Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Research Report

Atlantic Loyalty, European Autonomy: Belgium and the Atlantic Alliance 1949-2009

Rik Coolsaet
series-editor Sven BISCOP
Copyright Date: Mar. 1, 2009
Published by: Egmont Institute
Pages: 56
  • Cite this Item

Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 3-4)
    Rik Coolsaet

    Myths colour the past and Belgium’s history in NATO is no exception.

    Contrary to what is often thought, the Cold War did not start when the Second World War ended. The war coalition against Nazi Germany was to hold out for several more years and give rise to a number of international initiatives, which all the allies would endorse, with the establishment of the United Nations at the top of the list. Only in 1947 did the war coalition turn into confrontation and a cold war. Misperceptions, incompatible security designs and ensuing diverging interests between the United States and the...

  2. (pp. 5-8)

    6 December 1944. For Belgium the Second World War is almost over. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Paul-Henri Spaak, is back in Brussels after four years of exile in London. He presents parliament with his plans for a new post-war world order for the first time.

    This was a very different Spaak from the one who had been the symbol of the pre-war neutrality policy. Soon after his arrival in London, in 1940, he had been forced to embrace the vision of his former critics who, since 1936, had warned him constantly that his policy of rigid neutrality would turn...

  3. (pp. 9-16)

    In his famous speech on 5 June 1947, Secretary of State George Marshall sketched a sombre picture of the decline of Europe. To offset this, he called for a one-off recovery programme of limited duration. He asked the Europeans to take the initiative for it and invited all European countries to participate.

    Marshall had cited the Benelux Customs Union as an example of the economic cooperation in Europe which was supposed to form the basis for the envisaged recovery programme.15 Nevertheless, the initial reaction in Belgium was not enthusiastic. The Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hervé de Gruben,...

  4. (pp. 17-22)

    Understanding between Brussels and Washington was to grow closer and closer in subsequent decades. Nevertheless the good relations between Brussels and Washington during the Cold War did not mean that Belgium always endorsed all American policies with the same enthusiasm and neither did they prevent profound crises disturbing the calm every now and then.

    On 25 June 1950 North Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel which, since the Japanese defeat, had divided the Korean peninsula into Soviet-backed North Korea and US-backed South Korea. The ensuing Korean civil war became the first theatre of the Cold War because this local conflict...

  5. (pp. 23-28)

    Early in March 1966 a new crisis arose yet again within the Atlantic Alliance as a result of de Gaulle’s decision to pull France out of NATO’s integrated command structure, which entailed the departure of NATO installations from France. Within NATO a proposal was made to transfer NATO installations to neighbouring Belgium.

    In Belgium the move was not so obvious.50 For months the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pierre Harmel, a French-speaking Christian Democrat, avoided all parliamentary confrontation while he discreetly got in touch with the Socialist opposition. He stressed resolutely his intention to plead within NATO for a more...

  6. (pp. 29-34)

    With the signing of the Final Act of Helsinki (CSCE), 1975 was the apogee of détente politics, but it was also then that they started to get bogged down, although that was not clear at the time. In Europe, the United States and the Soviet Union, increasing frustrations with its results led to a chilling of the East- West climate, which turned into a new cold war in 1979.

    In contrast to the Spaak and Harmel period Belgian foreign policy became grey and routine again in both content and style. Subsequent Foreign Ministers, Renaat Van Elslande (1973-1977), Henri Simonet (1977-1980)...

  7. (pp. 35-42)

    In 1947 Belgium got caught up in the Cold War against its will. When the East- West tension began to slacken four decades later, Belgium rediscovered the Harmel policy. The Europeanists from the 1980s formed the nucleus from which a new version of Belgian Ostpolitik grew.

    In November 1989 the Defence Minister, Guy Coëme, decided to initiate bilateral military talks with like-minded Warsaw Pact countries. Since March 1988 the American military had engaged in similar discussions with their Soviet colleagues. At the end of July 1988 the idea of such dialogue was first raised within the Belgian Ministry of Defence...

  8. (pp. 43-50)

    When Maastricht was signed many were convinced that enhanced cooperation in the area of foreign and security policy would make it possible for the European Union to act effectively on the international scene. The civil war in Yugoslavia was the first test for the new Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).

    The conflict erupted in full force in June 1991, when two Yugoslav republics, Slovenia and Croatia, seceded from the Yugoslav federation and the army intervened to restore unity. Croatian and Yugoslav units became entangled in ongoing fighting interspersed with countless – usually short-lived – local ceasefires, after which the...

  9. (pp. 51-52)

    By 2008 transatlantic relations between Brussels and Washington were largely normalised. This was partly thanks to the American turn-about under the second Bush administration regarding European autonomy in defence matters. In February 2008 the American Ambassador to NATO, Victoria Nuland, stated for the first time that the United States was now supporting a ‘stronger’ Europe with, moreover, its own autonomy. This standpoint was confirmed afterwards at the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008.96 Moreover, despite the earlier harsh criticism within NATO, most of the initiatives that were discussed at the controversial European defence summit of April 2003 have been...