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Austin Underscores Enduring Strength of NATO Alliance

A group of people sit at a conference table.
Pentagon Meeting
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, right center, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left center, meet at the Pentagon, Jan. 29, 2024.
Photo By: Chad J. McNeeley, DOD
VIRIN: 240129-D-TT977-1032Y

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III underscored the United States' commitment to ensuring NATO's enduring strength during a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Pentagon today.  

The secretary said the alliance remains unwavering two years into Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and commended Stoltenberg for his leadership in keeping NATO united and resolute in facing the challenge. 

"NATO is the most powerful and successful alliance in history," Austin said. "And we're going to keep it that way." 

The two leaders spoke as the bloc nears its final approval of Sweden as the newest member state after expanding the alliance to include Finland last year. 

"NATO became even more capable last year when Finland joined, and I'm very pleased that the Turkish parliament voted last week for Sweden to join NATO, as well," Austin said. "We're looking forward to welcoming Sweden." 

Stoltenberg echoed Austin's commitment to ensuring the alliance remains postured to defend and deter against threats to global security.  

"NATO allies are providing unprecedented support to Ukraine, and its important that we continue to do so," Stoltenberg said. "Our support is not charity; it's an investment in our own security because the world will become more dangerous if [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin wins in Ukraine. 

"This is also closely watched in China … so that makes it even more important that we continue to support Ukraine," he said, adding that he welcomed the United States' continued commitment to supporting Ukraine.  

In remarks ahead of their meeting, the two leaders previewed discussions about ways to further strengthen the alliance, as member countries prepare to meet at next month's meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels. They'll meet again at a summit marking the 75th anniversary of the alliance in Washington later this year.  

Those discussions are aimed at ensuring deterrence across theaters and in multiple domains. 

Three people sit at a conference table.
Pentagon Meeting
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, foreground, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., center, and Melissa Dalton, Performing the Duties of Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (out of camera range) at the Pentagon, Jan. 29, 2024.
Photo By: Chad J. McNeeley, DOD
VIRIN: 240129-D-TT977-1077Y

"I look forward to some frank discussions with you and our valued allies about what we need to strengthen our collective deterrence and defense," Austin said.  

Austin and Stoltenberg met as NATO carries out its largest exercise since the end of the Cold War.  

Last week, member states kicked off Steadfast Defender 24, a six-month exercise that consists of a series of large-scale multinational maneuvers across a variety of geographical locations.  

A Navy ship transits open waters.
USS Gunston Hall
The USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44) leaves Norfolk, Va., to participate in NATO’s Exercise Steadfast Defender 2024, Jan. 24, 2024.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Danielle Serocki
VIRIN: 240124-N-HD110-1102Y

The exercise will feature more than 90,000 service members form 31 NATO member states and Sweden. It is designed to test the alliance's ability to quickly deploy forces and carry out defense plans approved at last year's Vilnius Summit in Lithuania.  

About 26,000 U.S. personnel are scheduled to participate throughout the exercise. That includes approximately 17,000 soldiers, 7,000 sailors and Marines, 2,000 special operations forces, and 200 airmen. 

Ahead of today's talks, both leaders condemned attacks in Jordan over the weekend that resulted in the deaths of three U.S. service members and wounded dozens more.  

"The president and I will not tolerate attacks on U.S. forces," Austin said. "We will take all necessary actions to defend the U.S. and our troops." 

Stoltenberg extended his condolences for those killed and wounded in the attack.  

"This demonstrates, once again, the risks service members are exposed to as they stand up for our values and take part in missions and operations to protect freedom," he said.

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