Why the Dutch Military Punches Below Its Weight
(Source: Carnegie Europe; issued Feb 08, 2018)
By Marc Bentinck
Years of spending cuts have left the Dutch armed forces unable to meet even NATO’s Article 5 commitments.

Amid all the hype about European defense, what’s happening back in the member states is sometimes forgotten. After all, they have to adopt defense budgets, procure military equipment, and send troops into combat.

Take the case of the Netherlands. Its previous defense minister had to concede in 2015 that the Dutch armed forces were not fully up to their Article 5 defense tasks. The Netherlands, by the way, was not alone.

Like other European militaries, the Dutch armed forces emerged diminished from the “peace dividend” era of the immediate post-Cold War years. Its active troop strength shrank from over 105,000 in 1989 to a mere 36,500 in 2016. Today they would be unable to simultaneously field a provincial reconstruction team in southern Afghanistan and deploy another 1,300 troops elsewhere in the world, as they did between 2006 and 2010. Such is the legacy of the peace dividend.

Since the early 1990s, the military has been a sitting duck for successive Dutch governments seeking to trim public finances. When dealing with the defense budget, The Hague studiously avoided taking into account the mounting evidence of a deteriorating security environment. Instead, it had a standard policy based on defense cuts.

A reappraisal finally came in 2016, when Mark Rutte’s second government (at the time) belatedly announced an incremental rise in spending. Rutte’s third government, which took office in October 2017, now seems to have bitten the bullet. It is planning to spend up to €1.5 billion per year on defense.

The extra money, however, will remedy only the worst shortcomings, such as readiness, firepower, and sustainability. It will not bring the Dutch defense effort—which was a mere 1.17 percent of GDP in 2016—in line with the European NATO average of 1.46 percent of GDP. And it falls far short of meeting the 2 percent of GDP spending goal agreed within NATO—an objective that the economically buoyant Dutch is expected to reach.

Deliberately punching below one’s weight does entail political costs. (end of excerpt)


Click here for the full story, on the Carnegie Europe website.

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