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Defense Secretary Says U.S. Commitment to NATO Defense 'Ironclad'

Feb. 17, 2022 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News

The NATO allies are united in opposing Russia's actions along Ukraine's borders, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III emphatically said U.S. commitment to the common defense is ironclad. 

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The secretary spoke at the conclusion of meetings of the alliance's defense ministers in Brussels today. 

In addition to the many moves the United States has made to strengthen NATO in the past months, Austin announced that a U.S. Army Stryker company will deploy to Bulgaria for joint training opportunities. 

"These troops will be departing Germany in coming days, and they will help ensure our readiness and interoperability with Bulgaria as our NATO ally," the secretary said.  

A tank fires in a field.
Tank Training
Soldiers fire a cannon from a tank during training at Drawsko Pomorskie, Poland, Feb. 4, 2022.
Photo By: Army Spc. Hedil Hernandez
VIRIN: 220204-Z-XV469-1113C

Russia has amassed more than 150,000 troops along Ukraine's borders including in Crimea, Belarus and in the Black Sea.  

"In many ways, this brings Russian troops right up to NATO's doorstep," he said. "So, let me begin today by making clear that America's commitment to NATO and to Article 5 remains ironclad. As President Biden said a couple days ago, we will — if we must — defend every inch of NATO territory." 

The secretary said there is no reason for Russian President Vladimir Putin to order troops to invade Ukraine. "Ukraine does not threaten anyone, let alone its Russian neighbors," Austin said. "And yet, that is what Moscow would have us believe. That is how Mr. Putin continues to justify his assembly of significant combat power."

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III stands and speaks at a lectern with two microphones.
Brussels Remarks
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III answers questions during a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Feb. 17, 2022.
Photo By: Chad J. McNeeley, DOD
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Officials in Moscow have said that Russian forces are withdrawing at the conclusion of military exercises. "Quite the contrary, we see them add to the more than 150,000 troops they already have arrayed along that border — even in the last couple days," the secretary said. 

Russian forces are approaching the border with Ukraine. The Russians have added more combat and support aircraft and have sharpened their readiness in the Black Sea. They're even stockpiling blood supplies, the secretary said.  

"I was a soldier myself not that long ago," he said. "I know firsthand that you don't do these sorts of things for no reason. And you certainly don't do them if you're getting ready to pack up and go home." 

Two military jets taxi on a rainy runway.
Supporting NATO
Two F-15C Eagles taxi to the runway for a local area familiarization flight in support of NATO operations at Lask Air Base, Poland, Feb. 11, 2022.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob Albers
VIRIN: 220211-F-TL453-0168

Austin said the NATO allies must remain vigilant and be prepared for Russian false-flag operations. "We will continue to explore ways to enhance our readiness as the United States and others have done with additional troop deployments to NATO's eastern flank," he said. "And we will closely match Russian words to Russian deeds: What they say [as opposed] to what they actually do."

Putin has said he wants more dialogue, and Austin and the rest of the NATO leaders have said they welcome that sentiment. "We believe there is still time and space for diplomacy to work, and we are in lockstep with our allies and partners toward that end," Austin said. "A peaceful outcome that respects Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity represents the best outcome — for Ukraine, to be sure, but also for Russia and for the Russian people. If Mr. Putin is serious about achieving that sort of outcome, he will find in the United States and in this alliance no better or more serious interlocutor." 

A civilian gestures while speaking to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III.
Counterpart Chat
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III meets with Slovenian Minister of Defense Matej Tonin at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Feb. 17, 2022.
Photo By: Chad McNeeley, DOD
VIRIN: 220217-D-TT977-0071
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III shakes hands with another official.
NATO Greetings
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III exchanges greetings with Georgian Minister of Defense Juansher Burchuladze at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Feb. 17, 2022.
Photo By: Chad J. McNeeley, DOD
VIRIN: 220217-D-TT977-0049R

If he is not serious about dialogue and re-invades a sovereign country, "it will be Mr. Putin who will bear the responsibility for the suffering and the immense sacrifice that ensues," he said.  

"I joined the United States Army in the middle of the Cold War, and I have served and fought alongside NATO allies for the better part of my adult life," the secretary said. "But I can honestly say that I have never seen the alliance more relevant, more united or more resolute than I do right now. Mr. Putin says he doesn't want a strong NATO on his western flank. He’s getting exactly that." 

Austin said he is "incredibly proud" of the NATO alliance, and he said he's "satisfied in the knowledge that we will be sure-footed in the face of aggression, but dedicated, as always, to the prospect of peace. There is nothing inevitable about this looming conflict. It can still be averted. The path of diplomacy may be difficult, but it is still worth the trek."