Belgium is ready to bite the bullet and deploy Euromissiles
After weeks of wobbling, the Belgian government appears poised to begin deploying new nuclear Euromis-siles in Belgium nearly on schedule later this year. ``I think we'll see some positive development in the next few weeks,'' a source close to the government says.
Some political analysts predict the decision to start deploying 48 cruise missiles could be taken as early as Feb. 22 -- the date of a regular Cabinet meeting.
In 1979, Belgium, West Germany, Britain, Italy, and the Netherlands agreed to a NATO plan to counter the Soviet military buildup (especially SS-20 nuclear missiles) by deploying a total of 572 new US-made intermediate-range nuclear missiles, failing an agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union to limit their nuclear arsenals. NATO military experts later agreed that Belgium should begin deploying its share of the weapons in March of this year.
Under growing domestic pressure, however, the Belgian government has balked at giving deployment the go-ahead even as preparations to receive the missiles continue at an air base south of Brussels.
In December, for example, Prime Minister Wilfried Martens's own party -- the Flemish Christian People's Party -- voted to delay the start of deployment beyond March, forcing the government to postpone taking a final decision. During a widely publicized visit in Washington last month, Mr. Martens was unable to assure President Reagan that Belgium would go ahead with deployment on schedule.
Then Martens, who is understood to favor deployment, dispatched his foreign minister to NATO capitals to seek their opinions on what Belgium should do. Not surprisingly, Britain, West Germany, and Italy (which have already begun to deploy their share of the new NATO weapons) told Foreign Minister Leo Tindemans that Belgium should respect the deployment timetable laid down by NATO or risk a major split in the alliance just as new US-Soviet arms talks were about to begin.
Martens will use the Tindemans tour to counter domestic political and popular opposition to deployment, arguing that Belgium can't be expected to buck the collective opinion of its principal European partners.
Over the weekend, the Christian People's Party paved the way for a decision to begin deployment almost on schedule: A party congress refused to endorse an earlier call to delay deployment. The French-speaking Social Christians voted to back deployment on schedule. And leaders of the other two coalition parties reaffirmed their backing for the NATO timetable.