U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and U.S. White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan participated in a bilateral meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania on July 11, 2023. During the summit, significant achievements were made, and one of the highlights was Sweden’s clearance to become the 32nd member of NATO. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin expressed his satisfaction with the outcome, referring to it as one of the “great things accomplished” during the alliance summit.
Austin noted that the expansion of NATO with Sweden’s membership approval was significant, particularly in light of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s initial expectation to fracture and divide the alliance. Instead, NATO has grown stronger, with Finland recently joining the alliance and Turkey dropping its opposition to Sweden’s bid. Austin emphasized that Putin’s actions in Ukraine had inadvertently brought NATO closer to Russia’s doorstep.
When asked about Putin’s reaction to NATO’s expansion, Austin acknowledged that the Russian leader is likely concerned about the alliance’s increasing presence. Austin expressed appreciation for countries like Finland and Sweden joining NATO, stating that they bring valuable contributions to the alliance. He further emphasized that Finland and Sweden would begin providing immediate value to NATO.
It was mentioned that all NATO members must agree to accept a new member into the alliance, and NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg confirmed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan withdrew his opposition to Sweden’s bid. This development paved the way for Sweden’s clearance to join NATO.
In addition, Austin highlighted the “broad support” among member countries for committing 2% of their gross domestic product to defense spending, demonstrating a shared commitment to strengthening collective defense capabilities. The discussion also focused on providing Ukraine with the necessary investment to defend itself, reflecting NATO’s support for Ukraine’s security needs.
Overall, the NATO summit in Vilnius marked a significant milestone with Sweden’s approval as the 32nd member of the alliance. The expansion of NATO, combined with the commitment to defense spending and support for Ukraine, showcased the unity and determination among member countries to ensure the alliance’s continued strength and security.