A tale of two allies
The Polish lesson: America must give something in return for support.
This week, Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich traveled to Washington to negotiate his country's participation in the US antiballistic missile-defense system. In a break with previous policy, the new center-right government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk has demanded fresh concessions – cash, Patriot missiles, and security guarantees – in exchange for hosting the bases on Polish soil.Skip to next paragraph
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The visit provided America with its first glimpse of a more assertive Poland, whose leaders are determined to drive a "hard bargain" for support of US policies. Warsaw's new mind-set is replicated across the capitals of the "New Europe," where officials are weary of what they see as Washington's failure to reward its allies for support in the Iraq war.
One notable exception to this trend is Romania. Like Poland, Romania sent troops to Iraq and has been disappointed by its exclusion from the US Visa Waiver Program. But unlike Poland, Romania has welcomed the construction of American military bases. Three features of US strategy toward Romania allowed it to succeed and could provide a blueprint for revitalizing relations with American allies worldwide.
First, in contrast to its dealings with Warsaw, Washington has worked to maintain a relationship with Bucharest on reciprocal footing. When Bucharest backed the US bid for exclusion from the International Criminal Court, Washington backed Romania's bid to join NATO.
When Bucharest granted America access to its airspace early in the Iraq war, Washington granted Romania its coveted designation as a "functional market economy." And when Bucharest cosponsored a US push for Iraqi sovereignty at the United Nations, Washington agreed to locate lucrative US bases on Romania's Black Sea coast.
In each instance, Romanian assistance was matched – usually within one or two months – by US backing for a specific Romanian interest. By contrast, for years the Poles have watched their leaders fly to Washington seeking help – on oil contracts, military aid, visas – only to come away empty-handed. Hence the desire for upfront perks in the talks this week on missile defense.