Starting from January 1, 2017, Belgian and Dutch air forces will guard the Benelux airspace alternately. An agreement signed by the three member countries back in March 2015 prepared the way for this, the technical arrangement signed in Rotterdam on Wednesday, now fixed the details of this international military cooperation.
According to the quick reaction alert (QRA) in place up until now, two Dutch and two Belgian fighter jets have been on alert in case of a “renegade”, meaning for example the hijacking of a civil plane by terrorists. Luxembourg does not possess any fighter jets, but participates in the agreement.
Thanks to the new arrangement, the Dutch and Belgians will be on QRA-duty alternately for four months, freeing up the other country’s fighter jets for other missions. The Dutch jets will operate from the air bases in Volkel and Leeuwarden, the Belgian jets from Kleine-Brogel and Florennes.
Use of force as a last resort
The fighter jets can intervene in case of a violation of Benelux airspace. If the intruding aircraft is not following instructions or a terrorist menace is highly probable, the jets can use force as a last resort. Luxembourg excluded the use of lethal intervention in its own airspace in the agreement.
The innovative part of this agreement is the opening of national airspace for the air forces of the partner countries. Belgian fighter jets can enter Dutch airspace under the command of the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice, Dutch jets can enter Belgium airspace under the command of the Belgian Ministry of Defence. In Luxembourg, the responsible authority is also the Ministry of Defence.
The Belgian Minister of Defence Vandeput called this agreement “groundbreaking. There are no other countries that trust each other in a way that they allow each other into their countries’ sovereign limits in case of a serious incident.”
The Benelux countries are hoping to give inspiration for more inter-European military cooperation in future, a subject that has been a very sensitive one for many countries since the inception of the European integration process.