Britain and Belgium are locking horns in a furious despite after Brussels blocked the export of nuclear technology that plays a crucial role in maintaining the UK’s nuclear deterrent. Although both nations are part of the NATO military alliance, the federal Belgian Government refused to provide Britain with the so-called isostatic press that Britain needs to maintain its nuclear arsenal after the Belgian greens, which form part of the ruling coalition, vetoed the export.
Belgium’s deputy prime minister Georges Gilkinet, who is a member of the green party Ecolo and is opposed to nuclear weapons and the arms industry and blocked the export license that the UK needs after Brexit.
This kind of technology is used in the industry for handling radioactive waste and is a critical part of the manufacturing process in Britain’s Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston, the site responsible for the design, manufacture and maintenance of the UK’s nuclear warheads.
The Flemish BusinessAM website quoted a Belgian Government source saying: “This is hallucinatory. We are allies within Nato and in the context of a huge conflict on the borders of Europe. And now Ecolo is going to say that we are not allowed to supply weapons to our own Nato partner?”
Georges Dallemagne, a Christian Democrat MP, said in Belgian parliament: “This is all the more outrageous given the UK’s consistent military involvement in Nato . . . and in particular in the Ukrainian conflict where we should be following the example of our British allies.”
But military sources said Britain’s nuclear deterrent would not be at risk and can remain fully operational without the Belgian technology import. A source from the Royal Navy told The Times: “Whilst we are aware of the ongoing challenge, the equipment does not affect the continuous at-sea deterrent.”
Despite this, a furious row has erupted and been made public, even though it is supposed to be classified information for Belgian defence. The UK has responded by threatening to tear up an arms order worth up to £514.90 million (€600 million) ) for machineguns made by Belgium’s FN Herstal if the export license is not granted.
Britain is also threatening to cancel contracts worth between £257.40 and £514.90 million (€300 and €600 million).
The UK’s independent nuclear deterrent has existed for over 60 years and is constantly deployed at sea in atomic-powered ballistic missile submarines. These include the HMS Vanguard, HMS Victorious, HMS Vigilant and HMS Vengeance.
The three subs carry the Trident II D5, the Royal Navy’s ballistic missile system with a range of over 4,000 nautical miles. The system plays a role in deterring the most extreme threats to the country’s security as well as supporting NATO allies.
While the Ministry of Defence (MoD) argues that nuclear deterrence is needed to “preserve peace, prevent coercion and deter aggression” as “potential aggressors know that the costs of attacking the UK, or our NATO allies”, critics have long called for nuclear disarmament, a stance that tends to be more popular among green parties.
The UK’s Green Party argues: “The first objective of all government policy must be to provide real, sustainable security effectively. Real security cannot be based upon a balance of nuclear terror, nor upon a global domination by a group of states operating largely from self-interest.
“Societies and their governments must instead address the real threats facing us, by engaging in ecological and socially sustainable practices, eradicating poverty, and by building trust between peoples.”
But the MoD maintains that “a minimum, credible, independent nuclear deterrent, declared to the defence of NATO, is essential to our security and that of our NATO allies”.
And this comes as fears THAT a nuclear weapon could be deployed for the first time since World War II grow amid the war in Ukraine after Russian President Vladimir issued some terrifying warnings, using these threats of escalation to deter Western nations from intervening in the conflict.
Back in September, for instance, he accused NATO members of making statements about “the possibility and admissibility of using weapons of mass destruction—nuclear weapons—against Russia”.
He later threatened to escalate the conflict if any attacks were launched on Russian territory. Putin said: “In the event of a threat to the territorial integrity of our country and to defend Russia and our people, we will certainly make use of all weapon systems available to us. This is not a bluff.”