Washington, June 02, 2022.- Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III continued discussions with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as the alliance faces challenges from Russia and the need to agree on a new strategic concept for the alliance.
Austin noted that this was the 21st time he has met with Stoltenberg since taking office 16 months ago. In fact, the first call Austin made after taking office was to the secretary general.
Austin, Stoltenberg and their staffs are preparing for the NATO defense ministerial beginning June 14 and the NATO summit in Madrid that begins June 28.
Stoltenberg was due to step down as secretary general at the summit, but given the Russian invasion of Ukraine, NATO nation leaders asked him to serve another year.
«I especially want to thank you for your firm and principled leadership of this indispensable alliance during this historic time,» Austin said at the beginning of the Pentagon meeting. «In the face of Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine, NATO has grown stronger, and more united.
«We couldn’t have done what’s been done, … without your strong leadership,» the secretary continued. «That’s why we got on bended knee and asked you to stay a year longer, and we’re grateful for you doing that.»
Austin said that he has never seen the alliance «more energized, more united, and so it’s a special time for me having been around NATO for most of my adult life.»
Russian President Vladimir Putin thought he would be able to break NATO and separate allies from one another, Austin told Stoltenberg. «Instead, he galvanized the world by his actions,» he said.
The Russian invasion has changed the international calculus, and the defense leaders are looking to adopt a new strategic concept that will strengthen deterrence and make the alliance more combat credible, Austin said.
Austin also talked about defense spending within the alliance. «Let me just say that spending 2% of is a floor and not a ceiling,» he said. «It’s also important to increase the amount of common funding so that NATO has the resources that it needs to accomplish the tasks our leaders assigned us, and we fully support your efforts and applaud your efforts to ensure that NATO has the resources that it needs.»
Stoltenberg thanked Austin for his strong personal commitment and leadership in NATO. The U.S. response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine has reassured allies facing Russia and the resources sent to the Ukrainian military have made differences on the battlefield.
«What has impressed me in not only the magnitude and the scale of the support, but also how swiftly and quickly you were able to act when Ukraine needed our support,» the secretary general said.
Since Russia first invaded Ukraine in 2014 and illegally annexed Crimea, the European allies have stepped up with more troops to the eastern flank of the alliance and more money dedicated to defense spending, the secretary general said.
«I agree with you that 2% is a minimum, and therefore we need to make sure that we continue to ensure that NATO allies are investing more,» he said. «Across Europe and Canada, we have seen now seven consecutive years of increased defense spending and more and more allies are meeting the 2% guideline.»