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The Belgian army in need of bulletproof vests draws on the stocks of Uncle Sam!

(credit: MOD Belgium / Earth Component Daniel Orban & Garrett P. Jones)
(credit: MOD Belgium / Earth Component Daniel Orban & Garrett P. Jones)

(B2) For lack of enough new generation bulletproof vests, the Belgian army was forced to resort to ... stocks from the American army. As in the good old days of the post-war period.... The Belgian Defense had, in fact, concluded an agreement with the American authorities present in Belgium in order to mutually lend equipment on request, like many European armies (*). This agreement was actioned on Wednesday (November 25) “ with the loan of a stock of American bullet-proof vests, which the Defense can use as long as necessary ».

Vests in stock but unusable in operation

Explanation: the Belgian army does have bullet-proof vests in stock, splinter guards used more often in Afghanistan. But they are a bit old, heavy and not very ergonomic. The kind that weighs nearly fifteen pounds and makes you look like a mechanical statue. They do not really lend themselves to operational deployment, even less so in urban areas, which require a certain agility. " The latter provides excellent protection but, given its weight, it lacks ergonomics. For the soldiers who have to wear them during their patrols, this physical load is far from negligible” we recognize the Belgian defense. In other words, what we gain in protection is lost in operationality. With the rise in the level of the terrorist threat, the military does not want to be caught in the rear. " To date, all of our staff stationed on our streets are equipped with this more modern equipment. " Corn " if additional soldiers were to be deployed on the streets, use should be made of stocks of older equipment” notifies Land Component Command. Hence the use of American stocks.

Some financial disengagement

The army thus pays for a certain financial disengagement which sees the equipment renewed in dribs and drabs. What we do not deny on the military side. " Operational equipment, including bulletproof and flak vests is regularly purchased ". But " in the proportions necessary to meet the needs. This means that above all account is taken of the commitment to operations abroad and the needs of the guard staff, the SEDEE demining service, etc. " No more. Logically with a budget that is close to the bar of 1% of GDP, Belgian Defense finds itself “ at the bottom of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) pack in major equipment investment thus recently affirmed a memorandum on Defense published in 2014 under the authority of General Guido Andries, Deputy Chief of Staff Strategy.

Years of fiscal restraint

The Belgian fiscal stall is not new, as this diagram shows. Whether in relation to the evolution of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or public expenditure, we note a downward phase, slow at first in the early 2000s, with a first stall in 2004, a stagnation of the budget until to 2009, and a dip in those years of financial crisis.

Stat Defense ExpenditurePiB@BE15
Evolution of the budget in constant Euros (base 2002, excluding pensions)

« In these times of budgetary rigour, Belgian Defense must make the community aware of what it can bring to it. It cannot be perceived as a position on which one saves easily. remarks the report by G. Andries. We can not agree more. The Minister of Defense, the N-VA (Flemish autonomists), Steven Vandeput recently promised, in our columns, to want to reverse the trend and operate a turning point in relation to government commitments to reduce the defense budget (Read: We must reinvest in defense, explains Steven Vandeput et A budget tripled in 15 years for the Belgian army?), it is now urgent.

Comment: this announcement shows to what extent the European armies (the Belgian army is not alone in this case) have abandoned their primary mission: the protection of the country. And that their equipment is far from corresponding to an operational activity. But just good to be counted in reports that do well and give the illusion of a certain security. At the first hard blow, reality comes to light... It forces a more general reflection on the broader accounting (2) of defense spending in the Stability Pact. A reflection that the European Commission will not be able to avoid

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) This agreement - signed with several European armies - was not originally intended for the loan of equipment as basic as bulletproof vests.

(2) Quite discreetly, European accounting rules have been adjusted to deduct certain research and investment expenses. Read : Defense spending and the stability pact? Some flexibility

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).