In today’s complex and dynamic threat environment, military leaders must effectively employ limited resources to execute their country’s national security strategy. Proceedings asked sea-service commanders around the world: It is often said that a nation’s national defense decisions are ultimately derived from its own sovereign interests. Given this presumption, what are the global trends that most influence your national security decision making and how does your navy use its operating policies, alliances, and partnerships to address these trends?
Rear Admiral Michel Hofman
As a founding nation of both NATO and the EU, Belgium after World War II resolutely opted for multilateralism as the best approach to protect its national interests. Consequently, Belgium fully embraces EU and NATO strategy, policies, and concepts with regard to maritime security. From a national point of view, the Belgian Navy is embedded in an interdepartmental coast guard structure, allowing a comprehensive approach toward maritime-security aspects within Belgium’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). This interdepartmental structure is demonstrated by the creation of an operational Maritime Security Centre where defense—through the navy, police, and customs—share information, allowing analysis and efficient use of means. Internationally, that center exchanges maritime-security-related data with our neighboring coast guard centers.
Meanwhile, the ever-accelerating globalization process and the complex, interwoven, and unpredictable security environment of today and tomorrow mean that the preservation of national interests in Western Europe is only possible within an integrated security framework. This is especially the case for Belgium. Our country is the fifth most globalized country in the world, and our interests lie in a safe, open world—more particularly in open maritime trade routes. The intertwining of Belgium’s security within an international framework is therefore a logical choice.
Since 1948, the Belgian and the Dutch navies have looked for opportunities to cooperate, which has evolved into an ever-deepening collaboration in the domains of training, education, and maintenance. This cooperation culminated in 1997 with a bi-national operational command and organization called Admiral Benelux, or ABNL. To address the two sensitive political considerations related to sovereignty and strategic agility, the navies opted for task specialization, which resulted in a single-nation support approach for the ships of both countries. The main effort for the common support of the frigates lies with the Netherlands, while Belgium takes care of the mine countermeasures vessels. Despite the economic crisis and the resulting financial cuts that severely hit the defense budgets, Belgium maintained its capability to deploy and operate both frigates and mine hunters, which is reflected in participation in several EU and NATO operations and standing naval groups.
The successful, effective, and innovative form of specialization between the two navies led to the renewal of a BENELUX defense cooperation agreement signed at the Ministry of Defence level in April 2012 to enhance collaboration between the respective armies and air forces. Today, ABNL is the most accomplished form of defense collaboration in Europe, and probably unique in the world. Having a long tradition of international and interdepartmental cooperation, we can consider the Belgian Navy to be still setting trends today.