Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder has called for greater funding of Belgium’s armed forces, in addition to the €10 billion already earmarked for the next few years, Belga News Agency reports.
“We need to discuss additional resources once again,” Dedonder said in an interview published on Sunday in De Zondag newspaper. “We need a supplementary allocation in the short term – that is, this year – to cater for the most urgent needs.”
“If the Government agrees to increase the budget, we’ll work in the first place on equipping our military and on cybersecurity,” she explained. “We still don’t know how many millions we’re looking at. Will this take us to 2% [of GDP]? Maybe not, but that’s not the most important thing. What counts is what we do with the additional resources.”
Soft and hard power
Belgium had previously been one of the NATO members with the lowest expenditure on its defence capacities; in the light of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has also stated the need to augment the country’s spending. Like other EU nations, Belgium tends to pursue a policy of diplomacy that rarely sees it become seriously involved in military interventions.
The Russian attack on Ukraine has come as a grim alert for the fragility of Europe’s peace, with even Germany – which has by far the largest GDP in Europe – earmarking €100 billion from its 2022 budget for defence spending, having historically resisted calls from the US to increase military spending.
A NATO agreement in 2006 saw members commit to a minimum defence spending of 2% GDP. However, many members – Belgium among them – fall far short of this target. For most of the last decade, Belgium’s defence budget has been below 1% of GDP.
When questioned on the topic of restoring compulsory military service, Dedonder ruled out such a measure but said that a voluntary service plan is being drawn up. A framework should be ready later this year.
“It will allow young people to undergo training within the army,” she said. “It could be the start of a career in defence or simply a beautiful additional line on their CVs, but we also need to be honest. We no longer have the capacity to train thousands of young people each year.”