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Transcript

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Remarks Welcoming NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to the Pentagon

June 2, 2022

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, Mr. Secretary General, it's great to see you again and it's always a pleasure to welcome you back to the Pentagon. During my short 16 months as Secretary of Defense, I think we've met virtually or in person some 21 times. And it's always I always look forward to our meetings, but that really shows the importance of NATO today.

And I want to thank you for taking the time to come here as we look ahead to both the defense ministerial that's coming up, and most important, the NATO Summit that will follow later this month. I especially want to thank you for your firm and principled leadership of this indispensable Alliance during this historic time.

In the face of Russia's unprovoked aggression against Ukraine, NATO has grown stronger and more united, and we've come to reinforce our Allies and we'll continue to do that, you know, going forward. 

We couldn't have done what's been done, Jens, quite frankly, without your strong leadership. And that's why we got on bended knee and asked you to stay a year longer, and we're grateful for you doing that.

You know -- but as I think about this, I've never seen NATO more energized, more united. And so it's a special time for me, having been around NATO most of my adult life, but to see us where we are right now, I think is a real treat. But it must be really special for you as well.

You know, Putin wanted to weaken the rules-based international order, but instead, he galvanized the world by his actions. So we continue to look forward to, under your leadership, adopting a new strategic concept at the end of the month, and to working to strengthen our deterrence and making it more combat-credible. And so I know those discussions are on the horizon there and we really look forward to that.

I know that there's been a lot of discussion about defense spending within NATO recently, so let me just say that spending two percent of GDP is a floor, and not a ceiling, in my view. And it's also important to increase the amount of common funding so that our net -- NATO has the resources that it needs to accomplish the task our leaders have assigned us. And we fully support your efforts and applaud your efforts to ensure that NATO has the resources that it needs.

So again, Mr. Secretary General, thanks for making the trip. It's great to have you here, and I know we're going to have a great discussion.

SECRETARY-GENERAL JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you so much, Secretary Austin. Lloyd, it's great to be back, great to see you again, and thank you for your strong, personal commitment to NATO and for your leadership. 

And that has really been demonstrated over the last months with the significant increase of U.S. presence in Europe with more troops, more forces and many more capabilities to demonstrate Alliance unity and our readiness to protect and defend every inch of NATO territory, and also the way you personally have led the efforts to step up support to Ukraine, convening NATO and her partners in the joint efforts to provide essential equipment and support to Ukraine. 

And again, what has impressed me is not only the magnitude and the scale of the support, but also how swift and quickly you were able to act when Ukraine needed our support. 

The good news is, of course, also that also European Allies have stepped up over actually several years with higher readiness, with more troops in the eastern part of the Alliance and also with increased defense spending.

And I agree with you that two percent is a minimum, and therefore, we need to make sure that we continue to ensure that NATO Allies are investing more. And across Europe and Canada, we have seen now seven consecutive years of increased defense spending and more and more Allies are meeting the two-percent guideline -- the guideline of spending two percent of GDP on defense.

I look forward to our meeting today, both to prepare the defense ministerial meeting later this month, but also as a part of the preparations for the upcoming summit, where we need to ensure that NATO continues to be the most successful Alliance in history, adapting and changing when the world is changing, and now we are faced with a more competitive world, a world where we see authoritarian powers like Russia and China also working very closely together, and of course this matters for our security.

So thank you once again. I appreciate that we meet so often, both in person and virtually. So I hope that we can continue this pace to have frequent meetings. So thank you so much.

SEC. AUSTIN: I absolutely agree. And Jens, before we transition here, let me just take knowledge the presence of our Ambassador, Ambassador Smith, who -- in this meeting, she's the Ambassador to NATO, obviously, and I thank you for what you've done to make it easier for her to do her job. And she's got an incredible job. If you couldn't be the Secretary General at this point in history, you'd want to be the Ambassador to NATO.

(LAUGHTER)

So thanks for helping her to quickly get on board and do what she does. 

And with that, we'll transition, so thanks a lot.