Much to the relief of the allies, the new US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin adopts a very different and positive tone about NATO from that adopted by America under the previous administration of Donald Trump. “A constructive and calm tone,” Minister Ank Bijleveld said after the first NATO consultations at this level since Joe Biden’s government took office on January 20.
Austin stressed the importance of unity in the alliance and the American engagement, according to Bijleveld. “It is also very positive that President Biden has provided guarantees on Article 5 of the NATO treaty,” she said. In this key article, each member state is obliged to consider an attack on one member state as an attack on all member states. On the other hand, Washington remains committed to the NATO standard that all member states spend 2% of their gross domestic product on defense.
According to the minister, Minister Austin said he was speaking on behalf of his president. “In the previous situation it was sometimes different and a lot more difficult. Then we saw tweets that didn’t always match what we heard.” Trump has also criticized his NATO allies on several occasions during his presidency.
Bijleveld said he has yet to speak personally to Austin. “He always does his rounds,” she said. During the first videoconference, he came out as a “calm and balanced man”. “He’s a former soldier and he has a lot of knowledge.”
Defense ministers will meet again on Thursday. Then, among other things, the withdrawal from Afghanistan is on the agenda. Trump has agreed with the Taliban without consulting other NATO countries that US troops will be gone by May 1. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told a press conference that “we will leave when the time comes”. “We went in together, we decide together when to go out.” According to Bijleveld, May 1 is “unrealistic”.
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