Belgian Minister of Defence, Ludivine Dedonder, has clarified that “military service is neither on the agenda today, nor on the table”, on Saturday following comments made by the chief of staff of the Belgian army in favour of reintroducing compulsory military service.
In an interview with Belgian broadcaster RTBF, Admiral Michel Hofman, Belgium’s top military brass, said that the reintroduction of military service would “make sense” in the context of the current geopolitical context.
Belgium abandoned military service in 1992, shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall and the Cold War. With Russia, led by President Vladimir Putin, again threatening the West, Hofman said that the situation had changed.
“We have to think about the situation. We can reconsider the arguments that led to the abolition, and then ask ourselves whether we can reintroduce military service,” the admiral said.
The head of the Belgian armed forces warned that, if the need to defend the territory of NATO or Europe arises, then conscription would ultimately be justified.
The admiral’s comments created some alarm among Belgians, who have traditionally remained largely neutral due to the country's small size and position between great European powers. Militaristic spirit, or rather the desire to take up arms to defend Belgium, is relatively sparse.
Belgians unwilling to fight
In March, as Ukraine enacted tough conscription laws to defend its country from a full-scale Russian invasion, Belgians stated that they were reluctant to fight for their own country.
Despite being invaded twice in the last century, a survey of 3,300 Belgians showed that 59% responded that there was “no way that they would get themselves killed” to protect their country.
A similar 2015 Gallup poll ranked Belgium as the third least willing nation to take up arms, with only 19% of Belgian respondents stating that they would fight for their country.
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Clarifying Belgium’s official position to Het Laatste Nieuws, Dedonder stated that “conscription… was not on the table” and that the Ministry of Defence was “closely following international developments regarding Russia”, but committed to focusing on “de-escalation to prevent the situation from worsening.”
Belgium has maintained its support for Ukraine throughout Russia’s invasion. Since the beginning of the war, Belgium has transferred more than €45 million of equipment to Ukraine.
Belgium’s army, traditionally small and underfunded, has received a massive boost in investment as result of Russia’s aggression, with Belgium spending an extra €10 billion on improving its defence by 2030.