Postcard from…Brussels

Belgium has answered the U.S. call for more troops in Afghanistan. In February, Brussels committed to sending four F-16 fighter planes and 100 more soldiers to the south of Afghanistan. It’s not exactly a cushy assignment. The region is in turmoil because of the Taliban’s resurgence. In contrast to Belgium’s enthusiasm, Germany has rejected the U.S. request for more NATO troops to “secure” southern Afghanistan.

NATO t-shirtUnlike in the United States, the issue of Afghanistan ranks high on the priorities of the European (and Canadian) peace movement. With NATO headquartered in Brussels, the Belgian peace movement has taken a particularly strong stand against the new deployment. “Instead of a humanitarian intervention, we see an unacceptable amount of collateral damage,” a coalition of Belgian peace groups wrote in an open letter to the Belgian defense minister. “Human rights and women rights are violated at large scale whereas the massive opium production finances the corruption and the warlords. What kind of objectives, then, can Belgian defend there?”

At a conference last week in Brussels on the issue of military and humanitarian intervention, theoretical physicist and political commentator Jean Bricmont made the mordant observation that “we can’t solve our problems here in Belgium, but we are sending troops to Afghanistan to solve the problems there?”

Indeed, until recently, Belgium lacked a government. After elections in June, a plethora of small parties made it into parliament and spent six months failing to put together a ruling coalition. The country of French, Dutch, and German speakers threatened to split apart. A recent agreement to create a caretaker government also includes proposals to devolve certain federal power to the regions, which makes politicians in Dutch-speaking Flanders happy.

So, Belgium has temporarily averted becoming a failed state. But as Bricmont observed, can it truly help a country on the verge of again becoming a failed state? Peace activists in Belgium, one of whom shows off the latest anti-NATO fashion in this picture, say no.