Dutch government seeks to exploit geopolitical instability

A comment on raising the defence budget

Three months ago Oorlog is geen Oplossing.nl published a Manifesto against raising the defence budget. This was in response to the ‘Manifesto on strengthening Dutch defence’ presented by a number of former politicians and retired military officers one and a half month earlier, in which they propose to raise the defence budget with 1.5  billion euros. However, even more important than providing a response to that mixed-up narrative was our concern to make a stand against the much more widely accepted misconception that the Netherlands would have to rearm against presumed threats from abroad.

Earlier this week the budget for 2016 has been presented and the general parliamentary debate was held. The international threat that was at the centre of this debate was that of the increasing flow of refugees from Africa and the Middle East. These are people fleeing wars that our country is trying to end by military means. However, armed intervention only works to increase the number of people fleeing their homes, not reduce it. In our Manifesto we therefore call for a recognition of our own, Western role in the growing instability and to invest instead in diplomacy and development cooperation, not in military means.

In its budget plan the government proposes to raise defence expenditure for 2016 by 220 million euros and to henceforth apply an annual increase adding up to 345 million in 2020. In addition an extra 60 million will be made available in the coming years to cover the actual deployment of our armed forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Mali. All in all 1.5 billion euros will be added over the entire period of the next five years for defence and actual warfare. Luckily that is not yet 1.5 billion per year, but during the debate in the Second Chamber a motion was tabled calling on the government to work towards that goal.

A substantial part of the new money will be spent to cover various funding shortages that arose in the last few years as a consequence of deploying our armed forces in various theatres of war. New investments on the other hand seem to be aimed mainly to allow a return to the geopolitical contest of the Cold War. Jointly with Germany a tank battalion, scrapped a few years ago by our country, is to be given a new lease on life; military cooperation with Poland and the Baltic states is being intensified via NATO Force Integration Units and more frequent manoeuvres in these countries. Wouldn’t tensions  with Russia rise as a result of all that? 

Meanwhile the advocates of a growing defence budget should not be too content with this either, because the purchase of the Joint Strike Fighter with its ever-rising price tag still hangs over the defence budget like a sword of Damocles. The minister in a separate letter recognises that the total project budget for that purchase would be 740 million euros higher than the originally estimated 4.5 billion as a result of the unfavourable dollar-euro exchange rate. However she does not want to integrate these new figures into the defence budget because the dollar can also fall again. Even so, half of the increase of 1.5 billion may therefore be necessary to cover exchange rate fluctuations!

As far as diplomacy goes, the minister of foreign affairs on Friday 11 September let it be known that he wants to spend an extra 20 million on the foreign service—read, cut back twenty million less. But instead of investing these to improve relations with Russia and China or support peace initiatives in the Middle East, these additional diplomats will be primarily used to increase the power to act of NATO and the EU and will be posted at NATO HQ, in various EU capitals, at new posts in Belarus and Moldavia, and to reinforce existing posts in other (south-) east European countries.

In addition, diplomatic posts in Africa and the Middle East but also in wartorn Birma are being enlarged, but not with the primary purpose of assisting in solving the conflicts there but to foster Dutch economic interests. A quote from the relevant letter reads, ‘Geopolitical instability and opportunities for economic development are inextricably linked with each other, (…) For the Netherlands as an open trading country that means that economic growth is partly determined by what happens elsewhere in the world.’ This is too cynical for words and runs against the idea of reinforcing diplomacy in the sense argued in our Manifesto.

The same cynical commercial spirit also prevails in the budget intentions for Development Cooperation in which foreign trade is not only a matter of priority in the title of that department. To combat the causes of migration from Africa to Europe 50 million is slotted for employments programmes for African youth. However, expenditure for ‘sustainable development, food security and water’ is cut back by 40 million. In addition the budget of this ministry is declining by an approximate 70 million annually, whilst it also must cover the rising costs of the accommodation of refugees. The money for emergency aid is thus being subtracted from structural aid.

Certainly in the debate in the Second Chamber and various counter-budgets proposals are being made to scale back the proposed rise of the defence budget and raise that of development cooperation, or to avoid that the accommodation of refugees here and abroad is being charged against the development budget. It is highly questionable however whether these proposals will be adopted. The defence, foreign affairs and development cooperation budgets will be discussed in November. On the eve of those discussions we intend to present our Manifesto against a rise of the defence budget to the Second Chamber.

Jan Schaake

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