The U.S.-Belgian alliance underpins security, and working together with the other NATO nations, they offer reliability in an unpredictable world, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan said yesterday as he welcomed Belgian Defense Minister Didier Reynders to the Pentagon.
This was the minister’s first official meeting in the Pentagon in five years, but the two nations have close and constant contact. Shanahan noted this was the third consultation with the Belgian defense minister this week.
The United States and Belgium have been allies since World War II, and Shanahan spoke of the 75th anniversary of the end of the Battle of the Bulge during that war and the upcoming 70th anniversary of NATO to underscore the long partnership between the two nations.
The acting secretary also noted Belgium’s continued commitment of troops and air support to the Defeat-ISIS coalition and to the effort in Afghanistan, as well as the country’s promise to increase its troop contribution to the NATO mission in Iraq.
“I’m encouraged that our decades-long partnership on fighter aircraft will continue with your transition to the F-35A,” the secretary said. “We also welcome Belgium’s interest in the MQ-9B Sky Guardian [unmanned aerial vehicle].”
The two defense leaders discussed the problems posed by Russia and Russian muscle-flexing in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. They also discussed problems posed by Chinese efforts to infiltrate the technology base. The Belgian defense minister also addressed the challenge of China saying Belgium welcomes investments from around the world, but needs to put in place policies to “sort of protect some strategic interests.”
At the alliance’s 2014 summit in Wales, NATO member nations set a goal of spending at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. Shanahan noted the importance of that pledge.
“So that our alliance remains ready to meet the challenges of both today and tomorrow, I urge Belgium to meet its commitment of 2 percent defense spending under the Wales pledge,” he said.
Reynders said Belgium is well along in the process to increase defense spending. “We have now an investment project of $10 billion for the next decade,” he said. “And we have started the F-35, but we are certainly the same way for all the forces — for the navy, for the land forces and all.”
Reporters asked Shanahan and Reynders about reports that the European allies rejected U.S. requests that they stay in Syria after the U.S. pullout from the country. Reynders was in the meeting where this was discussed, and he said this did not happen. He said the countries involved with the effort in Syria are examining how they may take part in the process and insist on having a legal mandate. The nations involved want to see what the United States will do before making decisions, he added.
Reporters also asked Shanahan about President Donald J. Trump’s emergency declaration for the Southwest border. The acting secretary said DOD is working closely with the Department of Homeland Security to get its input, facts, data and priorities.
“When we do, we’ll then process that. … We’ll match that with our mission analysis and begin the process,” he said, adding that Congress would be briefed on the way forward and “to give people not just a sense of the activities we’re going to undertake, but the timing.”