US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin reaffirmed the Joe Biden administration’s intention to revitalize the US-NATO relationship and assured Allies of the continued US commitment to collective defense.
Austin took part in a virtual NATO ministerial meeting for the first time as the head of the US Defense Department.
“Secretary Austin called NATO the foundation of lasting transatlantic security and said the alliance serves as a bulwark of our shared values of democracy, individual freedom and the rule of law,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
“Minister Austin emphasized that NATO’s most important task is to protect our populations and territories through robust deterrence and strong defenses,” the statement went on to say.
The Pentagon did not release the text of Austin’s speech, but said the minister named numerous threats and challenges facing the alliance, including Russia’s destabilizing behavior, the rise of China, terrorism, as well as global challenges such as COVID-19 and climate change.
According to the Pentagon, the minister noted that defense spending is essential to ensure the combat readiness and capabilities needed to respond to Russian and other NATO challenges.
“The Minister welcomed the recognition by NATO members of the fact that China’s growing influence and foreign policy pose challenges to transatlantic security. He expressed his hope for joint work to solve these problems, ”the Pentagon said.
Austin welcomed the unique opportunities offered by expanding NATO-EU partnerships, including efforts by EU countries to build capacity to enhance 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 article published in the Washington Post, Austin said that the United States does not intend to withdraw its forces from Europe.
“By order of the President, we are conducting a global analysis of the deployment of our forces … However, we are not leaving Europe. On the contrary, we have already suspended the previously announced reduction in the number of US troops in Germany, ”the article says.
At the same time, the head of the Pentagon stressed that the Washington administration intends to make any decisions based on the results of this analysis “in the course of close consultations” with its allies and partners.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, speaking from Brussels, said that Europe and North America have 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 rule-based order that is undermined by countries that do not share our values, such as Russia and China.” Stoltenberg noted.
Meanwhile, Michael McCall, a senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called on NATO to “remain committed to our shared mission in Afghanistan.”
The congressman said that “the presence of US and coalition forces should be determined by conditions on the ground, and residual forces should remain in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future.”