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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) Due to a lack of enough new generation bulletproof vests, the Belgian army was forced to resort to… stocks from the American army. Like the good old days after the war…. Belgian Defense had, in fact, concluded an agreement with the American authorities present in Belgium in order to mutually lend each other equipment on request, like many European armies (*). This agreement was activated on Wednesday (November 25) “ with the loan of a stock of American bulletproof vests, which Defense can use as long as necessary ».

Vests in stock but unusable in operation

Explanation: the Belgian army does have bulletproof vests in stock, splinter guards more commonly used in Afghanistan. But they are a bit old, heavy and not very ergonomic. The kind that weighs nearly fifteen kilos and makes you look like a mechanical statue. They do not really lend themselves to operational deployment, even less in urban areas, which requires 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 burden is far from negligible” we recognize the Belgian defense. In other words, we lose in operationality what we gain in protection. With the level of the terrorist threat rising, the military does not want to be caught on the back foot. “ 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” warns the Land Component Command. Hence the use of American stocks.

Some financial disengagement

The army is thus paying for a certain financial disengagement which sees the equipment renewed little by little. This is not denied on the military side. “ Operational equipment, including bulletproof and flak vests is regularly purchased ". But " in the proportions necessary to satisfy needs. This means that commitment to operations abroad and the needs of guard personnel, the SEDEE mine clearance service, etc. are primarily taken into account. " 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 stated a reflection note on Defense published in 2014 under the authority of General Guido Andries, Deputy Chief of Staff Strategy.

Years of fiscal restraint

The Belgian budgetary breakdown is not new, as this diagram shows. Whether in relation to the evolution of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or public expenditure, we note a downward phase, slowly at first at the beginning of the 2000s, with a first drop in 2004, a stagnation of the budget until to 2009, and a plunge into these 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 operational activity. But just good to be counted in reports which do well and give the illusion of a certain security. At the first hard blow, reality comes to light... It requires 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 bullet-proof vests.

(2) Quite discreetly, European accounting rules have been adapted 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).