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Austin, Stoltenberg Discuss NATO Future During Pentagon Meeting

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.  

People sit around a long table while others stand and take pictures.
Pentagon Meeting
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III meets with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Pentagon, June 2, 2022.
Photo By: Lisa Ferdinando, DOD
VIRIN: 220602-D-BN624-0077A

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. 

F-35 lands in Lithuania on the day Russian forces invaded Ukraine.
Aircraft Arrival
U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II aircraft assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, arrives at Siauliai Air Base, Lithuania, Feb. 24, 2022.
Photo By: US Air Force photo
VIRIN: 220224-F-F3253-0004

"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.  

Two men walk down a hallway.
Pentagon Discussion
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III hosts NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Pentagon, June 2, 2022.
Photo By: Lisa Ferdinando, DOD
VIRIN: 220602-D-BN624-0052A

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 [gross domestic product on defense] 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.  

Soldier watches as other soldiers disarm a mine.
Training Time
A U.S. Army Green Beret assigned to 10th Special Forces Group watches Latvian National Guard soldiers handle a mock anti-personnel mine before moving towards the objective during ambush training in the forests of Latvia, March 2, 2022. The bilateral training creates interoperability with NATO allies, improves military readiness, and strengthens joint confidence while promoting peace and stability within the region.
Photo By: Army photo by Sgt. Hannah Hawkins
VIRIN: 220302-A-VU095-1057

"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."

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