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Belgium - Defense Policy

After World War I Belgium entered into the collective security framework of the League of Nations. It also abandoned the earlier policy of neutrality and negotiated a mutual defense ageement with Britain and France. Germany became stronger, however, and Belgium again proclaimed a policy of neutrality on October 28, 1936, and renounced the defensive agreements. German troops invaded Belgium on May 10, 1940, and quickly defeated the Belgian opposition. The Belgian forces surrendered after 18 days, but some of the armed forces escaped to Britain and continued to fight with British and Allied forces.

At the end of World War II, Belgium again became an adherent of collective security. It became a founding member of the Western European Union, established by the Treaty of Brussels in 1948, and was one of the 12 founding members of NATO in 1949. The North Atlantic Council, NATO's governing body, has its headquarters in Brussels. Allied Command Europe, NATO's principal European military command, is also located in Belgium, near Mons in the province of Hainaut.

The failure of past policies of neutrality convinced the Belgian people that a coordinated collective response was necessary not only to protect Belgian territory but also to deter future aggression in Western Europe. The armed forces of Belgium have therefore been fully integrated into the collective security framework of post-World War II Western Europe. A founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Belgium has consistently supported the alliance with manpower and financial contributions despite economic hardship and political turmoil.

The dramatic changes in the geopolitical environment since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the collapse of the USSR in 1991 : the end of the cold war, the changes in types of threats and the redefinition by international organisations of new concepts as to security and defence, the multiplication of operations abroad in the framework of regional conflicts are certainly some major reasons why Belgium has restructured its armed forces thoroughly. The changed and changing geo-strategic environment, the multinational and multi-institutional approach needed to solve crises and the international obligations of the country that flow from it, needed a further adaptation of Forces. Belgium will continue to align its foreign and security policy on its membership to NATO, the European Union, the UN and the OSCE. It is therefore important that the Belgian Armed Forces continue to be able to fulfil their role and missions ?in co-operation with their Allies ?in the great diversity of possible scenarios.

Belgian Armed Forces interventions abroad will almost always occur in an international framework. In other words, Belgium is not obliged to have Armed Forces capable of carrying out all conceivable military operations, that is: the Belgian operational capability should constitute a credible and coherent contribution to the alliances to which we are a party and should be consistent with the latter. This means that we must be prepared to take a fair share of the risks, of the responsibilities and of the burdens.

The decision of the Helsinki European Summit and the future development of the European Defence will direct the reform of our Armed Forces, but to the same extent will NATO抯 DCI (Defence Capabilities Initiative) have an influence. Both being in our view mutually reinforcing. Within this framework it is also useful to stress that the various 搇essons learned?by Belgian Armed Forces from the numerous international operations are now systematically put into practice. In principle, it should be possible to employ all available Belgian units in peace operations, crisis management operations or any other international operation. It is therefore necessary to organise the future force structure into a modular pattern. The different services should be capable of quickly and efficiently composing formations, based on highly interoperable modules. Such a Belgian formation or battle group should be able in turn to rapidly integrate into larger international entities.

The modifications made in the security policy issues called out essential reforms in building, structure and armament of superpowers and other countries. This approach takes an interesting example in Belgium that, in the early 1990s, has started its review process of armed forces building manner and taken the corresponding policy of armament in accordance with its strategic goals and ambition assessment. The initial general outline was quickly specified, most of all for meeting the political requirements relative to the elections in 1995 and for necessary limitation on the defence expenses so that the country be able to follow the Maastricht criteria. The Belgian defence policy抯 main goal was a fast reduction of the armed forces personnel. Due to reduced natural decrement of the armed forces personnel resulting from changed age structure the reduction plan needed systematic modifications during reform implementation.

In May 2000 the Belgian government passed the document 揚lan strat間ique pour la modernisation de l碼rm閑 belge 2000?015?(Strategic plan of Belgian military modernization 2000?015) envisaging a new concept of armed forces development, modernization and orientation on six operational capabilities and two capabilities of military strategic support. The operational capabilities were defined as follows:

  1. Transformation of existing mechanised forces into units of new type deployable in multinational operations, such as peace-keeping operations;
  2. Conversion of the existing airborne units to infantry units for rapid deployment within airmobile commands equipped with both transport and combat helicopters;
  3. Optimisation of Tactical Air Force capacity presuming their higher contribution within the North Atlantic Alliance in particular by multipurpose aircraft intended for airspace defence, anti-surface target operations or tactical reconnaissance;
  4. Generation of transport capacity to comprise transport aircraft for the Air Force and transport ship for the Navy;
  5. Modernization of mine clearance assets;
  6. Transformation of anti-submarine warfare assets to multipurpose escort naval units.

Military strategic support capacities:

  1. Generation of strategic reconnaissance;
  2. Modernization of command, control and information assets.

The new concept was to provide the Belgian Armed Forces with more ability in new security environment for their adequate contribution to the North Atlantic Alliance or European Union operations and projects.

The Plan for the Finalisation of the Transformation (endorsed by the Belgian government on 22 October 2009) confirmed the 2000-2015 modernisation plan nevertheless aiming for an acceleration of it. The Plan for the Finalisation of the Transformation maintains the focus on Security Operations as the most appropriate profile for Belgian Defence. The plan proposes new organisational structures in order to bring them in line with the available budgetary means and the estimated evolution of the military workforce. Moreover, Belgium wants to maintain rapidly deployable, fully manned and equipped units with sufficient autonomy, flexilibility and sustainability to participate in multinational operations.

In the decade since the turn of the century, the Belgian Armed Forces underwent various changes with the objective of setting up professional units equipped with modern capabilities to execute the missions they had been entrusted with.

Through their transformation to become a smaller, but more effective and more efficient force able to execute operations in both national and international contexts, the Belgian Armed Forces remain a solid and trustworthy partner at the service of the nation抯 security and defence policy. Responsibility sharing, as well as burden and risk sharing are not merely idle words as our participation in NATO, EU and UN operations has demonstrated. Belgium will continue to take up its role in the collective responsibility to maintain peace and global security around the world.

Belgium has always been a strong supporter of close military cooperation between partner states, as well as between EU-partners and between NATO-allies. Belgium is convinced that it is only through close cooperation between partner states, inter alia through pooling and sharing military capabilities, that Belgium will be able to cope with the paradox between increasing operational needs and decreasing defence budgets; that Belgium will be able to make new investments and consequently contribute to closing the European military capability gaps; that European countries will be able to take up their fair share within NATO; and that the country will be able to give a strong, efficient, and comprehensive answer to this century抯 security threats, such as piracy, terrorism, cyber terrorism, arms and human trafficking, failing states, and nuclear proliferation. The transformation of the Belgian Armed Forces brought the organizational structures in balance with the available means without compromising the ability to deal with new security challenges.

The Belgian Armed Forces?transformation had been ongoing since the end of the Cold War, but it has gained its full momentum with the implementation of the ?000-2015 Modernisation Plan? In an effort to stress the 慾ointness?that the Belgian Armed Forces aspire to reach, its Army, Air Force, Navy and Medical Force, now referred to as 慍omponents? were hierarchically placed under the single command of the Assistant Chief of Staff (ACOS) Operations and Training.

The Components are entrusted with all activities related to their units?readiness, while the Operations and Training staff department is responsible for the operational planning and deployment of all formations. All corporate services are jointly organised in specific General Directorates and each General Directorate is the single support provider for the Belgian Armed Forces in its functional domain (i.e. human resources, material resources, budget & finance, legal support, etc..). The Chief of Defense (CHOD) commanded the Joint Integrated Staff as well as the Components and remained the ultimate commander of all deployed forces.

Belgium has chosen to primarily focus on the capability to operate in an international context (NATO, EU or UN), more specifically on those tasks required for Security Operations, while maintaining the existing capabilities for conventional conflicts, some of them - however - in a reduced size.

After multiple restructuring (plan Charlier and bis Charlier, Delcroix, plan strategic plan for the modernization of the Armed Forces 2000-2015 plan + strategic plan Director 2003 and the plan De Crem), it is impossible to say if the next will be renamed "Plan De Crem II", but what is almost certain that the envelope in staff for the 2015-2020 horizon is less than 30,000 military personnel.




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