Defense officials today welcomed Finland and Sweden as NATO’s two newest members in a flag unfurling ceremony as the alliance marked its 75th anniversary.

The two nations’ flags were unveiled alongside those of 30 other member states at the Pentagon — a display that underscores NATO’s unwavering alliance forged amid the threat of Soviet aggression in the aftermath of World War II.

“At the alliance’s core is a sacred promise — one that we reaffirm today — that an attack on one is an attack on all,” said Lisa C. Sawyer, the deputy assistant secretary for European and NATO policy during the flag unfurling ceremony.

“To the nations of Sweden and Finland, you now have a commitment of the United States of America and 30 other allies to come to your defense should you need it, and we know we have yours,” she said.

The alliance, which began as a 12-member bloc in April 1949, has long served as a beacon of freedom and stability throughout Europe. Over the years, the alliance has grown to include 32 members united by the shared principles of democracy and the rule of law.

Sweden and Finland both applied to join the alliance in May 2022 after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February of that year.

Finland officially joined the alliance exactly one year ago today after receiving unanimous approval from the member states, as is required to join the alliance. Sweden became NATO’s newest member in March.

Their accession brought an end to longstanding military nonalignment by the two Nordic countries, as Russia’s aggression once again threatened peace and stability on Europe’s eastern flank.

“Putin’s reckless and lawless invasion of Ukraine has brought war back to Europe on a scale that NATO’s founders had hoped to consign to history,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said in a statement. “Today, the world needs NATO as much as ever.”

Austin noted that as the common values that unite NATO allies have been put to the test, the alliance has only grown in strength.

“In the 21st century, NATO remains the bulwark of our common security, and America’s commitment to this great defensive alliance remains a sacred trust,” he said. “Today’s 32-member alliance is larger than ever after the historic recent addition of the proud democracies of Finland and Sweden — stronger than ever and more united than ever.”

Officials from Sweden and Finland underscored their commitment to the alliance as their flags were unfurled at the Pentagon.

“For us, strong defense, being a strong member of NATO, contributing to the 360 degrees of NATO security is something that we have internalized, and we take it seriously,” said Mikko Hautala, Finland’s ambassador to the U.S. “I think you will see it in all of our actions now and in the future.”

Jonas Wendel, Sweden’s deputy chief of mission to the U.S., said his country’s membership, along with Finland’s, will create a more predictable geopolitical outlook and add to peace and stability throughout Europe.

The ceremony at the Pentagon comes as NATO marks 75 years since the alliance was founded with the signing of the Washington Treaty on April 4, 1949.

“Never has a single document with so few words meant so much to so many people — so much security, so much prosperity, and so much peace,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as NATO foreign ministers today gathered in Brussels to mark the anniversary.

“All because of its solemn promise … we stand together and protect one another as we have for 75 years,” he said.

In his statement marking the milestone, President Joe Biden said that the peace and stability afforded through “the greatest military alliance in the history of the world” did not “happen by accident, nor was it inevitable.”

“Generation after generation, the United States and our fellow allies have chosen to come together to stand up for freedom and push back against aggression knowing we are stronger, and the world is safer, when we do,” he said.

In the face of new challenges, that hard-won peace cannot be taken for granted, Biden cautioned.

“Now, like generations before us, we must choose to protect this progress and build on it,” Biden said. “We must remember that the sacred commitment we make to our allies to defend every inch of NATO territory makes us safer, too, and gives the United States a bulwark of security unrivaled by any other nation in the world.

“And like our predecessors, we must ask ourselves what can we do — what must we do — to create a more peaceful future,” he said.

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