Belgium narrowly rejects removal of US nuclear weapons

Belgium narrowly rejects removal of US nuclear weapons
An anti-nuclear demonstration in Kleine Brogel, where US nuclear heads are stored, in 2006. © Belga

A resolution to remove US nuclear heads from Belgian territory was narrowly voted down by lawmakers on Thursday, with some arguing they were strategic to bolster Belgium's international standing.

The resolution, spearheaded by John Crombez of the Flemish socialist sp.a party, was rejected after a starkly polarised debate culminated in a 74-66 vote.

The debate over the presence of nuclear weapons in the country was reignited last year, after a leaked document from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly essentially confirmed that Belgium was one of several NATO countries storing nuclear warheads for the US, doing away with years of "neither confirm nor deny" policy on the matter.

In the aftermath of the leak, the sp.a-led resolution was brought to the Chamber after being approved at the Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee before the holiday break.

Supported by the Flemish greens, the labour PDVA party and the centre-right cdH, the resolution sought to put Belgium on the path of removing the US' nuclear weapons currently stored in the Kleine Brogel military base in Limburg, near the Dutch border.

Additionally, it also aimed to push Belgium to become a signatory of the United Nations' Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), the only legally binding agreement to ban nuclear weapons, which remains nevertheless unenforced for a lack of sufficient signatories.

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Theo Francken, a lawmaker with the Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (N-VA), argued that the presence of the nuclear weapons in Belgium was not only crucial for the NATO military alliance, headquartered in Brussels, but also to Belgium's "international reputation."

"I'm thinking of international recognition, international reputation-building and international diplomatic headquarters," he argued, after saying that supporting the continued presence of warheads in the country did not mean "advocating for weapons of mass destruction."

"Belgium has no nuclear weapons and Belgium does not want nuclear weapons — NATO does," he said, adding that the alliance had a "very sensible," strategy aimed at deterring "rogue states."

Along with the N-VA, MPs of the far-right Vlaams Belang (VB) and of the Francophone and Flemish liberal parties, MR and Open Vld, were among the detractors of the resolution.

Austria is the only EU country to have both signed and ratified the TPNW, which requires at least 50 parties to sign and ratify it to be enforceable.

Along with other NATO member countries —including those known to possess a nuclear weapon like the US, France or the United Kingdom— Belgium has signed and ratified the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), signed in 1968.

While the NPT's stated objective is to "prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology" by banning countries from acquiring a nuclear bomb, it includes provisions allowing its already nuclear-armed signatories to "share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology."

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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