Belgium Debates Phase-out of US Nuclear Weapons on its Soil
(January 16, 2020) — It’s one of Belgium’s worst kept secrets. Lawmakers on Thursday (16 January) narrowly rejected a resolution asking for the removal of US nuclear weapons stationed in the country and joining the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
66 MPs voted in favour of the resolution while 74 rejected it.
Those in favour included the Socialists, Greens, centrists (cdH), the workers party (PVDA) and the francophone party DéFI. The 74 that voted against included the nationalist Flemish party N-VA, the Flemish Christian Democrats (CD&V), the far-right Vlaams Belang and both Flemish and francophone Liberals.
Just before the Christmas recess, the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee approved a motion calling for the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Belgian territory and the accession of Belgium to the International Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The resolution was led by Flemish socialist John Crombez.
With this resolution, the chamber requested the Belgian government “to draw up, as soon as possible, a roadmap aiming at the withdrawal of nuclear weapons on Belgian territory”.
The December resolution was voted in the absence of two liberal MPs, even though the text was already watered down.
According to Flemish daily De Morgen, the American ambassador to Belgium was “particularly worried” about the resolution before Thursday’s vote and a number of MPs were approached by the US embassy for a discussion.
The controversy was sparked by a debate to replace the US-made F-16 fighter aircraft in the Belgian army with American F-35s, a more advanced plane capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
A “Most Poorly Kept Secret”
For a long time, and in contrast with other countries, there has been no public debate about the presence of nuclear weapons on Belgian soil.
A July 2019 draft report entitled ‘A New Era for Nuclear Deterrence?’ and published by the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, confirmed that Belgium is one of several European countries storing US nuclear weapons as part of NATO’s nuclear sharing agreement. The weapons are stationed at Kleine Brogel airbase, in the province of Limburg.
Although the Belgian government had so far adopted a policy of “to neither confirm, nor deny” their presence on Belgian soil, military officials have called it one of Belgium’s “most poorly kept secrets”.
According to De Morgen, which obtained a leaked copy of the document before its final paragraph was replaced, the report stated:
“In the context of NATO, the United States is deploying around 150 nuclear weapons in Europe, in particular B61 free-bombs, which can be deployed by both US and Allied planes. These bombs are stored in six American and European bases: Kleine Brogel in Belgium, Büchel in Germany, Aviano and Ghedi-Torre in Italy, Volkel in the Netherlands and Inçirlik in Turkey.”
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The later updated version of the report did away with the specifications, but the leaked documents confirm what had been assumed for some time.
Earlier in 2019, the American Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists noted in its annual report that Kleine Brogel possessed no less than twenty nuclear weapons. The report is used as a source in the final version of the report presented by a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
Asked about the current Belgian debate, a NATO official told EURACTIV that a nuclear capacity is needed “to maintain peace and avert aggression” from the outside. “NATO’s goal is a world without nuclear weapons but as long as they exist, NATO will remain a nuclear Alliance”.
Theo Francken, a Flemish nationalist lawmaker from the N-VA party, spoke in favour of keeping US weapons on Belgian territory: “just think of the return we would receive from NATO headquarters in our country, which puts Brussels on the world map,” he said ahead of the vote.
“When it comes to a financial contribution to NATO, we are already among the worst in the class. A withdrawal of nuclear weapons is not a good signal to President Trump. You can play with it, but you don’t have to rattle it,” said Francken who is also the Belgian delegation leader at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
Belgium currently does not meet NATO’s target of raising defence spending to 2% of the country’s GDP. Belgian officials repeatedly suggested that hosting US nuclear weapons in Kleine Brogel make critics in the alliance turn a blind eye to those shortcomings.
The cornerstone of Belgium’s policy on nuclear weapons is the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which Belgium signed in 1968 and ratified in 1975. The treaty contains the three objectives of non-proliferation, ultimate elimination of all nuclear weapons and the international cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
“Within the EU, Belgium has made special efforts to achieve significant and balanced positions with which both the European nuclear weapon states and the other EU member states can concur,” the Belgian government position says.
Belgium, as a NATO country, so far has not supported the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons, with the goal of leading towards their total elimination.
However, the resolution voted on Thursday was meant to change that. A public opinion poll conducted by YouGov in April 2019 found that 64% of Belgians believe that their government should sign the treaty, with only 17% opposed to signing.
Turkey Warns It Could Kick Out US from Incirlik Nuclear Base
(December 11, 2019) — Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Wednesday (11 December) that the United States could be barred from using two strategic air bases in retaliation to possible US sanctions against his country, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
Çavuşoğlu’s comments came amid reports that US lawmakers had agreed on a defence bill that also includes calls to sanction Turkey over its decision to proceed with the purchase and deployment of Russian-made S-400 missile defence systems. The same bill envisages sanctions for Western firms involved in the Nord Stream 2 and Turkish Stream pipeline projects.
“In the event of a decision to sanction Turkey, the Incirlik and Kurecik airbases can be brought to the agenda,” Anadolu quoted Çavuşoğlu as saying.
He said: “Congress members must understand that it is not possible to get anywhere with sanctions.”
Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey has been a main base for US operations in the Middle East and more recently in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, while Kurecik, in eastern Turkey, is a key NATO base.
But Incirlik also hosts US B61 gravity nuclear bombs stocked there from the Cold War period. Their number is estimated at up to 50. The US military have said they are reviewing plans to evacuate those tactical nuclear weapons in the light of the ongoing tensions with the host country.
The weapons are stored in a reinforced underground bunker and guarded by US troops. The provision of the US-Turkish agreement governing the placement of those weapons required both governments to agree to their deployment.
The weapons were classed as tactical or theatre weapons and were originally intended to be used against concentrations of Soviet infantry and armour in the event of a Soviet invasion of Turkey.
While the US military as a rule does not comment on where it stores nuclear weapons in Europe, a NATO-affiliated report released in April confirmed what was an open secret in security circles: US nuclear weapons are stored at bases in Kleine Brogel in Belgium, Buechel in Germany, Aviano and Ghedi-Torre in Italy, Volkel in the Netherlands and Incirlik in Turkey.
In NATO, only France and the UK have a nuclear arsenal of their own. But according to scenarios, in case of conflict, Belgian, Italian or German planes can dock US bombs. But not all military jets are equipped to dock US bombs. Belgium recently opted to buy the US F-35 precisely because among the four competing aeroplanes, only F-35 is able to operate the nuclear strike mission carrying the American B-61 nuclear free-fall bomb.
According to a number of US government sources, Erdogan has privately warned the US against removing the nuclear devices from Incirlik, and threatened to develop his own weapons if the US bombs are removed.
Asked recently by EURACTIV what it would mean if the US nuclear bombs from Incirlik are moved to the US base Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, as such rumours exist in the region, Russia’s envoy to the EU Vladimir Chizhov said such a move would amount to “gross violation” of existing international obligations on nuclear non-proliferation.
In 2017 Germany pulled its forces from Incirlik base, officially because of restrictions on German lawmakers seeking to visit troops there. The minister of defence at that time was Ursula von der Leyen.
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Turkish Fallout: US Evacuates Nukes from Incirlik to Romania
(August 18, 2016) — In an earthshaking Middle East development, the United States has begun secretly evacuating the tactical nuclear weapons it had stockpiled at the southern Turkish air base of Incirlik and is transporting them to US bases in Romania.
The Obama administration has thus taken another step towards folding its tents in the Middle East.
In contrast, Moscow is rapidly expanding its air force footprint in the region with a new base in Iran following its facility in Syria. Advanced bombers and fighters are stepping up operations in both countries, while Russian warships carrying Kalibr cruise missiles gather in the Mediterranean and Caspian Seas.
military and intelligence sources report that Washington decided to remove the
nuclear arsenal to safety after talks between American and Turkish talks on
release 1,500 US airmen serving at the base from the
siege clamped down a month ago broke
down. The airmen were running the US air campaign against ISIS in Syria just
The talks ground to a halt over Turkish insistence on assuming control of the nuclear arsenal and America’s rejection of this demand.
The 50-70 B61 tactical gravity nuclear bombs were stored in underground bunkers close to the US bombers’ airstrips. Although this was not fully admitted by Washington, the US air and ground crews were held intermittently in lockdown since the President Tayyip Erdogan suppressed a military coup against him a month ago.
The deterioration of relations between Ankara and Washington contrasted strongly with the Turkish-Russian rapprochement, which Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin sealed in St. Petersburg on Aug.8. Since then, there have been calls for the Russian Air Force to be allowed to displace the US warplanes at Incirlik. This process has now begun.
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