A tale of two allies
The Polish lesson: America must give something in return for support.
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Second, Washington has been careful to maintain the appearance of an equal relationship with Romania. In negotiations over US bases, the Bush administration stressed that ultimate sovereignty for the installations would rest with Bucharest. As David McKiernan, America's top Army general in Europe, often told the press, "We are guests, tenants." Such humility was necessary, Washington knew, for Bucharest to convince its citizens they were partners rather than pawns of US policy.Skip to next paragraph
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Failure to take a similar tack with Poland has done much to fuel problems on missile defense. By failing to consult Warsaw and Prague before offering Russian observers access to the bases, Washington unwittingly tapped into a deep-seated regional fear of being "talked over" by the Great Powers. As a former Polish diplomat told me, the move confirmed that America views Poland "as a playground rather than a player."
Third, in its dealings with Romania, Washington has eschewed the temptation to try to operate today's alliances on the logic that guided alliances during the cold war. This holds that countries stand with America in pursuit of common values, over virtually limitless time horizons, and without any need for enticements. With Romania, Washington has pursued finite goals over a short time frame with frequent quid pro quos to incentivize cooperation.
Why not take a similar approach with Warsaw? A Pentagon official told me, "Romania is not likely to be as significant an ally as Poland over the long-term." That's right: current US thinking holds that it shouldn't reward its most valuable allies. In Washington's view, "mature" partners don't require coaxing – they support America for the sheer satisfaction of knowing they're friends with the sole remaining superpower.
The problem with this approach is that it no longer works. As the Pentagon discovered in meetings with Mr. Klich, Poland is not prepared to move an inch on missile defense until Washington provides offsets to justify hosting the system.
This is not, as some critics say, extortion; it is reciprocity – a feature of healthy, interest-based alliances from time immemorial. Like politicians anywhere, Poland's new leaders have to be able to show that risks undertaken on behalf of a foreign power bring tangible benefits to their own citizens. Failure to do so contributed to the fall from grace of Tusk's predecessor, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Britain's Tony Blair, and Australia's John Howard.
A breakthrough on missile defense is unlikely this year: Congress doesn't want to release the funds and Bush doesn't have enough political capital to change their minds. Whatever the next president does with the system, he or she should take a close look at which methods have worked – and which ones haven't – in America's recent interactions with allies. Keeping their support in the post-unipolar age will probably prove more valuable than 10 missile shields.