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Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the NATO Public Forum (As Delivered)

Well, good morning. It's really good to be here with all of you. 

And Fred, thanks for that kind introduction, for all that you've done with the Atlantic Council, and for bringing us together on a pretty big week. 
It's a huge honor for the United States and President Biden to host this historic summit in Washington—just down the road from the site where the original 12 NATO allies signed the North Atlantic Treaty 75 years ago. And together, we're marking one of the greatest success stories that the world has ever known. 

On April 4, 1949, those 12 democracies came together in the wake of two world wars and at the dawn of a new Cold War. They all remembered, as President Truman put it, "the sickening blow of unprovoked aggression." 

So they vowed to stand together for their collective defense and to safeguard freedom and democracy across Europe and North America. They made a solemn commitment, declaring that an armed attack against one ally would be considered "an attack against them all." 

Now that commitment was enshrined in Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty. It was the foundation of NATO. And it still is. 


On that bedrock, we have built the strongest and most successful defensive alliance in human history. Throughout the Cold War, NATO deterred Soviet aggression against Western Europe—and prevented a third world war. In the 1990s, NATO used air power to stop ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Kosovo. And the day after September 11, 2001, when al-Qaeda terrorists attacked our country, including slamming a plane into the Pentagon, NATO invoked Article Five for the first and only time in its history.

So NATO has always stood by us. And we're going to stand by NATO. 

Without NATO, the past 75 years would have been far different—and far more dangerous. You know, I'm proud of the ways that NATO continues to strengthen our shared security. I'm proud of the way that NATO and America's other alliances and partnerships have grown and strengthened under the leadership of President Biden. And I'm especially proud of the way that our allies and partners—including our NATO allies—have met the challenge of Putin's increasingly aggressive Russia. 

In 2014, Putin made an illegal land grab against Ukraine's Crimea region and eastern Ukraine. And since then, NATO has undertaken the largest reinforcement of our collective defense in a generation, with more forces, more capabilities, and more investment. Since 2014, our fellow allies have increased their defense spending by an average of 72 percent, accounting for inflation. 

In February 2022, the world again saw what President Truman called "the sickening blow of unprovoked aggression" as the Kremlin's forces invaded the free and sovereign state of Ukraine. As this administration has made very clear, we will not be dragged into Putin's reckless war of choice. But we will stand by Ukraine as it fights for its sovereignty and security. We will defend every inch of NATO. And we will continue to strengthen NATO's collective defense and deterrence. In the wake of Putin's imperial invasion of Ukraine, we've bolstered NATO's forward defense posture with more troops at high readiness, larger exercises, sharper vigilance, and multinational battle groups in eight countries. 

NATO is now larger than ever. And our new allies in Finland and Sweden have brought the alliance's membership to 32. And make no mistake. Putin's war is not the result of NATO enlargement. Putin's war is the cause of NATO enlargement. 


Over the past three-and-a-half years, we've also seen an historic increase in annual defense spending across the alliance—by almost $80 billion. All NATO allies have agreed to spend at least two percent of their GDP on defense. In 2014, only three allies hit that target. In 2021, only six allies did so. But this year, a record 23 NATO allies are meeting the two-percent defense-spending target.

Now, our NATO allies are not just spending more on their own defense. They're also spending more on America's defense industrial base. That means platforms and munitions built in America. And that's helping to revitalize production lines across our country and to create good jobs for American workers.

Now, all of that progress is a testament to U.S. leadership and allied solidarity. But it's also a testament to the leadership of our outgoing Secretary General, my good friend, Jens Stoltenberg. Throughout a decade of challenge, Jens has guided the alliance with skill and steel. And we are all deeply, deeply grateful.  

Now, we're going to keep building on our progress. And we've got an ambitious agenda this week. 

First, we'll continue to implement NATO's new family of plans—the most robust since the Cold War. And that will significantly improve our ability to deter and defend against any new threat. 

Second, we'll work to endorse a pledge to expand industrial capacity across the alliance. And this will help us scale up military production—and send an important, long-term signal to industry.

Third, we'll deepen cooperation in support of Ukraine's self-defense. We'll launch a new military effort to help coordinate some aspects of security assistance and training for Ukraine. And we're poised to agree on a new financial pledge to Ukraine.

As another sign of our deep commitment to Ukraine's self-defense, a coalition of countries has been working tirelessly to provide F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. And today, President Biden, alongside the Dutch and Danish Prime Ministers, is proud to announce the transfer of F-16s is officially underway, and Ukraine will be flying F-16s this summer. 


And finally, we'll continue to deepen ties with our global partners, especially in the Indo-Pacific. I know that we're all troubled by China's support for Putin's war against Ukraine. That just reminds us of the profound links between Euro-Atlantic security and Indo-Pacific security. And it sends a message to the world that we are united in our values.

So we have a lot to tackle together. But we're also here to mark this moment. We're here to strengthen an alliance that has kept millions of people safe for 75 years. And we're here to reaffirm the ironclad commitment that those 12 leaders made on April 4, 1949: An armed attack against one ally is an attack against us all.

You know, as you heard Fred say, I had a brief, 41-year career in uniform. 


I started working with NATO back in 1975, when I was Lieutenant Austin. And I've never seen NATO stronger or more united than it is today. And we are determined to keep it that way. 

You know, I learned a lesson early in my Army career. And that lesson is that as a soldier, the last thing that you want to do is to fight alone. So here's the blunt military reality. America is stronger with our allies. America is safer with our allies. And America is more secure with our allies. And any attempt to undermine NATO only undermines American security.


So we're here this week to strengthen NATO and to strengthen American and allied security for the next 75 years.  

As President Biden has said, our foes and rivals have tried to shatter our unity, but "our democracies have stood unwavering." 

Ladies and gentlemen, that is the legacy that we celebrate. That is the vow that we uphold. And that is the work that we will continue.

Thank you very much.