Two weeks ago, Belgium’s federal government refused permission to export a specialised isostatic press needed to maintain Britain’s nuclear arsenal because the Greens, who make up Belgium’s traditionally fragile ruling coalition, vetoed it.
Whilst this has not been a problem previously, on this occasion it was blocked by Georges Gilkinet (pictured), one of Belgium’s seven Deputy Prime Ministers.
Gilkinet represents the Ecolo party, which opposes nuclear weapons and the military-industrial lobby, and which in the most recent elections to the country’s Chamber of Representatives (2019) garnered just 6.1% of the vote.
Gilkinet denounced media revelations of his veto as a “serious misconduct”.
The press is manufactured in Antwerp by the U.S.- Belgian company EPSI. Since Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, a special licence from the Belgian government is required to export this product.
The dispute then escalated over warnings in the Belgian government that Britain had threatened to cancel a weapons order worth up to £514.90 million (€600 million) for machine guns manufactured by Belgium’s FN Herstal if exports were not allowed.
High-ranking sources in the Belgian government are concerned that the conflict threatens Western and NATO unity during the war in Europe.
Russia’s state controlled media is understandably delighted about this development with TASS speculating that the impasse could lead to the collapse of the ruling coalition in Belgium, as it could jeopardise employment at the FN Herstal plants in the southern part of the country.
Did Belgium’s failure to supply UK with much needed ammunition in First Gulf War scupper a common European defence policy?
There is a precedent for the current situation:
During the First Gulf War of 1990-91 the then Belgian coalition government refused to sell artillery ammunition to the British Army.
During the Gulf war, for political reasons, Belgium, an ally and a member of NATO—indeed, it is the home of NATO headquarters—refused to supply us with artillery ammunition. That artillery ammunition was desperately needed to support the major assault that our armoured corps was making through Iraqi lines to retake Kuwait.
During a subsequent government enquiry, former Conservative Defence Minister Sir Archie Hamilton said: ”We all know about the Belgians, who had extreme difficulty with their coalition government and wouldn’t even sell Defence Secretary Tom King the 155m ammunition which he needed at the time.
”The Belgian defence minister sent Tom a telegram saying, `Will you please, because I am under a bit of pressure from all these British newspapers’ – that were slagging the Belgians off for not being very helpful about this war – `Will you send me a telegram saying thank you very much for all the ammunition. I’ll send all the ammunition along later but if you just actually thank me for it in advance we’d be extremely grateful.’
”Tom wasn’t born yesterday – he didn’t send the note to the Belgian defence minister and the ammunition never arrived.”
This controversy – and Belgium’s failure to support a long standing ally – is widely considered to be the catalyst for the failure of the EU at that time to build a common European defence policy.
Following another blocking of arms for the UK, in 2002 the UK expressed its opposition to a Belgian proposal for the development of a military alliance in EU, the European Union take over NATO security missions in Macedonia, as well as to the access of the EU to NATO assets.
After the news of the latest veto emerged, Belgian parliamentarian Theo Franken – highly critical of Gilkinet’s action, Tweeted: “Twenty years ago, under the previous purple-green government, Verhofstadt refused to supply ammunition to the UK because of their involvement in the Iraq war. This led to a diplomatic conflict. The British never forgave him and since then blocked all…”
Image (HMS Vanguard); By CPOA(Phot) Tam McDonald – Defence Imagery, OGL v1.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/…
Image (Georges Gilkinet): Door BaryWhite – Eigen werk, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/…
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