The Belgian army will be “green” or not

A recruitment drive for the Belgian army in Liege 20 February 2020.

The climate crisis will be included in the new Belgian National Security Strategy that will be presented at the end of this year. More conflicts and disasters would threaten the world order, General Frederick Vancina, who helped formulate the strategy, said. The climate crisis amplifies existing problems such as poverty and conflict. We need flexibility to deal with that.

DrVivaldi’s government is working on Belgium’s first national security strategy. This strategy must identify the main threats to our national security, so that policy can be directed toward them. Last year, experts from the political, diplomatic, military and security circles contributed to this. The strategy should be presented at the end of this year.

If we cannot control climate change, the other five vital interests will also be under pressure.

According to NVS, there are six issues of vital importance to Belgium. Four of these also appear in the European strategy, the so-called European security strategy. This relates to the physical integrity of people and infrastructure (offline and online), the democratic system, economic prosperity and its redistribution, and a stable international legal system. The fifth vital importance is the strengthening and deepening of the European Union, a tradition in Belgian diplomacy.

Finally, the sixth vital interest is new in the Belgian tradition. It is about (maintaining) the natural living environment, including a stable climate and the preservation of biodiversity. Climate change is described in it as a global trend of consumption. If we cannot control this, the other five vital interests will also come under pressure.

general approvals Frederic VincinaHead of the Strategy Department of the Belgian Army. Participates in the development of the national security strategy. The climate crisis is a global challenge that has a direct impact on our country and its vital interests. Think water supply, food production, open spaces, etc. The climate crisis amplifies and multiplies existing problems such as poverty and conflict. Whoever says that also says more immigration and therefore more boats in the Mediterranean, with a devastating effect on Europe. This is on our radar and will only grow.

Vancina further stresses that the military is convinced that global warming increases the risk of instability. It is believed that climate change will increase the number of foreign operations of the military. In the case of instability, you quickly talk about conflicts in which defense plays a role. We do not believe that everything can be resolved militarily, but we are a security party at home and abroad.

© Frederic Vincina

General Frederic Vansina: “This environmental and sustainable thinking is in our own interest.”

This instability threatens the global order because it will amplify a number of challenges, the general continues. ‘Such as water availability and existing conflicts.’ If parts of Africa become uninhabitable due to climate change, it will put enormous pressures on nations. Then there will be more shocks in the international system, and therefore we must have the flexibility to deal with them.

the interior

The military also expects significant influence within its national borders. Warming is progressing faster and faster than expected. This presents two types of risks. There are physical hazards such as flooding in the south earlier this year. Such matters have an impact on society, productivity, infrastructure, agriculture, health care, etc. Vulnerable groups are usually affected the most.

“To attract young people, we have to become an environmentally responsible company.”

In addition, there are transitional risks, and social and economic risks that arise from the steps taken towards zero emissions. Far-reaching changes in transformation have consequences for all kinds of sectors, from mobility to energy supply. This requires large investments.

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With a debt ratio of over 100 percent, this represents a difficult start for our country. But delaying the work will be more dangerous and more expensive. You will win in the short term, but in the long run it will be more expensive.

The Army is preparing for an increasing number of local operations. Think, for example, of disasters like the floods in Wallonia last summer. The Federal Minister of Defense, Ludivine Dedonder, talks about “dual use”. This relates to materials that may be used in foreign security operations, but may also be posted here.

warming world

The military must also adapt to a warmer world. For interventions in climate-sensitive areas where it is warmer, our equipment must adapt to this. It may become physically impossible to operate in some places. You can only work abroad for a limited number of hours. Our air force, for example, was already operating from the Emirates, where temperatures exceed 50 degrees in the summer. Then you’ll need plenty of air conditioning and a power plan. Starting an F-16 at 50 degrees is difficult.

One solution to this must be the so-called mules to be. “Little robots that can carry heavy objects.”

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Defense will take more initiatives to be as climate neutral as possible by 2050. Since 2005, the Belgian Army has already managed to reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent. “Because of the various measures, this should be another 40 percent lower by 2040. What we cannot eliminate, such as emissions from the Air Force, must be offset by forestry, CO2 extraction technologies and solar panels on our land.

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By 2030, defense can already take great strides forward. By that time, a significant part of the infrastructure will be renovated: new ships, F-35, a new neighborhood in Charleroi, …

It will also be able to accurately monitor its emissions: buildings will be monitored using smart meters. Fields with solar panels will be installed in all military quarters: in the first phase for personal use, but later, the export of energy can also be considered.

The military doesn’t immediately consider wind turbines because they can cause disruptions at air bases, but Vansina doesn’t rule that out. Marine biology can qualify.

“Starting the F-16 at 50 degrees is difficult.”

In addition, there is a plan to electrify a quarter of the army’s commercial fleet. The new MAM ships are highly energy efficient. Trees were planted at the shooting range in Hellsteren. According to Vanessa, a lot is already moving around, but the various actions are still very fragmented today. “A broadly supported policy is needed.”

In the future, the defense wants to focus more on climate prediction and innovation. In the past, military research often had an innovative role. GPS and the Internet were created in the context of military research. But with a modest budget, the Belgian army would rather be a strategic vassal rather than the frontrunner, according to Vanessa.

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© Gheleyne Bastiaen

Could this also be the case with climate prediction and innovation? “In the lap of the US military, they are investigating whether batteries can be recharged by putting them in soldiers’ boots and recharging them as they walk.”

The army will be “green” or not

Vancina believes that in order to attract enough young people, the military must also work to bring about cultural change. A study from the United Kingdom showed that young people do not want to enlist in a British army which, with its historical heritage, old buildings and infrastructure, is one of the main polluters in the country.

To attract young people, we have to become an environmentally responsible company. This environmental and sustainable thinking is in our own interest.

Megan Vasquez

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