Tanks for SaleToday, the Dutch armed forces are saying farewell to of all their 60 Leopard tanks, four mine sweepers and 14 Cougar helicopters. The cabinet has decided to make a structural one-billion-euro cut to the defence budget. The surplus hardware will be sold off and 12,000 jobs scrapped.
Speaking to RNW, defence expert and retired major general Kees Homan said scornfully: "We are known as one of the world's biggest arms exporters, but that's mainly because we are selling off all kinds of materiel." General Homan said that the radical slimming down of the army will undermine the Netherlands' international standing.
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The former general argues that the sales of surplus materiel can also lead to embarrassing situations. For instance in Egypt and Bahrain, where Dutch armoured personnel carriers and other arms were used against their own population.
"Of course the cabinet has an arms policy in place, which requires that certain criteria are met before deliveries can be made to other countries. When a country is stable at the moment that the arms are being supplied but unrest brakes out afterward in which these weapons are used, that's a highly embarrassing situation."
In the early 1990s, it was decided that the Netherlands had to be able to simultaneously take part in four international missions, but the current round of budget cuts has effectively halved that number. According to Mr Homan, there is really no justification for this change of heart:
"The Netherlands has a vested interest in international stability. We are an open society which depends on trade and such. We are also a rich country, which ranks 16th on the list of the world's richest nations, and ninth on the list of the biggest trading nations. I believe this entails obligations regarding peace and security."
Soldiers and other Defence personnel are still trying to turn the tide and reverse some of the radical cuts. The army is scheduled to hold a protest on 26 May, but Mr Homan believes it will have little effect:
"The problem with the military is that we lack grassroots support. Development cooperation, education, agriculture, they all have organised support groups which will lobby to prevent painful measures. The only support groups we have are the military unions. And people will immediately say the're only trying to save their own skins."
In a marked difference with other countries, the Dutch population has no emotional ties with its armed forces.
Source : Radio Netherlands Worldwide