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What Divides NATO?

The current debate about the presence of American troops in Poland is sometimes seen as pitting that country against Germany. But this misses the point: What is really at stake is European coherence in the face of the United States’ increasingly uncertain role within NATO.

BERLIN – When US President Donald Trump arrives in Poland on August 31, he is certain to receive a rapturous welcome from the country’s government. And, having recently proclaimed himself the new Messiah for the people of Israel, Trump may interpret the applause in Warsaw to mean that he is the king of Poland, too.

But, besides playing to Trump’s vanity, the Polish government will be sure to make the US military presence in the country a prime topic for discussion. These days, the debate about US troops in Poland is sometimes seen as pitting that country against Germany. But this misses the point. What is really at stake is European coherence in the face of America’s increasingly uncertain role within NATO.

True, recent remarks by Trump and other high-ranking American officials, such as Richard Grenell and Georgette Mosbacher, the US ambassadors to Germany and Poland respectively, have fueled the perception that the US is contrasting Germany unfavorably with Poland. While criticizing Germany for its lackluster defense spending, the US administration seems keen to reward Poland for spending 2% of its GDP on defense – a target that all NATO members have pledged to meet (although few are currently doing so). And the Polish government’s own recent criticisms of German defense spending have reinforced this impression.

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