Members of the Belgian army have taken to the streets of Brussels in protest over changes to employment conditions. The situation escalated and police used tear gas and water cannon against them. Scuffles occurred outside the Ministry of Defense.
The protest was sparked by a government decision to hike the retirement age by seven years. Soldiers will also have to work a minimum period before qualifying for a pension.
The changes are set to come into force in January.
RT: This year the Belgian authorities declared a third-level terror threat. Yet the army, which is supposed to combat that very threat, is facing major changes to work conditions. Do these reforms come at a good time?
Jean Bricmont: No, but you see they make reforms wherever possible: to pensions, social security, health care, everybody is suffering from the cut backs. The army is also suffering from cut backs. But the problem I have is: Is the army really helping us fight terrorism or not? They can either fight terrorism abroad or in the territory of the country. Abroad I think they are not very useful because our role in the Middle East is very ambiguous, it is tied to NATO and to the US. And our role in Afghanistan doesn’t really help because I think we are not really fighting ISIS, we are also trying to overthrow Assad and it is an ambiguous role.
If you talk about inside [the country], then I don’t think it is the role of the army to fight terrorism inside because we are not really at war. There is army patrolling the streets in Brussels and other cities. But what does that change with terrorism? If I am a terrorist, I will just not do anything when they are there, I can wait five minutes and do something somewhere else. It is impossible to control terrorism by just having the army patrolling the streets.
We do fight terrorism by special operations, police methods, indicators, surveillance, etc. Obviously, the army is useless there. I don’t think the army is really protecting us. They used to protect us during the World Wars; at least, they tried to. But that was because we had conflict with our neighbors. Now we don’t have any conflicts. We are trying to make conflict through NATO with Russia, but Russia is not the enemy.
RT: We see anti-terror raids being carried out across Europe on a daily basis. So we can’t say governments aren’t taking any measures. What’s going wrong at present? Do you think is being done?
JB: Obviously not, but what should be done is not so clear because our policies encourage terrorism. The Western policies are complicated. Because on the one hand, we encourage terrorism by attacking those countries for no good reason, Libya, Syria, Iraq, etc. But also we encourage terrorism by actually supporting terrorists in Libya and Syria whenever they are told these terrorists could be used against a government that they didn’t like. Like they did in the 1980s with the Taliban or the mujahedin in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. It is totally incoherent to try to fight terrorism and at the same time use them for political purposes… It’s a suicidal policy.