No. 6 - Nov. 1996
Vol. 44 - pp. 3-7

Belgium's contribution to security in the Euro-Atlantic area

Erik Derycke
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belgium

Erik Derycke
(NATO Photo 17Kb)
Belgium is doing its part in the endeavour to establish an effective European Security and Defence Identity, in the context of bolstering continent-wide security for the benefit of all European countries. These objectives require the enduring vitality of a restructured NATO and a sustained North American engagement in Europe. Belgium has proved in many ways that it is a reliable partner, both in NATO and within the EU and WEU. This is why, the author maintains, it is important that its voice continues to be heard in the main international decision-making structures. Long-term peace in Europe can only be ensured by combining our forces and working collectively towards this goal.

Seven years ago, after the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the advent of democracy in Central and Eastern Europe, the existing world order was completely turned on its head. The implosion of Communism and the break-up of the Soviet Union also caused shock waves throughout the West.

Some predicted that NATO, as an organization, would also break up, believing wholeheartedly that it would die a slow death. Some also saw in this an opportunity to abolish armed forces, while others - on both sides of the Atlantic, moreover - were of the opinion that Europe would henceforth be capable of solving its own defence problems unaided and that a commitment on the part of the United States was therefore no longer desirable.

The Gulf War was the first challenge to such views and the calamitous war in the former Yugoslavia further increased the disillusionment. Lessons must be learned from all this, perhaps by asking the following question: "How can we guarantee that Europe remains a safe place, free from conflict?". Optimum use of the instruments at our disposal, including the defence and security organizations available to us, is essential in this regard.

Quite rightly, the disappearance of the immediate threat from the East led to calls for the 'dividends of peace'. Military service has been abolished in Belgium and the army restructured as a logical consequence of its changed missions: no longer needing to prepare against a conventional, large-scale surprise attack, its focus is now on undertaking humanitarian actions, peacekeeping operations, mine clearance, monitoring the observance of embargoes, as well as peace enforcement measures.

By committing our troops in recent years to such varied missions worldwide as in the Gulf, Central Africa, Somalia, Cambodia, Haiti and, last but not least, the former Yugoslavia, we have rendered enormous service to the international community. However, despite the diverse nature of these missions, we must not lose sight of our principal tasks, namely the defence of our national territory and that of our allies. In my opinion, this obviously has to be done effectively and economically. For this reason, I am pleased about two recent agreements: One concluded between the naval forces of Belgium and the Netherlands (Admiral BENELUX), and the other between the Belgian Air Force, the Royal Netherlands Air Force and the Luxembourg Army (BENELUX Deployable Air Task Force) - both examples to be followed up with further agreements of the same type. Not only is a strictly national defence strategy dangerous from the political viewpoint, it has quite simply become prohibitive in economic terms as well.

The present peaceful atmosphere of cooperation that prevails in Europe does not mean that we should throw caution to the wind - in fact, quite the reverse. History teaches us that we have to be capable of fighting in order to avoid actually having to fight. This is the principal reason why Belgium believes that a strong North Atlantic Alliance will continue to be as important as ever in preserving our security. In the years ahead, solidarity between nations on both sides of the Atlantic will continue to be essential.

Our North American friends have also reaped their share of the benefits of peace, mainly in the form of the large-scale withdrawal of their troops from Europe. But this reduction in the number of troops stationed here has its limits if the United States' commitment in Europe is not to be jeopardized in the long term. I am therefore pleased that President Bill Clinton is committed to maintaining a contingent of 100,000 troops in Europe.

Twice during the 20th century, US and Canadian soldiers have demonstrated their readiness to guarantee our security, at the cost of many of their own lives. We will never forget such solidarity. Our country was particularly aware of this goodwill when we sought NATO's support and guarantees for the UN Transitional Administration for Eastern Slavonia (UNTAES) operation under Belgian command in Eastern Slavonia. Solidarity must, however, come from both sides, and this is why our country has made a relatively large contribution to all the major peacekeeping operations that have been organized in recent years.

NATO is currently being restructured and will undergo further major changes in the future. Since the North Atlantic Council meeting in Berlin on 3 June 1996, the reforms agreed at the 1994 Brussels Summit have reached cruising speed. Not only does the Alliance, within the context of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, have to confront future threats to member states, but it also has to pay greater attention to other dangers, such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction on a global scale. It will also play an ever increasing role in peacekeeping and crisis management operations in Europe in an attempt to snuff out flashpoints and prevent wars while at the same time creating continent-wide stability.

The war in the former Yugoslavia has shown us that, in certain situations, the only effective approach is to adopt a policy of an 'iron fist in a velvet glove'. This conflict has also demonstrated that, in given circumstances, only NATO is capable of wielding this 'iron fist'.

We must therefore ensure that NATO is capable of responding even more rapidly and more flexibly to the new situation in Europe. The commitment of our partners in Central and Eastern Europe is essential in this regard. The NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR) in Bosnia is an early indication of the way in which such a collaborative system can be developed on the ground. In addition, during my recent visit to SHAPE in Mons (Belgium), I was pleased to see with my own eyes the very close links between NATO and its new partners that have been established through Partnership for Peace.

NATO must also ensure that the military structure that we value so highly continues to be affordable. With this in view, existing structures must be trimmed back, and the basis for this has already been laid by the so-called 'Long-Term Study' on reshaping NATO's command structure, which is being undertaken by NATO's Military Committee. There are still difficult but necessary decisions to be made, such as the reduction or even abolition of some Staff headquarters. However, the multinational character of these Staff headquarters has to be safeguarded if we are to avoid compromising their cohesiveness and that of the integrated military structure, as the latter guarantees our collective defence under Article 5 of the Treaty.


The Combined Joint Task Forces (CJTFs) concept is one of the key elements of this restructuring and will be essential to the future development of NATO, the Western European Union (WEU) and the European Defence Identity. The CJTF concept, which was approved at the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Berlin last June, will enable the Europeans to use NATO resources when conducting operations in which the United States does not wish to participate (1). As stated by French President Jacques Chirac, this offers the advantage of maintaining a single, multipurpose system and gives concrete form to the notion of 'separable but not separate' forces. Placing NATO's resources at the disposal of WEU-led operations will facilitate its ability to undertake peacekeeping operations.

Thus the European Security and Defence Identity (ESDI) could develop as follows: the European Union could issue mandates to the WEU which, in turn, would execute them in collaboration with NATO, thereby enabling the ESDI to find its natural place at the heart of the Alliance. Moreover, this would avoid the creation of a second military structure. A genuine ESDI therefore has to develop openly and in a pragmatic manner, rather than on the basis of some unrealistic model.

At the same time, no country supports the strengthening of the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) more than Belgium. The Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC) exercise, which began last spring, will demonstrate just how far our European partners are prepared to commit themselves. Within the context of the CFSP, Belgium is opting resolutely in favour of the principle of majority decision-making and is therefore prepared to renounce a degree of sovereignty.

It is often said that the CFSP should be backed up by a strong armed component in order to fully exploit its potential. As much as I agree with this, it nevertheless ignores the fact that the first priority should be the development of an effective CFSP with a high international profile. To proceed in reverse order makes no sense.

The ESDI's individual identity must be the result of the interaction between the EU, the WEU and NATO, while the WEU continues its role for the time being as an interface between the EU and NATO. At a later stage, the WEU will have to become an integral part of the EU, but the fact that the WEU and the EU do not consist of the same member states poses one of the greatest obstacles to such integration. Although there have been recent moves towards greater involvement of the WEU observer states in the organization, only full membership of both the WEU and NATO will, in the long term, lead to effective structures.

Portillo, Perry & Rodionov
Defence Ministers (from left to right) Michael Portillo of the UK, William Perry of the US and Igor Rodionov of Russia at the informal meeting of NATO Defence Ministers in Bergen, Norway, on 25-26 September. NATO Ministers met with their Russian counterpart on the second day of the gathering to discuss NATO-Russia relations.
(NATO photo 25Kb)

Extending stability

What the Europeans have to offer is increasingly close collaboration and a common stance which enables them to extend this internal stability to surrounding regions, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

Furthermore, a strong European Union must be capable of demonstrating, when necessary, that it has muscle, through a strengthened WEU. The way to bolster the WEU is to give concrete form to the CJTF concept. But in future, there will also be operations led by the WEU using its own resources, independent of NATO. Such operations will necessarily be on a reduced scale since everyone agrees that a second complete military structure should not be set up parallel to NATO. This should not, however, prevent the strengthening of the WEU's operational effectiveness, enabling it to accomplish limited 'Petersberg' missions - that is, peacekeeping, search and rescue and the like - using its own resources. Belgium has devoted considerable effort to such operational development during its six-month tenure of the WEU Presidency which began on 1 July.

Nevertheless, when it comes to major operations, the WEU will have to collaborate with NATO, notably through the commitment of WEU-led CJTFs. By virtue of the agreement concluded by NATO Foreign Ministers in Berlin on 3 June, we are now in a position to begin giving concrete form to the CJTF concept. NATO and the WEU will have to begin coordinating their efforts to define the modalities and procedures required to allocate NATO resources to the WEU within the framework of a WEU-led CJTF. During its Presidency of the WEU, Belgium has commenced the process on the part of the WEU. To this end, the development of illustrative WEU missions on the basis of which these modalities can be drawn up is a priority of our Presidency.

I am convinced that, in the future, the WEU and the EU will have a great contribution to make to the security of the Continent and beyond. With this in mind, I believe that two conditions have to be fulfilled:

  • European countries must be prepared to make a contribution to their own security and therefore must not succumb to nationalistic reflexes;

  • the European Security and Defence Identity must develop openly and in a spirit of full collaboration with our transatlantic partners.

In this context, I would like to emphasize how pleased I am to see France's rapprochement with the Alliance. This is essential to the development of a European Security and Defence Identity based on the framework I have been describing.

Belgium's role

Maj. Gen. Schoups
The Commander of the UN peacekeeping force in Eastern Slavonia (UNTAES), Belgian Major General Joseph Schoups, stands in the doorway of a Hercules C-130.
(Belga 32Kb)
Belgium has shown itself to be a faithful ally and a reliable partner both in NATO as well as within the WEU and the EU. It has demonstrated this fact time and again by participating in all the major peacekeeping operations which have been organized in recent years. This is one reason why we are not prepared to go along with the growing trend towards ad hoc arrangements. It is not acceptable for all important decisions to be taken on the basis of previous bilateral, trilateral or so-called 'contact-group' configurations. The crisis in the former Yugoslavia has shown that decision-making by such arrangements does not lead to increased efficiency. Preparations for the NATO Council meeting in Berlin this year also pointed to the fact that such formulas are not panaceas.

I am opposed to the institutionalization of a system of 'major powers' in matters that are of equal concern to us all. If we wish to be capable of meeting the challenges that Europe will be confronted with in the 21st century - and which have already begun to appear - we have to combine our forces instead of taking on these challenges in a fragmented manner.

Our most important challenge concerns the peaceful integration of all the new democracies into a pan-European security system. This system will rest on three pillars: NATO, the EU/WEU, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). NATO and the EU must extend the internal stability they have achieved in Europe to zones beyond. This can be done in a number of ways: firstly, through the much-spoken-of enlargement of these organizations and, secondly, by means of intensified dialogue and cooperation with the rest of Europe's democratic nations. In this regard, both NATO and the EU have already come a long way.

No country should be isolated purely on the grounds of history, and this is why I am pleased that the partnership with Russia is now actually beginning to take on concrete form. Who would have thought that, one day, the Russian military and US, German, French and Belgian troops would be working side by side in an attempt to re-establish peace in the Balkans. This real and intense cooperation makes me very optimistic about the future. Those who are unable to accept that yesterday's enemies have become today's partners and even tomorrow's potential allies, lack vision.

We should also extend the hand of friendship to Ukraine, which we ought to regard as a full partner. Ukrainian leaders have expressed feelings of unease about the fact that NATO's enlargement might involve the deployment of nuclear weapons close to their country's borders, especially since Kyiv has decided to adhere to the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear state. We must show understanding for the feelings of Ukraine and others. We have to explain to them that, in the present circumstances, the Alliance has no need to deploy nuclear weapons close to their territory. On the contrary, since the end of the Cold War, NATO has already eliminated 80 per cent of its nuclear arsenal in Europe. And this encouraging move must be further developed through the conclusion of even more wide-ranging disarmament agreements.

Although I have the reputation of being a strong supporter of far-reaching disarmament policies, I have always argued that disarmament should be achieved in a manner that, ultimately, increases security for everyone. During the Cold War, an appropriate deterrent was needed on account of the very real threat which existed. The time has now come for us to move ahead, with perseverance, with the disarmament measures already embarked upon such as the CFE Treaty, START I and others. Obviously, I am not referring here to unilateral disarmament, because that does not generate greater security.

The future will tell whether we have been successful in creating long-term peace in Europe. In doing so, we must not exclude any country or neglect our responsibilities. It is only by combining our forces and those of our North American friends and by working together towards the future I have outlined above that we will be able to succeed. The road will undoubtedly be long and arduous but I remain an optimist.


  1. For an account of the CJTF concept, see Anthony Cragg, "The Combined Joint Task Force concept: a key component of the Alliance's adaptation", NATO Review, No. 4, July 1996, pp. 7-10

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