Training Center, Bydgoszcz; (20) Poland hosts NATO’s Military Police Center of Excellence (COE), Bydgoszcz, and NATO’s Counterintelligence COE, Kraków; among other security/defense initiatives.
When it comes to modernization, Poland is not skimping including billions in US dollars for: F16 Block50/52 fighters with extended range JASSM air to ground missiles; C-130 Hercules and CASA-295 transports; Master M-346 trainer jets; Blackhawk S-70i helicopters; Leopard 2A5 main battle tanks; AHS Krab, modern long-range self-propelled artillery; Rosomak and MRAP armored fighting vehicles; Javelin Antitank systems; “Wisła Program” – Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD), including Patriot/IAMD-IBCS capabilities; “Narew Program” – Short Range Air Defense; thousands of Modern tactical communications systems; M142 HIMARS-Long Range Precision Rocket Artillery; F35 Fifth Generation fighters among others, including in the future: Attack Helicopters, and Unmanned Aircraft programs.
Key elements: U.S.-Poland EDCA:
Poland’s financial commitment is not only welcomed by the U.S., but also by Poland’s neighbors. CEE allies appreciate Poland’s leadership in helping to shape regional deterrence and defense both by its own significant investments in force development and modernization, and by providing critically important forward basing, training and C2 locations for U.S. forces.
Honoring Polish, American and other allied heroes on the anniversary of the Battle of Warsaw, reminds us that the U.S. understands today – codified by the signature of a former American Army Captain – what an American Army Captain understood a century ago. CPT Merian Cooper knew then, that for a host of reasons, Poland is not only a vital ally, it is an anchor-point and bulwark for the West and NATO’s Eastern Flank which must be defended. Nothing makes this clearer than America’s decision to deploy the V Corps FWD to Poland, and conclude the EDCA which additionally brings deployment of a Reaper Squadron and much more.
It’s possible that one day the U.S. Army’s V Corps may be called the “Kościuszko Corps,” or perhaps the USAF Reaper Squadron becomes the next “Kościuszko Squadron.” Until then, the allied-spirit embodied by Generals Kościuszko and Pułaski, continues to inspire special bonds of Polish-American friendship, and mutual defense in the fight for freedom, national sovereignty and strong transatlantic bonds for each other, allies and partners. Perhaps on this special 100th year centennial of the Battle of Warsaw, Poland’s timeless military motto captures it best: “For Our Freedom and Yours!”
Colonel (Retired) Ray Wojcik, Director, Center for European Policy Analysis, Warsaw
During his 32 years of service in the U.S. Army, Colonel (Ret) Ray Wojcik, served as a soldier, noncommissioned officer, and officer in a variety of tactical to strategic assignments. Upon completing his degree at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, he was commissioned as an infantry officer. He served in numerous Command, Staff, Army, Joint and Foreign Area Officer assignments in Europe and the United States culminating in his final tour as Army Attaché, American Embassy, Warsaw. His significant strategic contributions center on enhancing U.S. and regional security, through assisting allies and partners to increase their defense capacities, capabilities and interoperability.