US President Joe Biden (C), Polish President Andrzej Duda (L) and Polish Prime Donald Tusk (R), during their meeting at the White House in Washington, USA, 12 March 2024. Polish President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Donald Tusk met with US President Joe Biden on the 25th anniversary of Poland's accession to NATO. EPA-EFE/Jakub Szymczuk


US cool on Polish call to up NATO members’ defence spending to 3 per cent of GDP


Polish President Andrzej Duda’s attempt to get NATO states to spend at least 3 per cent on defence has been met with a frosty response in Washington, where politicians feel NATO members first need to spend the 2 per cent target agreed a decade ago.

The US administration did have some good news, with President Joe Biden telling Duda on March 12, the 25th anniversary of Poland’s accession to NATO, that the US security guarantee for it was “ironclad”. There was also talk of a $2 billion loan and the approval of more arms purchases.

Duda had proposed that NATO should set a spending target for its members of 3 per cent of GDP on defence at the March 12 White House meeting.

During the Duda-Tusk meeting with Biden, the Polish President called for NATO members to commit more finance to their military budgets in light of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The two Polish leaders have a fraught relationship.

“The attack on Ukraine by Russia has underscored the crucial role of NATO in safeguarding our collective security,” Duda said.

“This is why I am advocating a 3 per cent GDP defence spending benchmark. The 2 per cent target was sufficient years ago but we are in a different time now.”

Duda’s plea was met with a lukewarm response. US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said it would be better to first ensure that all countries in the alliance meet the 2 per cent GDP threshold.

Tusk picked up on this, telling Polish commercial broadcaster TVN he had “warned the [Polish] President that there would not be an enthusiastic response to this proposal”.

He added that he felt Poland should instead focus on “persuading our partners to respect the 2 per cent of GDP target for defence spending” .

Still, he said he hoped Duda’s call would help to “mobilise NATO countries” and might “embarrass those who do not reach the 2 per cent threshold”.

The White House meeting came on the exact date of the 25th anniversary of Poland joining NATO. The invitation issued simultaneously to Duda and Tusk has been seen as a signal from the US that it wants both Polish leaders to continue to work together regarding security and foreign policy matters, despite the pair’s differences over domestic policy.

The Biden administration wants Poland to continue its rearmament campaign, which involves large purchases of US arms and on which the country spends almost 4 per cent of its defence budget.

Washington is also keen to protect US interests regarding Poland’s nuclear power programme.

During the Polish duo’s visit, it was announced that Poland would receive a loan of $2 billion from the Foreign Military Defence Programme. In addition, the US would green-light the purchase of 96 Apache helicopters and air-to-surface missiles.

Biden reiterated US commitment to NATO’s Article 5 mutual defence treaty, under which an attack against one member is an attack against all.

He said US support for Poland was “ironclad” and that the US and Poland were in full agreement on the need to support Ukraine.

Biden will have noted that while in the US, both Polish leaders lobbied in favour of Washington’s proposed $60 billion aid package for Ukraine. Tusk told reporters that saving thousands of Ukrainian lives depended on the US Congress passing the measure.

In domestic politics, Duda and Tusk are in opposing camps. The Polish President is aligned with the former ruling Conservative (PiS) party, now in opposition and accusing the new Tusk-led Government of rule-of-law violations.

Despite the divide, both have thus far managed to co-operate on security and foreign policy matters and have stressed that Polish-US relations remain sound under either a Republican or Democrat administration.

Duda had managed to forge a close alliance with the former Republican US president Donald Trump on defence spending, which led to more US troops in Poland, as well as the easy purchase of US gas and nuclear-power technology.