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Austin Will Bring New Tone to NATO Defense Ministerial

Feb. 16, 2021 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News

NATO defense ministers will look to the future of the alliance during their virtual ministerial this week, said Mark Jones, director of NATO Policy for DOD.

The meeting will certainly have a different tone, he said, coming straight from the top.

The flags of NATO members blow in the wind.
NATO Flags
The flags of NATO members fly in front of the organization's headquarters in Brussels.
Photo By: NATO photo
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Jones noted that the first call Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III made after arriving in the Pentagon was to alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. President Joe Biden made a point in his inaugural address and speeches on foreign policy and national security to address "re-building" alliances.

Jones said from the DOD perspective there has been some good work within NATO. The NATO Readiness Initiative, combating cyber attacks, the new NATO Military Strategy and more were addressed by defense personnel since 2014. 

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Stoltenberg Speech
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a news conference, Feb. 15, 2021, previewing the alliance's upcoming defense ministerial.
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Now the Alliance must build on this work and they will look at the proposals from Stoltenberg. The overall effect of the secretary general's proposals is to keep the alliance militarily strong. "We think that's great, we're going to fully support that," Jones said. The deterrence of Russia and other threats remains the paramount mission of the alliance. 

The second piece the ministers will look at is making the alliance stronger politically. This change is really a political decision by heads of state, but defense ministers will discuss the ramifications of a change like this, Jones said.

Service members with rifles operate in a field.
Light Dragoons
British soldiers assigned to the Legion Troop, C Squadron, also known as the Light Dragoons, conduct a reconnaissance exercise during NATO's enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group Poland mission in Bemowo Piskie, Poland, May 6, 2020.
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Threats are not limited to Europe or the Mediterranean, and the ministers will look at proposals to expand alliance discussions to counter global threats. This is especially important, according to Jones, "because that talks about China's rise."  

Another new idea the ministers will consider deals with all nations paying for operations. So, if a nation provides troops, ships or planes to a NATO operation, all NATO nations should help fund that. This cost-sharing proposal is quite new, Jones said, and DOD is examining how this would work, but the idea is promising.

The ministers will discuss the NATO missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Alliance nations agree the only solution is inter-Afghan negotiations. They all call on the Taliban to negotiate in good faith, end the violence in the country and stop support for terrorist groups. 

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby addressed the discussions during a news conference last Friday. "The secretary's looking forward to having that conversation with them," he said. "And as he has said in every conversation he's had with his counterparts — particularly his NATO counterparts — no decision that we make is going to be done without proper consultation and discussion with them."

A Marine fires a weapon in a snowy forest.
Snowy Shot
A Marine fires an automatic rifle during live-fire training for Exercise Reindeer II in Setermoen, Norway, Nov. 20, 2020. The bilateral exercise hosted by the Norwegian military, is designed to increase support capabilities between NATO allies in extreme conditions.
Photo By: Marine Corps Cpl. William Chockey
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Finally, the ministers will discuss the Iraqi government's request for more NATO assistance in that nation, Jones said. The train and advise mission will expand into other Iraqi government departments. The nation wants to have established infrastructure to ensure that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria does not reconstitute itself.

The Defense Ministerial ends on Thursday.