In what other situation would it be considered politically appropriate to have countries free ride off U.S. generosity, and then turn around and demand that Washington provide even more lucre? But yet this is precisely Romney’s argument.
The only way to truly incentivize European defense spending for NATO is to say that the United States is going to reduce its commitment and then actually do it. Romney’s solution would instead actually reward European obstinacy.
It seems that the Romney campaign was determined to make the proposed reductions into one of the targets of the op-ed, and they had to find some way to tie it to NATO and Europe. It didn’t matter to Romney that Panetta explained that the “devastating” reductions would entail reducing the U.S. military role in Africa and Latin America, which wouldn’t be meaningfully harmful to U.S. national security at all. Not only is Romney giving an endorsement to European free-riding, but to make his point he is citing proposed reductions in projected spending that wouldn’t affect NATO even if the reductions happen. As Cohen notes, European governments have no incentive to increase their own military spending so long as they can rely on the U.S. to make up the difference. There is absolutely no incentive for any U.S. President to propose reducing U.S. support for NATO if he is going to be attacked for abandoning NATO even when he doesn’t do this.