Weapons of mass destruction


General policy principles

Belgium’s policy on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation is part of our general policy on international security as set out in the government’s coalition agreement. This integration is reflected in the objectives as well as in the modalities. The main purpose is indeed the need to protect the Belgian population against security risks and threats through effective participation in relevant international organizations and to respect our international commitments.

In this context, Belgium seeks to promote common positions within the EU as well as ad hoc initiatives with willing NATO partners, in order to have a greater impact on the international agenda.

Belgium participates in the following international forums dealing with disarmament and non-proliferation:

  • the UN General Assembly, especially the First Committee;
  • the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA);
  • the Disarmament Conference (DC) and the United Nations Disarmament Commission (UNDC);
  • European, transatlantic and Euro-Atlantic organizations like the EU, NATO and the OSCE;
  • international assemblies in the framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Conventions banning chemical and biological weapons;
  • the export control regimes: the Australia Group (chemical and biological materials), MTCR (missile technology) and NSG (nuclear materials); 
  • finally, a few specific forums like the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV) and the Global Partnership against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction.

Our country participates in those forums in function of its long-term objectives and the specific opportunities arising in each forum.

In addition, bilateral contacts are used to promote and attain our objectives.

Nuclear weapons

The cornerstone of Belgium’s policy on nuclear weapons is the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which Belgium signed in 1968 and ratified in 1975.

The NPT contains three objectives:

  • the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons,
  • the ultimate elimination of all nuclear weapons and
  • the international cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy

Regarding nuclear disarmament, the Belgian Government has chosen for a gradual and sometimes discrete approach aimed at successively notching up concrete and verifiable disarmament agreements between the nuclear weapons states.

Within the EU, Belgium has made special efforts to achieve significant and balanced positions with which both the European nuclear weapon states and the other EU member states can concur.

Our policy is based on a set of concrete objectives, inter alia:

  • the USA and the Russian Federation have to pursue the reduction of their nuclear arsenal.
  • we ask all the relevant states to immediately ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in order to allow it to enter into force;
  • we strive for the start of negotiations on a universal treaty banning the production of fissile material for military ends (Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, or FMCT);
  • we call upon all the relevant countries to take practical steps to prevent nuclear weapons from being launched accidentally;
  • we invite the nuclear weapon states to reaffirm existing security guarantees given to other states in a legally binding manner.

Belgium is a member of the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV). The United States created this Partnership in 2015. They invited Belgium to examine, together with some 25 other countries, how to tackle the technical challenges associated with the verification of nuclear weapons decommissioning. It concerns for instance the question of how to physically control the dismantling of nuclear weapons without disclosing sensitive information. The IPNDV does not only focus on theoretical studies, but pays attention to practice, exercises and demonstrations. Against this backdrop, the Belgian Nuclear Research Center organized a meeting in September 2019 for scientists from different countries. Nuclear measurement techniques were tested and compared. The scientists examined how to distinguish between plutonium aimed for civil use and weapon-grade plutonium and how to precisely measure different amounts of nuclear material.

mock-ups for the plutonium rods
Mock-ups for the plutonium rods, which were used during the measurement campaign.

Belgium is chairing the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in 2020-2021. The Nuclear Suppliers Group is a group of 48 countries that supply nuclear material and work together to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The NSG adopts guidelines for export control that must prevent legitimately traded nuclear goods from being diverted for military use.

Chemical weapons

The Chemical Weapons Convention (Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction, CCW) was signed on 13 January 1993 and 192 countries have acceded to it, including Belgium in 1997.

Its far reaching scope makes this convention unique: chemical weapons are prohibited and a verification regime of this prohibition is introduced, including controls on the legitimate production and use of a number of chemicals. To that end States Parties are obliged to regularly provide information on these chemical products to the organization created by the convention, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). This organization is authorized to carry out inspections at companies and institutions that treat such chemicals.

In each State Party to the Convention a National Authority serves as point of contact for OPCW. In Belgium the minister of Foreign Affairs has been designated as National Authority. The Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs (FPSFA) is responsible for the transmission of the requested data by OPCW and represents the country during inspections on the Belgian territory.

Belgium attaches great importance to the Chemical Weapons Convention. It represents indeed the only international treaty which not only prohibits a whole category of weapons of mass destruction, but also includes an intrusive verification mechanism. Moreover, it responds to a threat already experienced by Belgium during the First World War. On 22 April 1915, chemical weapons were used for the first time on a large scale on the battlefield close to Ieper (Ypres). The centenary of this tragic event has been commemorated at Ieper in 2015 and gave rise to the adoption of the “Ieper Declaration” by all States Parties of the Convention.

The effects of First World War are still present in Belgium. Each year, in the Westhoek of the province West Flanders, 200 tons of non-exploded munitions are found, 5% of which  are chemical ammunitions. Belgium informs the OPCW on a regular basis on the discovery and the destruction of those weapons by the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company of the Belgian Army, situated at Poelkapelle.  

Belgium donated EUR 2 million for the creation of a new OPCW laboratory that will perform chemical analyses and provide training to scientists  charged with inspection tasks.

The OPCW is instructed to dismantle the arsenal of chemical weapons in Syria and carries out investigations in the field regarding the use of those weapons. Belgium supported the establishment of the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), which must determine who are the perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria. The data collected by the OPCW should help to prosecute the perpetrators of such attacks.

Biological weapons

Belgium is a State Party of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Biological and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (BTWC), having signed the Convention in 1972 and ratified it in 1979. It entered into force in 1975.

Biological weapons, formerly named bacteriological weapons, are devices or vectors carrying biological agents to a target. They use living organisms to spread diseases provoking dead or permanent or temporal incapacity.

Biological agents include bacteria, viruses and toxins.

Unlike the Chemical Weapons Convention, the BTWC does not contain a verification mechanism. Nevertheless, the fact that no country claims currently to possess biological weapons demonstrates the normative reach of this multilateral treaty.

Our efforts are directed to the following objectives:

  • to support the elaboration of an international industrial standard regarding biosecurity and biosafety, in close collaboration with the industry and the relevant professional associations. This standard is intended to reduce threats regarding the possession by illegitimate actors of dangerous biological agents;
  • to raise awareness of the importance of effective control on exportations of “dual use goods” (having both civilian and military uses) in the biological field, in compliance with resolution 1540 of the Security Council of the UN;
  • to improve the application of the Convention at the national level and to stimulate the debate concerning the international verification of the respect of the Convention’s disposition. To that end, the Benelux countries have organized a peer review in 2015, whose results have been shared with other States Parties;
  • to reinforce the norm against biological weapons. To that end, upon Belgium’s initiative, an amendment to the statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was approved in order to categorize the use of biological weapons as a war crime.

The role of the European union

Regional instability and conflicts often lie at the heart of armament programmes. The EU can play an important mitigation role through the use of its conflict prevention and management tools. Moreover, the EU has a broader range of resources and options than any other organization for engaging in active cooperation with third countries.

In 2003 the EU adopted the Strategy against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, which sets out a comprehensive framework for all those initiatives. The aim of the strategy is to limit and, if possible, to suppress the development of programmes of weapons of mass destruction.

In 2008, this document was updated through the adoption of “New Lines of Action” directed at increasing the effectiveness and operational character of the policy.

In 2013, the Council of the EU adopted some conclusions underlining the need to respond to the new challenges related to the proliferation of WMD:

  • the development of new communication tools enabling proliferators to acquire new sensitive knowledge and know-how;
  • the creation of new proliferation paths
  • the quick development of science and technology facilitating the development of WMD.

One of the first concrete tools used by the EU is the non-proliferation clause, designated to be included in all mixed treaties (between the EU and third countries). It commits the signatory parties to respect their obligations in the field of non-proliferation. By so doing, the EU is making a specific contribution towards the universalization of and respect for international instruments on disarmament and non-proliferation.

The EU undertakes specific demarches to convince third countries to accede to the most important weapons control treaties such as the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.