Blog AnalysisEU Defense (Doctrine)Interview

We must reinvest in defense, explains Steven Vandeput

StevenVandeput@BE1507(BRUSSELS2 – exclusive) A few days ago, the Belgian Minister of Defense, Steven Vandeput, granted B2 a face-to-face interview. A complete interview where the minister addresses the threats weighing on Europe and the changes this implies, the modalities of European cooperation and the restructuring of Belgian defense. On this national holiday for Belgium, his comments are particularly interesting on this last point. Excerpts…

Full interview published on B2 Le Club (the Pro edition of B2)

Belgium is engaged in a reform of its defense, what is your state of mind?

I want to introduce into Defense a spirit of having only what is really necessary. That's what we did in Malbork. The host support from the Poles is excellent; there was therefore no need to have all the personnel deployed, in particular the liaison officers who were not strictly necessary. So we reduced the number of people who were there. It's more economical. And that does not change the smooth running of the mission.

However, these savings are not enough. The Belgian Defense budget has decreased recently. It is to the bone say many experts and soldiers... What can we do?

Choices have to be made. In the past thirty years, the budget has always been reduced, to a level where today it is difficult to meet everything. The Belgian military are known by their partners: flexible, innovative, creative, managing to do more with less money, But there are limits. Wanting to do more with less money is over. We must reinvest in defence. We have agreed on this at both NATO and European level. My first objective is therefore to achieve – as provided for in the government plan – a balanced budget. And when the economy picks up again, I think choices will have to be made. Security, which is one of the main tasks of a company, will have to be part of this choice.

Concretely, what does this mean? Will the Belgian army be able to continue to do everything, a navy, an air force, an army? Shouldn't specialization be introduced?

Some might actually say to themselves: do we need a naval component? But that is to forget the importance of the maritime sector for Belgium and for our economy; 90% of what happens goes by sea. No longer having mine-hunting ships means depending on our partners when we have a mine in the Scheldt estuary. It's quite difficult to imagine it. For our economy, we must therefore preserve certain necessary means, which we do not (can) not delegate. So there are limits to specialization. I consulted 12 sages, from left to right, the full spectrum of society. Everyone says it, with nuances. But everyone recognizes it, we are at the limit, we are at the bone. At the start of the school year, we will have to make a decision on the budget for the future and the capacities in which to invest. We must be present in the current 4-5 dimensions: land, air, sea, cyber and intelligence. We cannot forget any of these dimensions. You just have to choose where you invest.

So the European army is not possible?

I don't believe that we are going to have a European army within 20 years. If we want to bring everyone together to decide, then we will never deploy. There is currently no political power to do so. We share a lot of interests at European level but not all the interest. Even with our closest neighbors, we can share a lot but not everything. Because there are typically Belgian interests and typically Dutch interests. We work together, have the same ship platform, do joint preparation, training, training, etc. But the decision to deploy a ship remains ours. Going further does not seem possible to me. Or else we have to put political decisions together. And it's not for tomorrow... For EUNAVFOR Med, therefore, I am going to propose that Belgium send the frigate Leopold I. It is a Belgian decision. But the Netherlands will make another decision. The crews can be deployed together if the two countries decide, or even in an overlapping manner. During Operation Atalanta (against piracy), for example, a Dutch helicopter was on our frigate. And we exchanged VPD teams. We use paracommandos and special forces where the Dutch have marines. It was interesting to compare the different working methods.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

To be continued on B2 Le Club (the Pro edition of B2)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).