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Austin Honors NATO Secretary General's Decade of Distinguished Service Ahead of Summit

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Pentagon today ahead of this week's summit marking the 75th anniversary of the alliance.

Two men pose on the Pentagon steps surrounded by service members standing in formation carrying ceremonial rifles.
Pentagon Meeting
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III hosts an honor cordon and meeting welcoming NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to the Pentagon, July 8, 2024.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jackie Sanders
VIRIN: 240708-F-XL929-7001

The two leaders underscored NATO's unwavering strength as the 32 allies prepare to meet over the course of three days in Washington.  

"This summit will celebrate 75 years of the greatest defensive alliance in history," Austin said. "The summit will deepen our extraordinary transatlantic bond and strengthen our shared security."  

The secretary added that as NATO's leaders meet this year, they will further build upon the alliances continued progress. 

"We've made outstanding progress in strengthening our deterrence and defense," Austin said. "We've built on our progress from previous summits, and we've shown the world that NATO is stronger, larger and more united than ever before." 

A Marine holds their arms up to direct an artillery vehicle onto the deck of a ship during daylight.
HIMARS Maneuver
A Marine directs a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System onto the ramp of a ship during exercise Baltic Operations 24 in Camp Berga, Sweden, June 11, 2024. The exercise is led by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa and provides a unique training opportunity to strengthen combined response capabilities in the Baltic Sea.
Photo By: Marine Corps Sgt. Emely Gonzalez
VIRIN: 240611-M-JH066-1409Y

That progress comes amid unprecedented challenges as Russia continues its war of aggression in Ukraine.  

NATO leaders are expected to outline steps to further support Ukraine as well as Ukraine's long-term bridge to membership in the alliance. 

In previewing the upcoming discussions last week, an administration official said the summit will serve as a "strong demonstration of U.S. and allied support for Ukraine." 

"Allies will reaffirm that Ukraine's future is in NATO; will make significant new announcements about how we're increasing NATO's military, political and financial support for Ukraine," the official said. "This is part of Ukraine's 'bridge to NATO.'" 

NATO members are also expected to continue to discuss the imperative that members continue to invest in the collective defense. 

A rocket is fired over a beach at night leaving a fiery tail in its wake.
Beach Blast
Soldiers participate in a high mobility artillery rocket system​​ live-fire exercise during Defender 24 in Ustka, Poland, May 10, 2024. Soldiers are mobilized across Europe as part of the joint, multinational exercise focused on the strategic deployment of U.S. forces and interoperability with NATO allies and partners.
Photo By: Chad Menegay, Army
VIRIN: 240510-Z-WA652-5872

Today, 23 NATO allies spend at or above the minimum 2% of gross domestic product on defense spending. That figure is more than two times the number of allies who met the benchmark as recently as 2021. 

Austin credited Stoltenberg's leadership for NATO's progress.  

"As the second longest serving NATO secretary general, you've provided courage, wisdom and visionary leadership, and you've guided NATO through one of the most challenging periods in the 75-year history," Austin said.  

Stoltenberg, the alliance's 13th secretary general, has served since 2014. He is slated to step down at the end of his term in October. 

Soldiers work on a bridge displaying two American flags as a military vehicle passes by and smoke arises from a body of water.
Smoky Scene
Soldiers conduct a wet gap crossing exercise during Defender, which is the largest U.S. Army exercise in Europe and is part of NATO's Steadfast Defender 24 exercise, at Drawsko Combat Training Center, Poland, May 11, 2024. A wet gap crossing is a tactical operation allows the transport of equipment and troops over a variety of wet terrain environments, which can save crucial time in wartime scenarios.
Photo By: Army Reserve Sgt. Tamie Norris
VIRIN: 240511-A-KJ355-9273M

Following their meeting, Austin awarded Stoltenberg the Defense Department Medal for Distinguished Public Service, the highest honor that the secretary of defense can present to a non-U.S. citizen. 

"At your very first meeting of the North Atlantic Council, you said 'to be strong, NATO must remain ready — ready to take decisions and to adapt as challenges emerge,'" Austin said. "And you were right." 

"Over the past decade, NATO has remained ready, it has remained decisive, and it has adapted to each of our emerging challenge," Austin said. "Secretary general, all of that is a testament to your courage, your wisdom and your vision."

 

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