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NATO Defense Ministerial February 2021: Readouts of Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III Remarks
February 19, 2021

Informal meeting of the North Atlantic Council with Partners at the level of Ministers of Defence (via secure teleconference)
View of the room

Readouts of Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III Remarks at the NATO Defense Ministerial

February 17 and 18, 2021

NATO Defense Ministerial Day 1

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III participated in his first NATO Defense Ministerial as the U.S. Defense Secretary today, providing remarks during two separate sessions.  The first session discussed deterrence and defense, burden sharing, and Secretary General Stoltenberg’s ‘NATO 2030’ initiative.  The second session discussed trans-Atlanticism, NATO-EU relations, Alliance resilience, and emerging and disruptive technologies.

The Secretary reaffirmed the President’s message that the United States intends to revitalize our relationship with the NATO Alliance and that our commitment to Article 5 remains ironclad.  Secretary Austin referred to NATO as the bedrock of enduring trans-Atlantic security and said the Alliance serves as the bulwark of our shared values of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.

Secretary Austin emphasized that NATO’s most important task is to protect our populations and territory by presenting a credible deterrence and strong defense.  He cited the multiple threats and challenges facing the Alliance including: Destabilizing behavior by Russia, a rising China, terrorism, and global challenges such as COVID-19 and climate change.

The Secretary thanked Allies for the seventh consecutive year of growth in defense spending and noted the importance of building on this progress.  He also encouraged his colleagues to fulfill the 2014 Wales Summit Defense Investment Pledge where all Allies agreed to move toward spending two percent of GDP on defense and 20 percent of defense funds on modernization by 2024.  Secretary Austin noted that defense spending is essential to ensuring we have the ready forces and capabilities needed to address Russia and other challenges to NATO.

On the ‘NATO 2030’ initiative, the Secretary supported the overarching goals of ensuring the Alliance remains strong militarily, becomes stronger politically and takes a more global approach.

The Secretary welcomed recognition by NATO Allies that China’s growing influence and international policies present challenges to trans-Atlantic security and looks forward to working together to address these challenges.

Secretary Austin welcomed the unique opportunities offered by increased NATO Partnership with the European Union, including efforts by EU countries to build capabilities that add value to our trans-Atlantic security, but emphasized that the NATO Alliance remains the essential forum for consultation, decision and action on issues impacting our collective security.

The Secretary closed his remarks during the second session by discussing the importance of working across the Alliance to improve early adoption of emerging and disruptive technologies, as well as the need to protect our supply chains, infrastructure and technologies from strategic competitors.  He also emphasized the Department’s commitment to working with NATO to ensure democratic nations remain global hubs for innovation.

Secretary Austin thanked the allies for the opportunity to discuss these important issues and looks forward to continued consultation going forward.


NATO Defense Ministerial Day 2

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III provided remarks today at the second and final day of the NATO Defense Ministerial.  Today, Allies focused on NATO operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Alliance military readiness.

On Afghanistan, the Secretary thanked Allies for their continued commitment to the Resolute Support Mission and reiterated that the U.S. remains committed to a diplomatic effort to end the war.

He told the Allies that the U.S. is conducting a thorough review of the conditions of the U.S.-Taliban Agreement to determine whether all parties have adhered to those conditions. And he made clear that he is committed to consulting with Allies and partners throughout this process.  He reassured Allies that the U.S. would not undertake a hasty or disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan.

On Iraq, the Secretary reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the enduring defeat of ISIS, respecting Iraq’s sovereignty, and ensuring long-term regional stability.  He noted that the recent rocket attack in Erbil underscores the importance of our continued work in the region.

Secretary Austin welcomed the expanded role for NATO Mission Iraq, and expressed confidence that all of the work done to date with the Iraqi government and security forces will lead to a self-sustainable mission.

The Secretary also discussed the need to maintain ready forces and capabilities to both support ongoing NATO operations and to respond immediately to emerging crisis.  He noted progress on the NATO Readiness Initiative and Allied efforts to rebuild a culture of readiness.

Secretary Austin thanked his colleagues and NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg for his first opportunity to meet and consult on important transatlantic security issues and said he looks forward to continuing to build on this momentum going forward.