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Poland moves closer to the US, another Trump foreign policy success

Poland moves closer to the US, another Trump foreign policy success
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It’s been one year since President TrumpDonald John TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge MORE, in coordination with U.S. Ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher, invited the people of Poland into America’s Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The program allows Polish citizens to apply to travel to the United States for tourism or business purposes without obtaining a U.S. visa, a privilege extended to only a small number of American allies. What does this development tell us about Trump’s foreign policy and the transatlantic relationship?

First, it reflects Trump’s relentless focus on the American economy, even and especially in the making of foreign policy. According to the U.S. Travel Association, the spending generated by 23 million VWP travelers amounted to $190 billion in economic activity in 2017, and supported nearly 1 million jobs. The United States is Poland’s top non-European Union (EU) investor and, in 2020, U.S. goods imported by Poland totaled $8.3 billion. Trump would not have brought Poland into the VWP if it did not produce an economic benefit to the American people. The VWP is a recognition of both the strong economic ties between the U.S. and Poland, and the rising contributions of Polish people and business beyond their borders — and Trump is the president who recognized it.

Second, it reflects the increasingly close relationship between Washington and Warsaw under the Trump administration. The VWP is not only about tourism and business — due to the ease of exchange and travel under the VWP, designated countries must meet several requirements related to counterterrorism, law enforcement, immigration enforcement, document security, and border management. Poland’s inclusion in the VWP is therefore a testament to its rising special relationship with the U.S., and its ability to work with America on joint security priorities. Poland had been moving in this direction for some time but it was not formally recognized until the Trump administration and Mosbacher’s ambassadorship.

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This was demonstrated by Poland’s success in meeting the required B1/B2 visa refusal rate. The State Department, the U.S. Embassy and Ambassador Mosbacher worked hard to get the application refusal rate under 3 percent, mostly through public outreach efforts to educate Polish citizens interested in the VWP regarding U.S. visa criteria. The relative ease with which Poland completed all necessary bilateral security agreements and met the required visa refusal rate demonstrated the close working relationships between Washington and Warsaw.

Third, Poland’s inclusion in the VWP reflects its rising geopolitical power in Europe. As Germany prevaricates between NATO and Russia, and as France attempts a fully-fledged entente with Moscow, Poland has emerged as America’s strongest ally within the EU and NATO regarding the Russian threat. Trump has acknowledged Poland’s increasing significance within the Western alliance by proposing a relocation of thousands of U.S. troops from Germany to Poland and bolstering bilateral defense cooperation.

Poland has repaid the Trump administration’s trust in spades. It jointly hosts the NATO Multinational Corps and Division Northeast Headquarters, hosts a NATO Force Integration Unit (NFIU), serves as a framework nation under the very high readiness joint task force (VJTF) for 2020, and will host the forward command post of the U.S. Army’s new V Corps headquarters. The Polish military has contributed to operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo, and operations against ISIS. Poland hosts approximately 4,500 rotational U.S. military personnel, and the 2020 U.S.-Poland Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) will enable a larger rotational U.S. presence in Poland. It is for this reason that Poland must, too, work to keep moving in the direction of capitalism and Western ideals.  

It is easy to forget just what an astonishing achievement in U.S. alliance policy this is. The U.S. has supported Polish independence ever since the Wilson administration, and Washington was the first foreign government to recognize Poland in 1919. But Poland then suffered a catastrophic 70 years, invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II, and then subjugated by a Russian-imposed communist regime. When the Soviet Union’s empire began to collapse in 1989, Poland was a model of peaceful democratic change. It joined NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004. But its rising status as a transatlantic power and ironclad American ally should not be taken for granted. Only with decades of bilateral cooperation and farsighted statesmanship in both countries has such a relationship been achieved and sustained.

Poland’s participation in the VWP is simply an extension of this history of progress, which will only deepen as Polish citizens participate in American economic and cultural life more easily.

Richard Grenell is a senior fellow of Carnegie Mellon University’s Institute for Politics and Strategy. He is a senior adviser on LGBT outreach to the Republican National Committee. He served more than 10 years in the U.S. Department of State, including as U.S. ambassador to Germany, 2018-2020, and as a spokesman at the United Nations, and served briefly as acting director of national intelligence (DNI).