North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)
Belgium is a founding member of the Atlantic Alliance, which was established at the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington on 4 April 1949. Belgium's membership reflects the political decision to guarantee the security and defence of our country in a multilateral framework, in which NATO is the cornerstone of defence. In 2019 NATO celebrated its 70th anniversary with a meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Washington, and Heads of State and Government, in London. In this regard, NATO is one of the longest-running alliances in history.
In the current European security architecture, there is no alternative which can guarantee the objective of defending our country. Belgium attaches great importance to the collective and defensive character of the Alliance, as enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. Today, the Alliance is the guarantee of the defence of the shared values and principles on which our society is built.
Trans-Atlantic cooperation and consultation in respect of security and defence between the European allies, the United States and Canada are essential within NATO. Belgium positions itself as a reliable and credible partner within NATO and also advocates for the Alliance to continue to respond appropriately to new challenges and threats.
According to the Strategic Concept (Lisbon, 2010), the Alliance has 3 core tasks (see http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_68580.htm):
- deterrence and collective defence;
- crisis management;
- cooperative security.
Each of the Alliance's core tasks have their own importance. More information regarding the structure, operation, etc. of NATO can be found on their official website http://www.nato.int.
The European security environment has experienced a negative evolution in recent years. In the east, we are seeing the rise of an assertive Russia, and in the south there is growing terrorism and instability. These developments are cause for concern, and highlight how relevant our membership of the defence organisation is for our security.
Below, you can find a discussion of the three core tasks of NATO mentioned above:
1. Deterrence and collective defence
Since 2014, deterrence and collective defence has once again becomeNATO's most important core task. The illegal annexation of the Crimea (2014) and Russian interference in the Donbas has destabilised the east. With these actions, Russia has violated the central pillars of the European security architecture, including the Helsinki Final Act (1975) and the Paris Charter (1990). Hybrid Russian actions such as cyber attacks, actions of the intelligence services or interference in national elections are another issue. Russian investments in military capabilities, repeated and large-scale unannounced exercises, the aggressive nuclear rhetoric and the lowered nuclear threshold continue to be a cause for concern. The fact that Russia no longer complies with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) by installing missiles that exceed the maximum allowed range is also worrying.
The increased importance of the first core task is reflected in Enhanced Forward Presence and the task of enhanced Air Policing in the airspace of the Baltic States in which Belgium regularly participates. Another manifestation is the commitments taken on defence expenditure (Wales, 2014) and national resilience (Warsaw, 2016). The Member States, in line with their commitment at the Wales Summit, need to increase their defence spending to the 2% level by 2024 and meet the collective need for increased capability investment. Within NATO, Belgium calls for a balanced approach to burden sharing, whereby specific contributions on the ground are also considered.
2. Crisis Management
The increase in the number of operations and missions outside its territory is part of the second core task of crisis management. These operations and missions generally fall under a mandate of the United Nations Security Council, which has the backing of our country. The Alliance can either act as the primary actor, or contribute to the efforts of the international community.
The current operations and missions of NATO are the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, KFOR in Kosovo, the NATO Training Mission in Iraq and the activities in the Aegean Sea to combat irregular migration (more information can be found on the NATO website: https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/68147.htm#crisis ).
The Counter Hybrid Support Teams, established by the heads of state and government leaders (2018) must be able to assist allies on an ad hoc basis in a hybrid crisis. The primary responsibility in hybrid situations remains with the individual sovereign States, although Article V of the Washington Treaty may be invoked in the event of a hybrid attack.
In recent years, our country has worked to improve the exchange of information in the context of terrorism, including the exchange of biometric data and best practices. In so doing, NATO is responding to the desire of heads of state and government to be more active in the fight against terrorism where it can offer added value.
3. Cooperative security
NATO cooperates in various formats with more than 40 partner countries, including the Euro-Atlantic Partnership, the NATO Russia Council, the NATO Ukraine Commission, the NATO Georgia Commission, the NATO Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. The Alliance also cooperates with partners in other parts of the world (Partners around the Globe).
The aim of the cooperation is to strengthen local security and defence through dialogue and cooperation as well as to generate more transparency, increased mutual understanding and greater security.
As regards the relationship with Russia, Belgium (in the spirit of the Harmel Doctrine, 1967) continues to underwrite the two-pronged approach, i.e. a credible military deterrent in combination with a political dialogue that may be conducive to a détente.
With the Defence and Related Security Capacity Building (DCB) initiative, NATO intends to increase the capacity and resilience of specific partners by aligning the cooperation more effectively with their specific needs. In this projection of stability to partner countries, Belgium actively supports Iraq, Jordan and Tunisia. Belgium has also collaborated with Georgia in the framework of the DCB.
Below you can find a brief discussion of current topics on the NATO agenda:
The EU is a strategic partner of NATO. Seamless, transparent, and mutually reinforcing cooperation between NATO and the EU is a priority for Belgium. With respect to NATO, the EU is a complementary actor in the spheres of security and defence, for which the EU even has the ambition of taking more responsibility in resolving certain crises, especially in Europe's periphery. The EU and NATO currently maintain a regular political dialogue and both organisations cooperate in 7 strategic areas: 1) hybrid threats; 2) operations; 3) cyber security and defence; 4) defence capability; 5) defence industry and research; 6) exercises and 7) support for the capacity building of eastern and southern partners. The Ministers of Foreign Affairs have added counter-terrorism, military mobility and women/peace/security (UNSCR 1325) in this regard.
In addition, the Allies pursue an open door policy, meaning that countries who wish to join and who meet certain criteria, can become members. This policy was initiated in 1952 with the accession of Greece and Turkey; North Macedonia is currently the most recent (2020) meaning that NATO now has 30 members.
Disarmament and non-proliferation are also a central concern. Belgium strongly supports all credible and targeted efforts with the aim of effective, mutual and verifiable disarmament around the world, both for nuclear and conventional weapons. NATO's Strategic Concept confirms the attempt to create the circumstances in which a world without nuclear weapons is possible, whilst also reiterating that as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance. Belgium actively supports the existing agreements on conventional and nuclear arms control, and takes a constructive approach to possible future instruments.
Children and Armed Conflict (UNSCR 1612). Since 2011, our country has presided over an informal group of friendly countries, which has increased awareness of the problem of Children and Armed Conflict in NATO's structures and procedures. In 2015, NATO approved a policy, at Belgium's urging, which focuses on support for the UN's mandate to provide the necessary training for troops which are confronted in the field with serious children's rights violations.
Women Peace & Security (WPS) (UNSCR 1325). Promoting women/peace/security within NATO is another important Belgian spearhead. These initiatives also receive Belgian political and effective support, a fact that our allies appreciate. WPS is essential for transposing NATO's fundamental values, i.e., individual freedom, democracy, human rights and our obligations according to the United Nations Charter. These shared values and international obligations mean women can only fully participate in society if their rights are respected. The emphasis is on three pillars: integration, inclusiveness and integrity.
Belgium takes the role of being host country for the (civil-military) headquarters of NATO in Brussels (Haren/Evere) and the SHAPE military command in Mons seriously, and provides jointly-agreed support in a dependable manner.
The most recent state of affairs in the various NATO issues can be consulted in the Communiqué of the last NATO summit meeting of heads of state and government leaders, which was held in Brussels in 2018. Follow this link: https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_156624.htm?selectedLocale=en