US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is in Brussels for a meeting of NATO defense ministers on Thursday and Friday to discuss security in Afghanistan, tensions with Russia, and technology policy.
“I’m here to help advance NATO’s military adaptation and make sure the alliance is prepared for the challenges of the future,” Austin tweeted after arriving Wednesday.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said defense ministers will discuss preventing Afghanistan from becoming a terrorist haven and ensuring that Afghans evacuated during a massive airlift operation can relocate to NATO member states rather than remain in transit centers.
“The most pressing role that NATO plays and the most pressing challenge we face is the relocation of the Afghans who have worked with us,” Stoltenberg told reporters ahead of the ministerial meeting. “Both NATO Allies and NATO Partners were able to withdraw more than 120,000 people from Afghanistan, many of whom were Afghans. And we, allies and partners, are still working on how to attract more people. “
Austin arrived in Belgium from Romania, where he said Wednesday that the Biden administration is committed to strengthening its Euro-Atlantic ties while ensuring security on NATO’s eastern flank.
Speaking in Bucharest, Austin praised Romania for setting “an important example of an allied commitment to sharing responsibility” and modernizing defense.
Romania is one of the few NATO countries that spends more than 2% of its gross domestic product on defense, with 20% of that spending going to modernization – two of NATO’s key spending targets.
The country also hosts about 1,000 US rotational forces that help maintain security in the Black Sea region.
Austin’s visit to Romania follows stops in Ukraine and Georgia, two countries aspiring to join NATO and which are partially occupied by Russian and Russian-backed forces.
Tensions between Russia and the long-standing alliance have escalated: on Monday, Russia announced the suspension of its permanent mission to NATO in response to the alliance’s expulsion of eight Russians earlier this month.
Speaking in Kiev on Tuesday, Austin called Russia an “obstacle” to a peaceful resolution of the war raging in eastern Ukraine.
“We again call on Russia to end its occupation of Crimea, stop perpetuating the war in eastern Ukraine, and end 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 border with Ukraine since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea from Kiev. However, Russia soon withdrew its troops, taking part in exercises near the border with Ukraine.
Russia still occupies about a fifth of Georgia.