At a virtual NATO meeting, the Pentagon chief named Russia’s destabilizing behavior and the rise of China among the alliance’s challenges
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reaffirmed the Joe Biden administration’s intention to revitalize U.S.-NATO relations and assured allies of the United States’ unwavering commitment to collective defense.
Austin participated for the first time as head of the U.S. military department in a virtual ministerial meeting of NATO nations.
“Secretary Austin described NATO as the foundation of lasting transatlantic security and said the alliance serves as a bulwark of our shared values: democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
“Secretary Austin emphasized that NATO’s most important mission is to protect our nations’ people and territory through credible deterrence and strong defense,” the statement continued.
The Pentagon did not release the text of Austin’s speech but said the secretary cited the many threats and challenges facing the alliance, including Russia’s destabilizing behavior, the rise of China, terrorism, and global challenges such as COVID-19 and climate change.
According to the Pentagon, the secretary noted that defense spending is important to ensure the readiness and capabilities needed to respond to Russian and other NATO challenges.
“The secretary welcomed the recognition by NATO members that China’s growing influence and international policies pose challenges to transatlantic security. He looked forward to working together to address these challenges,” the Pentagon said.
Austin welcomed the unique opportunities presented by the expanding NATO-EU partnership, including efforts by European Union nations to build capabilities that contribute to transatlantic security, the Defense Department said.
He also stressed the need to protect the alliance’s supply chains, infrastructure, and technology from strategic competitors.
Earlier in an op-ed in the Washington Post, Austin said the U.S. has no intention of withdrawing its forces from Europe.
“At the president’s behest, we are conducting a global review of our force deployment… However, we are not withdrawing from Europe. On the contrary, we have already suspended the previously announced reduction of U.S. troops in Germany,” the article said.
The Pentagon president underscored that Washington’s administration intended to make any decisions following the analysis “in close consultation” with its allies and partners.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, speaking from Brussels, said that Europe and North America had an opportunity to open a new chapter in security relations within the alliance.
“At the same time, we need to strengthen our political and practical cooperation with like-minded democracies around the world so that we can defend a rules-based order that is undermined by countries that do not share our values, such as Russia and China,” Stoltenberg said.
Meanwhile, the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, urged NATO to “remain committed to our shared mission in Afghanistan.”
The congressman stated that “the presence of U.S. and coalition forces must be determined by conditions on the ground, and residual forces must remain in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future.