Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Friday his recent meetings with NATO allies included discussions on challenges posed by disruptive technologies and an “increasingly aggressive China.”

Austin’s remarks followed the completion of a two-day NATO ministerial where he said officials offered “unique perspectives” on China, which he noted remains the Pentagon’s “primary pacing challenge.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin holds a press briefing at the Pentagon on Feb. 19, 2021.

“Indeed, I applaud NATO’s work on China and I made it clear that the United States is committed to defending the international rules-based order which China has consistently undermined for its own interests,” Austin told reporters during his first press briefing as defense secretary. “We believe NATO can help us better think through our operating concepts and investment strategies when it comes to meeting that challenge.”

Last week, President Biden announced the Pentagon has stood up a new China Task Force to assess the department’s force posture and technology needs for future competition with Beijing (Defense Daily, Feb. 10). 

The task force is expected to provide recommendations within the next few months to Austin “on key priorities and decision points so that we can chart a strong path forward on China-related matters.”

Austin also cited “a resurgent Russia” and climate change as additional challenges discussed during the NATO ministerial. 

During Friday’s press briefing, Austin was asked if he sees any areas for potential cooperation with China, as the department places increasing emphasis on modernization initiatives to prepare for any future competition with Beijing. 

“I would say anything that we do will be based upon our best interest. There are, no doubt, some areas where we will see common interest and there may be an opportunity to engage but it will be from the standpoint of promoting our best interest,” Austin responded.