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Joint Press Conference by U.S. President Obama and Polish President Komorowski

Speakers: Barack Obama, and Bronislaw Komorowski
Published June 3, 2014

U.S. President Barack Obama and Polish President Bronisław Komorowski held a press conference on June 3, 2014, to discuss commitments to NATO and Ukraine.


Q A question of both Presidents. Referring to what has been raised a moment ago, this European reassurance initiative, it doesn't do away with the division into old and new members of the alliance. It doesn't mean that the deployment of ground troops of the United States, and Poland and other countries like the Baltic States counted on this very much. So what kind of American troops can we expect in Poland, specifically, within the next month or year? Is it going to be some complement of ground troops? And if so, when are they going to come?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: First of all, when you discuss old and new NATO members, I recall my first NATO meeting back in 2009, and I made very clear at that first meeting my belief that there's no such thing as new members of NATO and old members of NATO -- there are just members of NATO. And because that was my strong view then and continues to be my strong view now, I immediately pushed to make sure that we were putting in place contingency plans for every NATO member. And those contingency plans have been steadily developed over the last several years.

And part of what I think your President just indicated is very important is that our contingency plans are not just pieces of paper on a shelf, but we have the capacity to operationalize it. That means that there has to be resources pre-positioned; there has to be training; there have to be joint exercises. We have been conducting those, but there's no doubt that what has happened in Ukraine adds a sense of urgency when we meet in Wales in the next NATO summit.

And part of what I discussed with Secretary General of NATO Rasmussen and now with the new Secretary General Stoltenberg is the need to make sure that the collective defense effort is robust, it is ready, it is properly equipped.

That does mean that every NATO member has to do its fair share. Obviously, we all have different capacities. The United States is going to have different capacities than Poland; Poland is going to have a different capacity than Latvia. But everyone has the capacity to do their fair share, to do a proportional amount to make sure that we have the resources, the planning, the integration, the training in order to be effective.

Some of that has to do with where our personnel is positioned. And obviously, as I indicated before, my administration has put U.S. soldiers on Polish soil for the first time. This new initiative that I'm putting forward gives us the option, the capacity, to add to those rotations.

But I think it's important to recognize that the effectiveness of our defenses against any threat is not just going to be dependent on how many troops we have in any particular country -- it has to do with how we are working collectively together to make sure that when any NATO member is threatened, all of us can respond rapidly -- whether it's through air, sea, or land.

And that's going to require some flexibility. It's going to require some additional planning. It's going to require some joint capabilities that right now we don't have. But frankly, NATO is very reliant on U.S. capabilities but has not always invested in some joint capabilities that would be important as well. And it's going to require every NATO member to step up. We have seen a decline steadily in European defense spending generally. There are exceptions -- like Poland, like Estonia -- but for the most part, we have seen a steady decline. That has to change.

The United States is proud to bear its share of the defense of the Transatlantic Alliance. It is the cornerstone of our security. But we can't do it alone. And we're going to need to make sure that everybody who is a member of NATO has full membership. They expect full membership when it comes to their defense; then that means that they've also got to make a contribution that is commensurate with full membership.

PRESIDENT KOMOROWSKI: (As interpreted.) For Poland, what is really fundamental is to make sure that nobody from outside of NATO claims the right to determine what NATO member states may do and what they may not do. And it also concerns the question of the presence of NATO troops and NATO infrastructure in the Polish territory.

What is most important for us is to make sure that there are no second-category member states of NATO, that there are no countries about whom an external country, a third country like Russia can say whether or not American or other allied troops can be deployed to these countries. That is why the decision of the United States of America to deploy American troops to Poland is really very important for us, both as an element of deterrence, but also as a reconfirmation that we do not really accept any limitations concerning the deployment of NATO troops to Poland imposed for some time or suggested for some time by a country that is not a member of NATO.

Another thing is the inadequacy of response for the existing situation, the Ukrainian crisis, the Russian behavior about Crimea, for example -- first, the necessary response to it. And this response is both the real presence of American troops, reinforced aviation detachment and then the ground troops that that would complement, as well as the declaration of President Obama to increase this presence even more. I would like to remind you that Poland is also making a contribution in the reconfirmation of an equal right of every member state to decide whether or not they are going to receive NATO troops in their territories.

Poland is participating in the air policing mission that is a mission to provide security for the air space over the Baltic States. We do this together with other allies from NATO and we don't ask anybody for acceptance except for what is agreed within NATO internally. The same goes for Poland's participation in the Afghan operation in ISAF. It was the reconfirmation of full solidarity and full core responsibility for the decisions which are made not only for the military effort but also for political decisions. Poland has been and shall continue to be a spokescountry for the solidarity within NATO. And this can be manifested also in the denial of the right of anyone from outside of NATO to decide whether we can do something or we cannot do it.

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