Belgium

Overall, initiatives were undertaken to stabilise the defence budget and military pensions in the short term; in fact, through significant measures, Belgium expected to decrease its defence expenses to about 0.81% of GDP by 2019. However, under current and future challenges (i.e. high risk of terrorist attacks, migration crisis, cybersecurity incidents, etc.), Brussels should strengthen their efforts, in order to achieve their 2030 Defence plan goals.

Despite the fact that Belgian Armed forces have fought in World Wars I, II and the War in Korea, participated in the wars of Kosovo, Somalia, Afghanistan and made several interventions in Central Africa, Belgian defence is characterised by a deep-rooted pacifism that has turned to be an inherent characteristic of the local society. Nowadays, however, within a multipolar, complex global environment, states are facing many threats. Terrorism, international crime and cybersecurity are some of the issues that Belgium (and the world in its entirety for that matter) needs to confront.

Having undergone many reforms, Belgian Armed Forces consist today, of four commands, of more about 30,000 people (2014) in total, divided into the Land, Naval, Air and Medical Forces.

While the land forces are involved in many international operations and ground troops offer support to the population of the country, the air command with its state-of-the-art aircraft, conducts effective missions around the world – such as interdiction flights, targeted bombing, air policing, transport of humanitarian aid, international training, etc. Additionally, the Navy crosses all seven seas, in various maritime operations such as minesweeping, logistic support, oceanographic research, protection against piracy (in Somalia and the Horn of Africa), as well as overall coordination of fleet activities. Finally, the Medical forces provide first-line support –medical care, medical logistics, hygiene and fitness services- to the personnel operating abroad.


It is worth mentioning that Belgium operates highly valued military training areas –covering over 17,600 hectares -, in terms of biodiversity, the absence of inhabitants and intense cultivation.

Throughout the Belgian Defence policy, it is evident that Belgium realised early on that only through close cooperation with other states, within the multilateral frameworks of NATO, the EU and the UN, as well as through the promotion of the “Pool & Share” policy within the European Union, could it secure its sovereignty and contribute towards global peace, in today’s uncertain environment and restricted defence expenditures. Within this context, during the last decades, the Belgian government has invested significant efforts to decrease its defence budgets, in order to recuperate public finances.

Overall, initiatives were undertaken to stabilise the defence budget and military pensions in the short term; in fact, through significant measures, Belgium expected to decrease its defence expenses to about 0.81% of GDP by 2019. However, under current and future challenges (i.e. high risk of terrorist attacks, migration crisis, cybersecurity incidents, etc.), Brussels should strengthen their efforts, in order to achieve their 2030 Defence plan goals.

Considering the aforementioned, in the adjusted 2016 Defence Budget (of May 2016), expenditure for Operations has decreased, while the Personnel Allowances budget, was increased. Therefore, the overall Defence Budget for 2016, amounted to some €2.4 billion.

In detail, about €1.7 billion of this amount was allocated to Personnel, some €348 million for Training, €70.5 million for Maintenance and about €63.8 million for Operations (See chart below).

In terms of Procurements, during the period 2005-2015, the top 3 Arms exporters to Belgium, were the Netherlands, France and Germany.

These sales mainly included Ships ($284 million), Armoured Vehicles ($192 million) and Aircraft ($153 million), with the majority of purchases realised during the years 2007 and 2008.

The future plan for Defence focuses on managing an appropriate balance between investments (25%), personnel (50%) and operational costs (25%), while targeting the fundamental modernisation and rationalisation of the forces, not only in terms of structures, but also in terms of processes. Within this context, Defence staff will maintain a total of 25,000 people (including military and civilian staff), with focus being on employing young and technically qualified professionals.

According to the Governmental plans (announced in December 2015), up to 2030, €9.2 billion will be allocated for investments in the Armed Forces, and an additional amount of €200 million will be allocated for associated equipment –necessary in order to ensure the operational readiness of the Belgian forces and the development and acquirement of new assets.  Moreover, several investment projects will be realised by 2030, including the acquisition of 34 fighter aircraft, 2 frigates, 6 minesweepers, 6 drones, as well as an unspecified number of combat vehicles.

Currently, 20 Belgian soldiers still operate (on general posts) in the capital of Afghanistan, Kaboul, while 54 soldiers are stationed in the Mazar-e-Shariff area (involved in training and coaching of the Afghan military forces).

In Lebanon, after eight years of support to the UN mission UNIFIL ((United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon), the demarcation line between Israel and Lebanon was cleaned of mines and ammunition. Today, few Belgians soldiers/officers remain at the headquarters of UNIFIL at An Naqourah.

In Iraq, under the Falcon Desert Operation, Belgian F-16 take part in the international coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq; this operation will be extended up to July of 2017. Moreover, 30 soldiers work as advisors and assistants to maintain security in the area.

Having a military partnership with the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the area of Kinshasa, Belgium participates to the EUSEC RD Congo (European Union Security Sector Reform Mission - Democratic Republic of Congo) for the restoration of safety in the area, through the control of financial, military status, training, accounting and public contracts. Moreover, in the city of Kindu, since 2009, the Belgian army has been training, advising and mentoring Congolese recruitments, in an attempt to restore stability in the country, helping at the same time towards the construction of housing for military and their families.

In Mali, as part of the EUTM (European Union Training Mission), about 80 Belgian soldiers, in the training camp of Koulikoro, work in collaboration with the Malian Armed Forces, towards the protection of facilities, instructors and EUTM staff.
 
In terms of maritime operations, within the Belgian territory, 14 ships participate in operations for the rescue of people or ships in distress, detection of pollution, destroying of sea mines, as well as the control of territorial waters. In addition, Belgian vessels operate in NATO, UN and EU exercises, as well in the hunt of pirates in the Horn of Africa and the fight against sea mines in the Baltic Sea.

Belgian troops also participate to US missions in the Middle East (having Florida (US), as the organisational base), while they support French operations with aerial means in the CAR (Republic of Central Africa).

Source: www.mil.be/fr/page/apercu

In addition, Belgium has been participating in the Unmanned Maritime Systems (UMS) research project, for future naval applications, as well as various analogous helicopter initiatives, as part of EDA’s activities, both running since 2009. Moreover, Belgium along with other EU countries, work together for the development of EU’s air-to-air refuelling capabilities.