Nato summit: US says it will deploy 1,000 extra troops to Poland

Barack Obama announces stationing of forces to bolster eastern flank of Nato, one of four new battalions, at Warsaw meeting

Barack Obama has announced the deployment of 1,000 more US troops to Poland to bolster Nato’s eastern flank, as he said US-European solidarity would not be affected by Brexit.

The US president made the announcement at a Nato summit in Warsaw that he described as the “most important moment” for the alliance since the end of the cold war.

At the summit, Nato and the EU issued their first joint declaration on security cooperation, pledging to work together particularly in the fields of hybrid warfare and cyberwarfare, as well as joint maritime operations to prevent illegal migration.

A Nato official said the UK’s vote to leave the EU had “given extra energy to the process that led to the agreement,” which was intended to counter perceptions that western cohesion was under threat. To that end, the Warsaw summit would mark a stepping up of Nato cooperation with Sweden and Finland, neither of which are members, the official said.

“There is no automaticity to our cooperation, but we are putting in place arrangements so they can cooperate with us as much as they want to and we are hoping to do more,” they added.

The US troops will constitute one of Nato’s four multinational combat battalions in eastern Europe intended to reassure the region against the threat of Russian encroachment. The UK is sending 500 soldiers for a battalion based in Estonia, and Canada and Germany will lead two more in Lithuania and Latvia.

Next year, Obama said, a US armoured brigade would also be deployed in Europe with a base in Poland.

Speaking in the Polish capital after a meeting with EU leaders, he argued against exaggerating the impact of Brexit on the transatlantic partnership.

“The vote in the United Kingdom to leave the EU has created uncertainty about the future of European integration. And unfortunately, this has led some to suggest that the entire edifice of European security and prosperity is crumbling,” Obama said.

“There have been those who have been questioning ‘what does this mean for the transatlantic relationship?’ Let me just say, as is often the case in moments of change, this kind of hyperbole is misplaced.”The US president emphasised the enduring strength of Washington’s relations with the EU, which he called “one of the greatest economic and political achievements of modern times”.

“This is an achievement that has to be preserved,” Obama said, adding that an integrated Europe was a “cornerstone of US relations with the world”.

In his remarks on Friday, the US president did not refer directly to Washington’s ties with London, but he wrote in a Financial Times column that “the special relationship between the US and the UK will endure”.

Obama said the lesson of the Brexit vote was that “governments cannot be remote institutions” and must respond quickly to people’s fears and needs.

Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, said although the outcome of the referendum was regrettable, it was “an incident and not the beginning of a process” of European unravelling.

The Warsaw summit is expected to announced that a US-built missile defence shield based in Romania, Turkey and Spain is initially operational and under Nato command.

They insist that the defence system is intended to counter a missile threat from Iran and Syria, not to blunt Russia’s deterrent. But analysts warn that there is a risk of Russia overreacting to Nato’s moves, fuelling escalation on the latter’s tense eastern border.

Differing views of Russia were evident at the summit. Poland’s foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, said: “We have to reject any type of wishful thinking with regard to a pragmatic cooperation with Russia as long as it keeps on invading its neighbours.”

Ben Rhodes, the deputy US national security advisor, rejected suggestions the new deployments were escalatory. “What we are demonstrating is that if Russia continues this pattern of aggressive behaviour, there will be a response and there will be a greater presence in eastern Europe,” Rhodes told journalists. “We will not be in any way deterred from our commitments by anything Russia says or does.”

The French president, François Hollande, insisted that Russia should not be seen as a threat, but a partner. Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, insisted that Russia “has always been open for dialogue” with Nato, especially to fight the “genuine threat” of terrorism.

“Russia is not looking [for an enemy] but it actually sees it happening,” Peskov told reporters in Moscow. “When Nato soldiers march along our border and Nato jets fly by, it’s not us who are moving closer to Nato borders.”

The summit is being held in Poland’s national stadium on the east bank of the Vistula river. In this location, during the summer of 1944, Stalin halted the advance of the Soviet army long enough for the Nazis to obliterate a mass uprising by the Polish resistance in Warsaw.

The Polish government has declared a high state of alert, with 18 presidents and 21 heads of government converging on the capital. For the duration of the summit, which involves foreign ministers on Friday and heads of state and government on Saturday, boats will be banned along a section of the river near the stadium and light aircraft will be prohibited from flying through the country’s airspace within a 62 mile (100km) radius.

On Thursday evening, Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, and the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, insisted that Brexit would not affect the strength of the alliance.

“The EU and Nato are quite separate organisations,” Duda told journalists. “The UK is one of the strongest members of Nato, and I have no doubt that its participation and cooperation in the alliance will continue at least at the same level.”

However, a Nato official said the issue was driving anxious conversations behind the scenes ahead of the summit.

“How can it not affect western cohesion? How can trillions being wiped out in market value not affect perceptions of western strength?” the official asked. He predicted that David Cameron, having resigned as prime minister, would cut a much diminished figure at the summit.

Krzysztof Blusz, a strategic analyst at the WiseEuropa thinktank in Warsaw, said the outcome of the EU referendum would have multiple indirect effects on Nato, almost all of them negative.

“Regardless [of] how and when Brexit happens, it will create a situation where Nato member states are more inward looking, more preoccupied with their nationalist tendencies. The impulse is already there, but this will add to the distraction and the Kremlin will not miss the chance to use the situation for its advantage,” he said.

Bogdan Klich, a leading opposition senator and former Polish defence minister, said he expected the UK to emphasise its Nato role to make up for voting to leave the EU, but that he worried about the wider economic impact.

“We are concerned in such a context that the EU will not have the same influence on the international arena,” Klich told the Guardian. To compensate, he argued, the EU should strengthen its defence role.

The German and French foreign ministers, Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Jean-Marc Ayrault, made the same argument in a nine-page joint policy document on post-Brexit contingencies titled “a strong Europe in a world of uncertainties”.

The document annoyed the US and Canada, which are wary of Europe duplicating Nato military structures.

Steinmeier had already caused consternation among his Nato counterparts by cautioning against “loud sabre-rattling and shrill war cries” directed at Moscow, referring to the latest military deployments on the alliance’s eastern flank as “symbolic tank parades”.

Lukasz Kulesa, a research director at the European Leadership Network, predicted that Russia’s reaction to the summit would most probably be symbolic, repackaging long-planned military upgrades as a “robust response”.

“However, things can get much worse, as Russia can make two mistakes while interpreting the results of Warsaw. The first mistake would be to read too much into the summit outcome and assume that the alliance is gearing up for a confrontation,” Kulesa said. The second possible mistake is that Moscow could take it too lightly “and conclude that Nato’s unity on Russia and deterrence resolve is rather shallow, and may be broken if more pressure is applied”. Either miscalculation could be destabilising, he argued.

Klich said: “I don’t have any doubt that Russia will use this little military presence of the US and other Nato states as one of its arguments to raise the level of tension with the alliance.” However, he argued that if Nato did not strengthen its eastern flank in response to Russian actions in Ukraine “it would be a puppet, not a tiger”.


Julian Borger in Warsaw

The GuardianTramp

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