Weapons of mass destruction

 

The term weapons of mass destruction refers to nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. These weapons are designed to inflict high numbers of casualties and damage.  They are indiscriminate and their use has major long-term consequences.

The main aim of the Belgian security policy is the protection of the population. However, the threat of weapons of mass destruction is not limited to our national territory. This is why our country strives for solutions within regional and international context.

To learn more about the Belgian policy on the different types of weapons of mass destruction, you can click on the following links:

 

Nuclear weapons

Background

The Non-Proliferation Treaty

The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed in 1968 and it entered into force two years later. The treaty has three central objectives:

  • the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons;
  • the ultimate elimination of all nuclear weapons;
  • the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The NPT played a vital role in halting the nuclear ambitions of a number of countries. Only a handful of States have acquired the nuclear weapon since 1970. However, the basic principles of the treaty remain under pressure, as demonstrated by the proliferation threat from Iran's and North Korea's nuclear programs. Most countries in the world are members of the NPT.  For them, the treaty remains the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation regime.


 

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) was signed by Belgium in 1996 and ratified in 1999. The treaty aims at a worldwide ban on nuclear testing.  Although the treaty has not yet formally entered into force (subject to the accession of 8 States), certain aspects are already operational, such as a nuclear test detection system. The treaty organization (CTBTO) monitors compliance with the treaty.  In this context, a “national data center” is set up in every Member State. In Belgium, this is the NDC.be, about which there is more information on this page.


 

The International Atomic Energy Agency

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was set up in 1957. Belgium became a member in 1958. The IAEA ensures that nuclear energy is not misused for non-peaceful purposes. The Agency supervises the nuclear material and carries out inspections in all Member States.

   
 

Belgian policy

The humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons are catastrophic. Prevention of –intentional or unintentional – use is therefore of vital importance. The reduction and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons is our goal.

Belgium is in favour of a gradual and realistic approach, aimed at concluding irreversible and verifiable disarmament agreements between the nuclear powers.

The United States and the Russian Federation own 90% of the global nuclear arsenal.  Belgium calls on them to make further progress in reducing this arsenal.  Countries that do not possess nuclear weapons also bear a responsibility.  They must strengthen the non-proliferation architecture by acceding to relevant treaties, such as the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.  They can contribute to initiatives that prevent proliferation or promote disarmament.

Belgium is active in the following initiatives:
 

International Partnership for the Verification of Nuclear Disarmament

The United States created the International Partnership for the Verification of Nuclear Disarmament (IPNDV) 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 verify the dismantling of nuclear weapons without disclosing sensitive information. The IPNDV does not only focus on theoretical studies, but pays attention to exercises and demonstrations. Against this backdrop, the Belgian Nuclear Research Center (SCK-CEN) organised 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.
 

Nuclear Suppliers Group

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. Belgium chaired the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in 2020-2021.


 

Chemical weapons

The Chemical Weapons Convention

The Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits the production and use of chemical weapons. It was signed in 1993 and ratified by Belgium in 1997. To date, 193 countries have acceded to the Convention.

The implementation of the treaty is monitored by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). This organisation supervises the dismantling of the existing chemical weapons arsenals. To detect possible clandestine weapons programs, the OPCW conducts inspections at companies and other institutions that handle certain chemicals.
 

Belgian engagement

Chemical weapons were first used on Belgian territory, more specifically on the battlefield near Ypres in 1915. In the Westhoek, every year 200 tons of non-exploded munitions from the First World War are found. 5% of these are chemical ammunitions. Belgium regularly informs the OPCW about the discovery of these chemical weapons and their destruction by the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company of the Belgian Army (DOVO).

Unfortunately, chemical weapons are still used in the 21st century: during conflict, such as the Syrian civil war, and in assassination attempts, such as against the North Korean Kim Jong-nam and against the Russians S. Skripal (in Salisbury, UK) and A. Navalny. The use of chemical weapons is unacceptable to Belgium. Belgium works towards strengthening the international standard against chemical weapons, including by fighting against impunity. Europe has sanctioned those responsible for chemical weapons use in Syria and Russia. Belgium is part of the International Partnership against impunity for the use of chemical weapons.

Belgium donated two million euros for the creation of a new OPCW laboratory that will conduct chemical analyses and will train scientists from around the world.

   

 

Biological weapons

General Framework

Biological weapons transmit biological agents, i.e. bacteria, viruses or toxins. They use living organisms to spread diseases that can lead to death.

The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), which entered into force in 1975, prohibits the production of biological and toxin weapons. The Convention does not have a verification regime, unlike the Chemical Weapons Convention. The fact that no country currently claims to have biological weapons is a confirmation of the broad normative force of this multilateral treaty.
 

Belgian policy

Belgium signed the Biological Weapons Convention in 1972 and ratified it in 1979. Our efforts mainly focus on the following objectives:

  • To support the development of international industry standards in the field of bio-safety and bio-security, in close cooperation with industry and relevant professional associations. In this way we try to prevent biological agents from falling into the wrong hands;
  • To advocate effective control of exports of dual-use goods (i.e. capable of both civil and military use) in the biological domain;
  • To promote international cooperation in the implementation of the Convention. To this end, the BENELUX countries organised a peer review, the results of which were shared with the other States parties;
  • To strengthen the international norm against biological weapons. Belgium succeeded in having an amendment to the Rome Statute (i.e. the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court) approved at the end of 2017, which categorises the use of biological weapons as a war crime. For more information, read this press release.