English Version of "Atomwaffen in Belgien"

What to do about nuclear weapons in Belgium?

von Merel Selleslach

Since 1963 Belgium has the questionable honour to be one of five hosting countries of US nuclear weapons in Europe, together with Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. There are currently about twenty B61 bombs stationed in the Kleine Brogel airbase. These are soon to be upgraded to B61-12 bombs that are even more dangerous. The bombs are probably the best kept secret in Belgium. Fortunately that has never stopped the Belgian, nor the international peace movement.

Nukes in Belgium: secrecy, lies and historic wrongdoing

Just like in many other countries nuclear weapons in Belgium have an aura of secrecy and undemocratic policies. This should come as no surprise when we know that the bombs in Belgium were stationed through lies from the government. We have to go 50 years back in time to understand the historic wrongdoing.

In 1962 the Belgian parliament voted a law on allowing NATO troops to pass through the territory. This was needed because the constitution would not allow foreign troops on the territory. Nonetheless parliament wanted to avoid that law would be used to allow nuclear weapons in Belgium. It therefore proposed an article explicitly excluding nuclear weapons from the law. However, after then Minister of Foreign Affairs reassured parliamentarians the government would never try to station nuclear weapons in Belgium by using said law, parliament dropped the article. A year later it became clear as day that the population and parliament were lied when the bombs arrived in Kleine Brogel. The decision to station the weapons in Belgium had already been taken even before the law of 1962 was approved by parliament.

The fact that government still denies nor confirms the presence of nuclear weapons in Belgium makes it hard for parliament to have open discussions on their utility and the safety of the Belgian population.

Belgium – a supporter of nuclear disarmament?

Each new government reiterates its support for a world free of nuclear weapons, but it is still waiting for practical steps towards real disarmament. Belgium considers the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to be the corner stone of global nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. While most of the NPT conclusions of the last two decades remained hollow phrases, a majority of states worked hard together with civil society on real nuclear disarmament. The result was the adoption by 122 states of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in 2017. A historic milestone that would finally hold nuclear weapon states to the same standard as those without them. Unfortunately Belgium did not choose to participate in the negotiations, and even worse was actively sabotaging the new treaty together with its NATO allies. Nonetheless the B61’s in Kleine Brogel are illegal under international law as of now thanks to the TPNW. The TPNW helps us put renewed pressure on the government to finally take real practical steps towards true disarmament.

Public opposition remains strong

The Belgian population has always shown strong opposition towards nuclear weapons. In 1984 the largest national protests ever took place in Brussels. Together with people all over the world 400,000 people came to the capital to protest the nuclear arms race and the installation of new nuclear missiles in Europe and Belgium.

Several peace organisations across Belgium organized themselves in a Coaliton against Nuclear Weapons. The Coalition tries to aim outside their own circles with trade unions and other civil society actors also being members of the platform. Through activities with the public, organizinig of demonstrations, sharing of petitions, civil disobedience actions they have managed to bring the issue back on the political agenda.

Today, almost 40 years after 1984, we still see strong opposition towards nuclear weapons. A couple of years back a petition to urge the government not to buy 34 F35 fighter jets with a nuclear capacity was signed by more than 35,000 people. According to a poll by YouGov in November 2020 a majority of the Belgian population wants the B61’s to be gone from Kleine Brogel. Even stronger is the support for the TPNW with 77% of Belgians wanting their government to sign the treaty. Despite corona restrictions people went celebrating in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to announce the entry into force of the treaty in January 2021. Moreover one of the biggest Belgian banks announced that it would not be investing in any nuclear weapons activities anymore.

Renewed hope

The pressure coming from NATO is not to be underestimated, but the first cracks are starting to show mainly due to the actions of two hosting nations. The Netherlands, under pressure from the Dutch public and civil society, was the only NATO state present during the TPNW negotiations in 2017. More recently the new Belgian government decided to “examine how to strengthen the multilateral non-proliferation framework and how the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons can give new impetus to multilateral nuclear disarmament”[1]. Clearly, the populations of NATO hosting states do no longer agree with the status quo.

It is therefore important that the anti-nuclear movement works together across borders to unite forces. On 26 September, the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, we gather with Belgian, Dutch and German activists to form a human chain around the Kleine Brogel airbase. Our message will be loud and clear: the B61’s in Europe are illegal! We want a nuclear weapons free zone in Europe. The action will be echoed by activists in Italy and the UK.


Merel Selleslach works with Pax Christi Vlaanderen on nuclear disarmament, autonomous weapon systems and topics related with international peace and security. As such she is an active member of the Belgian anti-nuclear movement.

[1] Belgian government declaration, 30 September 2020

Anmerkung: Dieser Artikel ist im Friedensforum in einer übersetzten Version auf Deutsch erschienen.
Note: This article is published in the magazine Peace Forum in a translated version in German.



Friedensbewegung international
Merel Selleslach arbeitet bei Pax Christi Vlaanderen zu nuklearer Abrüstung, autonomen Waffensystemen und Themen im Zusammenhang mit internationalem Frieden und Sicherheit. Als solche ist sie ein aktives Mitglied der belgischen Anti-Atomkraft-Bewegung.