Belgium Defense and Foreign Policy

By | January 11, 2021

Foreign policy and defense

Belgium is a nation in Western Europe. Its capital city is Brussels. After the two world wars, Belgium was a strong advocate of close cooperation between the Western powers. The country was a founding member of both the NATO defense alliance in 1949 and the EU’s predecessor to the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952. Today, Brussels is considered the capital of Europe and is the seat of the EU’s main body.

belgium military spending and defense budget

In the Belgian capital there is the European Commission, the EU Council of Ministers and, to some extent, the European Parliament. Belgium wants to deepen political cooperation within the EU, including in defense and security policy.

NATO also has its headquarters in Brussels, and the NATO headquarters in Europe is located in southern Belgium, near Mons. Relations with the US have generally been good. The Belgians have known a “debt of gratitude” to the United States that helped to liberate the country from the Germans during the Second World War. But the relationship became strained when Belgium opposed the US-led war on Iraq in 2003. In addition, a disputed war crimes law with “universal jurisdiction” (see Democracy and Rights) caused tensions when it led to allegations against, among others, former US President George HW Bush. The United States threatened to move NATO’s headquarters from Brussels, but in 2003 the law was rewritten to include only Belgian and foreign nationals residing in Belgium.

Relations with the former colonies in Africa became problematic in 1988, following Belgian criticism of human rights violations in Zaire (former Belgian Congo, after 1997 Democratic Republic of Congo). Soldiers were sent to Zaire on a couple of occasions to protect and evacuate Belgian citizens. The relationship improved since the Congolese President Mobutu was overthrown in 1997. The Belgian government apologized in 2002 for the 1961 assassination of Congo’s First Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, saying that Belgium bore a “moral responsibility” for his death in connection with a military coup. The murder took place with Brussels’ fond memory during the chaotic period that followed since the colonial power rapidly withdrew from Congo in 1960.

Belgium’s defense forces were halved in the 1990s. In 1995 the military duty was abolished and instead they went on to hold a significantly smaller occupational army. Belgium is one of the five core countries of the European rapid-fire force Eurocorps, and in recent years has participated in NATO- and UN-led operations in, for example, Afghanistan, Kosovo, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.

In Brussels there is the secretariat for the Benelux Union, a cooperation between Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg which has existed in various forms since the 1940s. Belgium and Luxembourg are also part of the Belgian-Luxembourg Economic Union (UEBL or BLEU). Functions that Benelux and UEBL were supposed to have largely been taken over by the EU, but both unions remain and have been updated with new agreements in the 2000s.


Army: 10 350 men (2017)

The air Force: 5 850 men (2017)

The fleet: 1 350 men (2017)

Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 0.9 percent (2017)

Military spending’s share of the state budget: 1.7 percent (2017)



No budget

The financial market is concerned that the budget deficit is not being attacked because of the problems of government formation, and the king asks Acting Prime Minister Yves Leterme to set a budget for 2011.


Abuse is investigated

The Catholic Church in Belgium is shaken by an investigation that has shown that priests have for decades committed extensive sexual abuse of children.

No socialist-led government

Elio Di Rupo, leader of the Walloon Socialist Party PS, gives up his attempts to form a coalition government.


No nationalist-led government

Party leader for Nationalist Party N-VA Bart De Wever has no success in trying to form government and the assignment goes on to PS leader Elio Di Rupo.


Nationalists win new elections

June 13th

The Flemish Nationalist Party N-VA is unexpectedly the largest in the House of Representatives. The party wins in Flanders with about 28 percent of the vote. The second largest is the French-speaking socialists in PS, who receive just over 36 percent of the votes in Wallonia and Brussels. The election results preclude difficulties in forming a majority government. N-VA gets 27 seats, PS 26, MR 18, CD&V 17, Socialist Party-Different (SP-A) 13, VLD 13, VB 12, CDH 9, Ecolo 8, Green 5, LDD 1 and the People’s Party (PP) 1.


The government is falling

26th of April

Parliament is dissolved and elections are announced for June. Leterme continues to lead an expedition ministry. Despite concerns about a growing government debt, the electoral movement is dominated by the constant dispute over the language issue and the position of the regions.

New government crisis

April 22

Prime Minister Yves Leterme submits his resignation application after the Flemish Liberals in the VLD left the coalition, protesting that no solution has been reached in the conflict over the distribution of power between regions and the federal state.

Veil prohibition is adopted

The House of Representatives votes for a ban on comprehensive veil and similar clothing in public places. Amnesty International condemns it as a violation of freedom of expression and religion.