After years of holding together, the defense could spend billions of euros in the coming years. The biggest investment since the end of the Cold War is to pull the armed forces out of the doldrums. But this task will not be done overnight.
The cuts left deep marks on the Defense Department. The property is in poor condition, equipment is unused and neglected in the shed and there are thousands of vacancies.
The switch to investing has already been made, but the war in Ukraine has yielded billions more. In this way, the Netherlands will meet NATO standards in 2024 and 2025. This means that the country spends 2% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on the armed forces.
The Netherlands has not committed to this since the end of the Cold War. Although CDA, ChristenUnie, VVD and FVD wanted to evolve toward the long-term standard, only SGP has achieved the 2 percent point for years.
Because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, defense suddenly became a priority for many parties. The D66’s proposal to invest more quickly in the armed forces has been supported by PvdA and GroenLinks.
Ollongren’s shopping list is long
Minister Kajsa Olungren (Defence) is now allowed to spend an additional €5 billion annually. So the shopping list is long.
“It’s basically reforms,” explains defense expert Peter Wijinga. He is himself a former soldier and is now affiliated with the Hague Center for Strategic Studies. “For example, the army is getting a new missile system. We had it once, but we scaled it down and sold it in 2004. Nota bene to Finland.”
Wijninga would never have thought that it was possible to get the extra billions without the war in Ukraine. “Of course, 3 billion promises have already been made that we can come to an end. But now you see that we can continue.”
Defense is struggling with a very bad image
Money offers a defensive view again. But the main problem facing the armed forces is the shortage of personnel. “It was torment and bleak for 25 years. There were incidents traceable to politics and the picture was quite bad. The salary was also very low. Working for defense was not attractive,” says Wijninga.
Perhaps the clearest example dates back to 2015. There were reports that due to a lack of bullets, soldiers were saying “thump, thump, thump!” Had to scream during the exercise.
A new collective labor agreement must now turn the tide. Lower ranks earn about 20 percent in wages. Wijinga: “That shows how big the gap is.”
‘The Netherlands is not a superpower’
The plans were received generally favorably at the council, although the SP, among other things, is critical. “It is right that the employees receive the money,” says MP Jasper van Dyck. “But the positive story so far.” He fears the defense is going too far. “The Netherlands is not a superpower. We should not join the big ones.”
The VVD believes that defense sets the right priorities. Representative Peter Wallstar is particularly pleased with the return of the base. “We should also not be under the illusion that we can defend our territory. I see NATO as a puzzle in which each country puts its own role.”
For example, the Netherlands is clearly investing in its strike force with additional F-35 fighter jets, additionally armed Reaper drones, air and missile defenses (on land, sea and air), intelligence gathering and special forces, Wijninga explains. We can turn to Germany for tanks with which the army is increasingly integrated.
Can the money be spent?
Valstar lowers expectations. “You can’t go to the supermarket and buy the things you want,” said the VVD member. This is indeed a frequently asked question: Can Olungren spend all that money? The Netherlands is not the only country seeking additional equipment because of the war.
Wijinga explains that the investments the Department of Defense wants to make will not be ready overnight. “You’ll have to spread it out over several years.”
Finding enough employees also takes time. More technicians, logistics planners, drivers and nurses are needed to support the forces. With this said, many tasks can be done for a longer period of time and more exercises can be done.
“It is taking the first steps toward the armed forces we want in ten to fifteen years,” Olungren said, Wednesday.
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