New Pentagon chief reassures NATO allies, but feelgood factor does not extend to Afghanistan, China and Russia

A review of the NATO Defence Ministers teleconference,

17-18 February 2021

By Dr. Ian Davis, NATO Watch

Key activities and decisions taken:

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reaffirmed Washington's commitment to NATO—including an “ironclad” commitment to Article V—and reassured allies they will be consulted on important decisions (in an attempt to turn the page on four years of withering criticism from former president Trump).

The critical issue of the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, scheduled for completion in early May, was discussed but a decision was deferred until the Biden administration completes its own review of the situation.

Ministers agreed to expand the training mission in Iraq from 500 to around 4,000 personnel.

As part of the NATO 2030 initiative the Secretary General presented a set of proposals for consideration at a summit later in 2021 (the exact date is not yet decided). These proposals included:

  • increasing funding for “core deterrence and defence activities”, including improving ‘burden-sharing’ by jointly fund more of NATO’s work;
  • more measurable national resilience targets and an annual review of vulnerabilities in alliance critical infrastructure and technologies;
  • a NATO defence innovation initiative to preserve NATO’s technological edge;
  • increasing political coordination between allies and cooperation with “like-minded” partners, especially in response to China and Russia;
  • strengthening training and capacity building for partners;
  • adapting to climate change, including reducing emissions in the military sector; and
  • drawing all of this together in a new Strategic Concept.

It was announced that 2021 will be the seventh consecutive year of increased military spending in NATO. Since 2014, European member states and Canada have contributed a cumulative extra $190 billion.


The NATO Foreign Ministers held a virtual two-day meeting to discuss four main issues: (a) the NATO 2030 initiative and the continued adaptation of the alliance; (b) progress towards fairer burden-sharing; (c) shared security issues with NATO partners Finland, Sweden and the EU Union High Representative; and (d) NATO’s training missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Read the attached pdf briefing to find out more.