Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Pentagon today ahead of this week’s summit marking the 75th anniversary of the alliance.

The two leaders underscored NATO’s unwavering strength as the 32 allies prepare to meet over the course of three days in Washington.  

“This summit will celebrate 75 years of the greatest defensive alliance in history,” Austin said. “The summit will deepen our extraordinary transatlantic bond and strengthen our shared security.”  

The secretary added that as NATO’s leaders meet this year, they will further build upon the alliances continued progress. 

“We’ve made outstanding progress in strengthening our deterrence and defense,” Austin said. “We’ve built on our progress from previous summits, and we’ve shown the world that NATO is stronger, larger and more united than ever before.” 

That progress comes amid unprecedented challenges as Russia continues its war of aggression in Ukraine.  

NATO leaders are expected to outline steps to further support Ukraine as well as Ukraine’s long-term bridge to membership in the alliance. 

In previewing the upcoming discussions last week, an administration official said the summit will serve as a “strong demonstration of U.S. and allied support for Ukraine.” 

“Allies will reaffirm that Ukraine’s future is in NATO; will make significant new announcements about how we’re increasing NATO’s military, political and financial support for Ukraine,” the official said. “This is part of Ukraine’s ‘bridge to NATO.'” 

NATO members are also expected to continue to discuss the imperative that members continue to invest in the collective defense. 

Today, 23 NATO allies spend at or above the minimum 2% of gross domestic product on defense spending. That figure is more than two times the number of allies who met the benchmark as recently as 2021. 

Austin credited Stoltenberg’s leadership for NATO’s progress.  

“As the second longest serving NATO secretary general, you’ve provided courage, wisdom and visionary leadership, and you’ve guided NATO through one of the most challenging periods in the 75-year history,” Austin said.  

Stoltenberg, the alliance’s 13th secretary general, has served since 2014. He is slated to step down at the end of his term in October. 

Following their meeting, Austin awarded Stoltenberg the Defense Department Medal for Distinguished Public Service, the highest honor that the secretary of defense can present to a non-U.S. citizen. 

“At your very first meeting of the North Atlantic Council, you said ‘to be strong, NATO must remain ready — ready to take decisions and to adapt as challenges emerge,'” Austin said. “And you were right.” 

“Over the past decade, NATO has remained ready, it has remained decisive, and it has adapted to each of our emerging challenge,” Austin said. “Secretary general, all of that is a testament to your courage, your wisdom and your vision.”

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