Last week, realizing that Belgium was once again being laughed at by its NATO partners, Belgian federal government ministers David Clarinval and Hadja Lahbib put the idea of delivering Belgian F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine back on the table.
Their recommendation is immensely important for the US and the West. If the overall Western policy is just "not to let Ukraine lose" rather than to defeat an unprovoked attack against a democracy, Russian President Vladimir Putin will be emboldened to continue his aggression, and China will read the weakness as a green light to invade Taiwan. The US is already seen as having abandoned Afghanistan, during a conflict former President Barack Obama had called "the good war." The US cannot afford another display of weakness or surrender. Putin sent his troops to the Ukraine in September of 2021, just a few weeks after the US abandoned Afghanistan. He got the message that "the coast was clear." Unless there is a clear strategy to defeat Russia, anything short of that will look globally like Afghanistan, the sequel; another example of US fecklessness, and a good reason not to be an ally.
Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine, the most advanced Free World circles have been calling for Belgian F-16s to be delivered to Ukraine, and the Ukrainian pilots to be trained as quickly as possible. The fact is that by giving the Russians control of the skies, they are almost automatically guaranteed to keep their troops in the Donbass.
First Belgium pledged to deliver F-16s, then it changed its mind on the extremely questionable grounds that its F-16s were "too old". Several European countries have already committed to delivering them. In August, Denmark and the Netherlands declared their intention to provide Ukraine with F-16s. According to Associated Press:
"Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called [it] an important motivation for his country's forces that are embroiled in a difficult counteroffensive against Russia."
The Belgian media does not talk much about it, but from the outset the Belgian "left" has adopted a fierce "wait-and-see", if not frankly collaborationist, stance towards the Russian regime.
The current Belgian federal government is an unlikely combination of right-wing liberals, left-wing socialists and far-left environmentalists.
The environmentalists do not want to hear about the delivery of F-16s to Ukraine -- first because they are pacifists, in the most ideological, surrendering sense of the word, and second because they know what the European environmental movement owes to Russia. The Russian government has massively financed German environmental foundations, and in addition, the Belgian Energy Minister Tinne Van der Straeten (Groen/Ecolo Party), was a 50% partner in a law firm called BLIXT, one of whose main clients was Gazprom -- in other words, the Russian government.
These are just two of many examples of European environmentalists effectively becoming Russia's fifth column in Europe, in the same way France's Communist Party was in the days of the USSR.
Then there are the socialists, who are also opposed to any substantial aid to Ukraine, other than verbal support. Belgian socialists, especially the French-speaking ones, are still living in the mental atmosphere of the 20th century, when any criticism of Russia was seen as inherently "poisonous."
However, a movement has recently emerged within the Belgian military, which considers that the Belgian interest is that on the one hand the Russians do not sweep away the Ukrainians and on the other hand that the Belgians regain the respect of their NATO allies.
Cabinet Ministers Clarinval and Lahbib therefore put the issue of F-16s for Ukraine on the federal government's table, demanding that it be reopened and that the planes be transferred to the embattled Ukrainians.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (center-right) immediately followed suit, as Groen/Ecolo Party and Socialist Party ministers looked on in anger: they seem to see any form of direct military help to Ukraine as "evil." Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo), Minister of Mobility, immediately spoke out against "this irresponsible escalation of hostilities," as if the delivery of F-16s to Ukraine would aggravate war.
De Croo is aware that Belgium must regain its stripes with its partners if it wants to keep the headquarters of NATO in Belgium.
There is also a technical obstacle: the F-35 fighter jets intended to replace Belgium's F-16s will be delivered late, and the country cannot do without fighter jets. Its Air Force is the last sector in which the Belgian military is credible in the eyes of its partners.
According to sources who asked not to be named, the solution Belgium is heading for is the initial delivery of four F-16s to Ukraine, then progressively more when Belgium's F-16s are replaced by F-35s. According to the Air Force, they can do without four F-16s while retaining enough operational units to ensure the protection of Belgian skies and the supply of spare parts.
At the time of the invasion of Ukraine, Gilkinet urged the prime minister to phone Putin "to tell him to stop" -- nothing else. That appears to be the level of geopolitical thinking of the Belgian Greens.
The issue of Ukraine divides the Western right. A sizeable proportion reportedly think that far too much is being done for Ukraine, and that the West is co-responsible for the outbreak of hostilities by having supported the coup d'état against the democratically elected pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, in 2014.
The issue, however, is not so much Ukraine as Belgium's lost credibility with its NATO partners. Belgium, with one of the most shamefully underfunded militaries in NATO (along with Germany), is hardly in the same realm of sanctity with its partners and allies. In 2017, President Donald Trump openly criticized and threatened NATO member nations for not fulfilling their financial responsibilities to the alliance and refrained from reaffirming America's dedication to the alliance's mutual defense agreement. "Members of the alliance need to adequately fulfill their financial commitments," Trump said to the leaders, many of whom stood quietly behind him, some visibly uneasy.
Belgium's reputation with its NATO partners is on the line. There needs to a delivery of at least a limited number of Belgian F-16s to Ukraine, and their Ukrainian pilots trained at once.
Drieu Godefridi is a jurist (University Saint-Louis, University of Louvain), philosopher (University Saint-Louis, University of Louvain) and PhD in legal theory (Paris IV-Sorbonne). He is an entrepreneur, CEO of a European private education group and director of PAN Medias Group. He is the author of The Green Reich (2020).