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Romney and NATO

It will not come as a shock that Romney doesn’t seem to know much about NATO:

At the same time that President Obama has been weakening our military, he has sent the message — intentionally or not — that the worth of NATO has diminished in America’s eyes.

In 2009, the Obama administration stunned two NATO allies — Poland and the Czech Republic — with a surprise withdrawal from an agreement to station missile defense sites on their territories, an agreement they signed in the face of Russian threats. Two of our most valuable partners were treated shabbily, the cause of missile defense was set back, and the Russians achieved a prime security objective without having to make meaningful concessions in return.

Romney is muddling the conventional Republican line on missile defense in Europe, which we and the Russians are all supposed to pretend has nothing to do with Russia, but that isn’t what wrecks his argument. Leave aside for now the inconvenient fact that most Czechs and Poles didn’t want the installations that Obama cancelled. Romney wants to treat that decision as a reflection of the U.S. commitment to NATO, which makes no sense at all. When the cancellation was announced, NATO reacted favorably:

NATO’s new secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, welcomed the U.S. policy shift and told reporters it was his “clear impression that the American plan on missile defense will involve NATO….to a higher degree in the future.”

The Bush administration negotiated the bilateral deals with Poland and the Czech Republic because there was not yet a consensus in the alliance in favor of the plan. Two years ago at the previous NATO summit, the alliance agreed to develop a missile defense plan for all NATO members, and at the time Russia agreed to cooperate with NATO on this issue. Missile defense in Europe is a useless policy that needlessly complicates relations with Russia, but it continues to advance anyway, and NATO support for the policy is greater than it was five years ago. Romney keeps getting tripped up by making outdated claims and relying on talking points that weren’t all that good when he first started using them three years ago.

Perhaps the most significant thing in Romney’s op-ed is what it did not mention, namely NATO expansion. There wasn’t even so much as a nod to the relatively less controversial “aspirant” states in the Balkans, and there were no references to Georgia. I wouldn’t assume that this means that there would not be a push for more eastward NATO expansion in a Romney administration, but it is a little surprising that an otherwise reliably Russophobic candidate cannot be bothered to endorse one of the policies that Russia opposes the most. The idea of Georgian membership in NATO appears to be so unrealistic that even Romney sees no reason to bring it up.

Update: Alexander Zaitchik’s article on missile defense is worth reading. Here’s an excerpt:

“The U.S. never really asked NATO permission, but told them what they were doing and said they could contribute if they wanted,” says Pavel Podvig, the Geneva-based analyst. “Europe joined, but for them it’s more about managing relationships among Russia, the U.S., Old and New Europe. Nobody in Europe really cares about missile defense. They just don’t want to make it confrontational or destabilizing.”

It sure is a nice thing to want. But unfortunately for the 900 million people represented by NATO countries, European missile defense without meaningful Russian participation is inherently confrontational and destabilizing.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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