U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is in Brussels for a meeting of NATO defense ministers Thursday and Friday to talk about security issues in Afghanistan, tensions with Russia and technology policy.
“I’m here to help advance NATO’s military adaptation, and ensure the alliance is prepared for the challenges of the future,” Austin tweeted after arriving Wednesday.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the defense ministers would discuss preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists, and making sure Afghans evacuated during a massive airlift operation are able to resettle in NATO member states and not remain at transit centers.
“The most urgent role NATO has, and the most immediate task we are faced with, is to resettle Afghans who worked with us,” Stoltenberg told reporters ahead of the ministerial. “And NATO Allies and the NATO partners were able to get more than 120,000 people, many of them Afghans, out of Afghanistan. And we still, Allies and partners, are still working on how to get more people out.”
Austin traveled to Belgium from Romania, where he said Wednesday the Biden administration is committed to strengthening its Euro-Atlantic bonds while securing NATO’s eastern flank.
Speaking in Bucharest, Austin praised Romania for setting “an important example for allied commitment on sharing responsibility” and defense modernization.
Romania is one of the few NATO nations that spends more than 2% of its Gross Domestic Product on defense, with 20% of that spending going toward modernization — two key NATO spending goals.
The country also hosts about 1,000 rotational U.S. forces who help maintain security of the Black Sea region.
Austin’s visit to Romania followed stops in Ukraine and Georgia, two countries that aspire to join NATO and that are partially occupied by Russian and Russian-backed forces.
Tensions have risen between Russia and the longstanding alliance, with Russia announcing on Monday it was suspending its permanent mission to NATO in response to the alliance’s expulsion of eight Russians earlier this month.
Speaking in Kyiv Tuesday, Austin called Russia an “obstacle” to any peaceful resolution to the war raging in Ukraine’s east.
“We again call on Russia to end its occupation of Crimea, to stop perpetuating the war in Eastern Ukraine, to end its destabilizing activities in the Black Sea and along Ukraine’s borders,” Austin said.
Earlier this year, the largest number of Russian troops amassed near the Ukrainian border since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea from Kyiv. Russia soon pulled back its troops, however, after taking part in exercises near the Ukraine border.
Russia still occupies about a fifth of Georgia.