Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III welcomed Ben Wallace, the United Kingdom's Secretary of State for Defense, to the Pentagon today to discuss the short-term and long-term implications of the U.S.-U.K. alliance.
The United States has no closer ally than the United Kingdom, Austin said at the start of the meeting, and it is seemingly impossible for the two nations to work even more closely together. Yet Austin sees the Australia, United Kingdom, United States trilateral security pact as a long-term way forward and the best way to strengthen ties among the nations.
"It is an historic opportunity that shows how strong we can become when we work together," the secretary said. "It shows our deep commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. And it's a testament to our shared values, and to the long-term investments that we're making in our forces. I'm confident that AUKUS will break down barriers and usher in a new era of U.S.-U.K. defense cooperation."
But the two nations also must deal with the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and what that threat means globally and for Europe. "The Kremlin has chosen a path of aggression and atrocity for the Ukrainian people and Ukraine's military [has] responded with incredible courage," Austin said. "And I'm going to keep on saying it: We will support Ukraine in this fight for as long as it takes."
Austin thanked Wallace for the United Kingdom's leadership role in supplying Ukraine and training Ukrainian troops to defend their country. "The UK is working with allies and partners to encourage donations and facilitate the delivery of security assistance to Ukraine," he said.
The United States and United Kingdom are also leaders in the NATO alliance. The secretary said this is a historic time for NATO. "Finland recently became the 31st member of NATO. And we look forward to Sweden becoming the 32nd," he added.
Austin leaves tomorrow for Stockholm to express his support for that move.
Wallace seconded Austin's strong support for Sweden's NATO membership and thanked the secretary for America's leadership. He noted he is entering his fourth year in his office. "The world, sadly, has not got less anxious and less insecure," Wallace said. "In fact, with the invasion of Ukraine, we've seen a more anxious world and a more unstable world. Without U.S. leadership, we would be in a worse place, whether that is in the Pacific, whether that is in Ukraine, whether that is in European defense, or indeed worrying so the development in the Middle East around Iran."
American aid to Ukraine has been critical to giving the Ukrainian military the tools and training it needs to defend "the freedoms that we all fight for and believe in," he said.
Wallace agreed that the AUKUS partnership is a sign of the long-term partnership and friendship between the two nations. He said neither man will be in office when the first AUKUS submarine rolls off the production line in the late 2030s. Still, it "shows that is a long-term commitment" to share these secrets and capabilities among the three nations.