Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III held talks with leaders in stalwart NATO ally Romania today and then visited the U.S. forces who work day in and day out to make NATO a reality.
The secretary also met with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.
Austin and Romanian Defense Minister Nicolae-Ionel Ciuca discussed a range of issues. In a news conference following their meeting in the Romanian capital city of Bucharest, Austin said the two nations have built a relationship that's based on "mutual trust, respect and the political will to advance our common defense objectives."
A senior defense official called Romania a "role-model NATO ally." Romania has surpassed NATO's goal of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense, and 20 percent of that money is being spent on modernization — another NATO goal.
Romania has participated in exercises and operations within Europe and participated in operations in Afghanistan. In fact, Ciuca himself served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, Austin noted.
Romania is a frontline state facing Russia, and both leaders discussed ways to deter Russia from malign activities. Austin said the Biden administration is committed to strengthening the Euro-Atlantic bonds and sees Romania as a key to a secure Eastern border.
Romania also hosts around 1,000 U.S. rotational forces. "We are enormously grateful for your support and your commitment," he told Ciuca.
It has been a decade since Romania and the United States signed a strategic partnership document. In that time, Romania has made tremendous progress in modernizing its force and retiring older — sometimes legacy — equipment. It has been five years since Europe's first and only operational Aegis Ashore weapons system came online in Romania. "[Romania] has focused its efforts on NATO interoperability, and it has strengthened its defense institutions and military infrastructure," Austin said.
The country has also bolstered cyber defense capabilities and deepened intelligence cooperation.
The two leaders also discussed the importance of deepening cooperation among Black Sea allies and partners to deter and defend against Russia's malign activities in the region, the secretary said. "As I mentioned during my visit to Kyiv [Ukraine], the United States will continue to provide assistance to enhance the maritime capabilities of Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Georgia, in support of these efforts," he said.
"The Black Sea is and will continue to be an extremely important strategical center of gravity for the European and Euro-Atlantic security," Ciuca said in his remarks. "Consolidating the defense and deterrence posture, including through the consolidation of the presence of American forces on our territory, but also through developing our own relevant and interoperable capabilities, represents the solution for countering Russia's assertiveness."
After the meeting in the capital, Austin traveled to Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, where many U.S. troops are stationed. These include soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division. The base — which soldiers call MK — is a hub for operations in the country. Austin thanked the troops for being such good ambassadors for the United States of America to the people of Romania. "You're on the eastern flank of NATO, not too far from one of our adversaries, Russia," he said. "And because you're here, you're not only providing security on NATO's eastern flank, but you're also working to deter malign activity — and we know how aggressive Russia has been in these parts."
The rotational set up in Romania provides a tremendous deterrent to Russia and reinforces U.S. commitment to Romania.