== Belgian Public Diplomacy Efforts==

Since World War II, Belgian public diplomacy efforts have focused on two main foreign policy objectives: maintaining good relations with the United States and repaying the debt of the nation’s colonialist past. In terms of the former, relations with the United States, Belgium has developed strong ties through decades of cooperation on both economic and diplomatic fronts. Belgium has always depended heavily on foreign investment and trade within its own continent. However, since the institution of the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe in the wake of World War II, Belgium's economy has developed equally deep relationships with that of the United States. By 2003, more than 1,400 U.S. firms had invested over $25 billion into Belgium's economy, and U.S. companies accounted for roughly 6 percent of Belgium's overall employment. Partly because of this shared economic interest and, probably in larger part, due to its continuing gratitude toward the U.S. for its liberation in WWII, Belgium's foreign policy and public diplomacy has, with some notable exceptions, attempted to closely follow U.S. initiatives and aims. For example, in the 60th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of the Bulge in 2004, Houffalize and other nearby villages shut down completely to make way for large crowds of residents welcoming U.S. veterans back to the site of the battle, presenting certificates of honorary citizenship and giving speeches of personal thanks. Since the September 11 attacks, Belgium has taken a large role in combating terrorism, helping to obtain EU-wide agreement on a European arrest warrant and in facilitating extradition of terrorist suspects. Belgium, in collaboration with the English and other outside authorities, has also led high-profile prosecutions of terrorist suspects, convicting 18 al-Qaeda members of plotting to set explosives at a Belgian military base housing U.S. troops. Moreover, Belgium contributed a navy frigate, several aircraft, and ground troops to the U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan. As in France, the Belgian government did not support the invasion of Iraq, but a range of newspapers and politicians, especially those representative of the older generations, showed strong support for following the U.S. into battle, even if general support for the war itself was minimal.

Among Belgium's responses to its darker colonialist past in central Africa is its strong commitment to international aid, which consistently ranks among the world's most generous nations in terms of per capita aid (especially to undeveloped countries), despite the country's equally high national debt, which hovers near 100 percent of national GDP. In the Great Lakes region (home to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi), unified Belgian efforts have focused on both supporting the peace process and lobbying international organizations for increased humanitarian and infrastructure development aid. Belgium has provided financial and political assistance to the Lusaka process for the Congo and the Arusha agreement for Burundi, and in 2002, when peace negotiations faltered, the country sponsored Inter-Congolese talks in Brussels to ease tensions. {C Belgian officials have also on occasion attempted to promote the Belgian federalist model of government as a means to resolve conflicts, such as those in the Balkans and central Africa, where national identities cross over equally strong, ethnic divides. Since the constitutional revisions of 1970, Belgium has, in effect, functioned as four somewhat autonomous governments: the government of Flanders representing the Dutch (or Flemish)-speaking north, the government of Wallonia representing the French-speaking south, the government for Brussels (which is ethnically divided among the two), and the federal government representing all. This multi-layered system of government has led to fractious disputes and questions regarding separations of powers spawning often-divided efforts at public diplomacy. Each division of government has, after all, the legal right to engage in diplomatic relations. {C Partly because of its interdependent economy and partly because of its past military domination by Germany, France, Spain, and the Netherlands, Belgium, despite its divided national identity, has always sought strong alliances and believed passionately in a united Europe. Brussels is home to the headquarters of both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union (EU), Belgium was among the founding members of each organization. From May to December of 2001, Belgium assumed control over the rotating Presidency of the European Union and took the occasion to further the enlargement of the Union, lobbying heavily for the inclusion of Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic in addition to special assistance for Bulgaria and Romania in their incorporation process. To strengthen relations with the former Soviet-bloc nations, Belgium has also utilized EU agreements, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and NATO's Partnership for Peace. Long before the European Union and even the European Community came to existence, Belgium pushed its goals of expanding European alliances through NATO, seeking to enlarge defense networks through more substantive cooperation and the incorporation of new nations under the continental umbrella. In 1967, Belgian Minister of State Pierre Harmel wrote an infleuntial report (later dubbed the Harmel Report) outlining the goals and challenges of NATO in the Cold War world. The Harmel Report opened an unprecedented dialogue with the East and, to a certain extent, still functions as NATO’s guiding policy document. Many of its central ideas found application in 1997 through both the Founding Act (with Russia) and the Charter on a Distinctive Partnership with Ukraine. Likewise, the Partnership for Peace of 1994, which Belgium helped initiate, brought 30 new countries into cooperation with NATO and eventually lead to 10 new member states joining from Eastern and Mediterranean Europe.

For a variety of reasons, including certain cultural issues, Belgium has long believed it should wield an influence in foreign affairs dispproportionate to its diminutive size. One reflection of this is Belgium's federal court system, which until 2003 claimed universal jurisdiction over all international war crimes, allowing cases from any place involving any party to be brought to Belgian courts (some of these trials have included human rights violations from the Great Lakes region). The government of prime minister Guy Verhofstadt led a succesful campaign to repeal this controversial statute by arguing that cases brought under the law could be handled by the International Criminal Court under the nearly identical Rome Statute for the prosecution of international war crimes and crimes against humanity. Even after the law’s repeal in 2003, Belgian courts maintain the ability to prosecute crimes in foreign countries where Belgians are involved and crimes specifically related to the Rwandan genocide. In fact, during the ongoing sessions of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Belgium in fact led separate prosecutions in its own courts convicting two Belgian nuns and several former civil service agents for participating in the genocide and later prosecuting several Rwandans that had attempted to seek refuge within Belgium. Though the Verhofstadt government presented the repeal of the universal jurisdiction law as a bow to the international community, the move was also clearly motivated by Belgium’s first public diplomacy goal: maintaining good relations with the United States. The statute drew sharp criticism from U.S. officials, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in particular, after the indictment of, among others, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and later Rumsfeld himself. In a sense, as the international organs, such as NATO, the EU and ICC, long-championed by Belgium have developed into functioning bodies, Belgian public diplomacy has taken on a more subtle form. Nonetheless, if history is a good indication, the country will continue to take a suprisingly active role in international relations through its public diplomacy.

Vital Information

  • Capital - Brussels
  • Population - 10,379,067 (July 2006 est.)
  • Government – Federal Parliamentary Democracy under a Constitutional Monarch
  • Chief of State King Albert II
  • Prime Minster Elio Di Rupo

Government Agencies

Belgian Federal Government Online

International Broadcasting



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