Why will Poland be critical to the US in the next decade?

One in a series of excerpts from THE NEXT DECADE by Stratfor CEO George Friedman.

If Germany and Russia continue to move toward alignment, then the countries between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea—what used to be called the Intermarium countries—become indispensable to the United States and its policy. Of these countries, Poland is the largest and the most strategically placed. It is also the one with both the most to lose and a keen awareness of that potential for loss. Membership in the European Union is one thing to the Poles, but being caught in a Russo-German entente is another. They and the other eastern Europeans are terri?ed of being drawn back into the spheres of in?uence of one or both of their historic enemies.

When the Obama administration came in, its leaders wanted to “reset” their relations with the Russians. The Russians made it clear that while they did not want to go back to Cold War hostilities, things could go forward only if the BMD system was withdrawn from Poland. By that time, the Poles regarded the system as a symbol of America’s commitment to them. This, despite the fact that the BMD system did not actually protect Poland from anything and might even make it a target. Nevertheless, the Poles, sensitive to betrayal, urgently wanted the relationship with Washington. When Obama decided to shift the BMD system from Poland to ships offshore, the Poles panicked, believing that the United States was about to make a deal with the Russians. The United States had not shifted its position on Poland at all, but the Poles were convinced that it had.

If Poland believes that it is a bargaining chip, it will become unreliable, and thus in the course of the next decade the United States might get away with betraying Poland only once. Such a move could be contemplated only if it provided some overwhelming advantage, and it is dif?cult to see what that advantage could be, given that maintaining a powerful wedge between Germany and Russia is of overwhelming interest to the United States.