Dutch Likely to Suspend Tanks Sale to Indonesia

Opposition lawmakers are critical of the planned arms sale, citing Indonesian human rights abuses.

A Norwegian Leopard 1 tank during an exercise near the town of Sessvollmoen, September 8, 2010
A Norwegian Leopard 1 tank during an exercise near the town of Sessvollmoen, September 8, 2010 (Soldatnytt)

The Dutch government may have to scrap a €200 million tanks sale to Indonesia after a majority of lawmakers criticized the deal on Thursday.

The ruling coalition of Christian Democrat and liberal parties had hoped to sell eighty Leopard tanks to the former Dutch colony which would have accounted for a fifth in a total of €1 billion in defense spending reductions but they do not have a majority. Except for the liberal Democrats, left- and right-wing opposition parties have condemned the deal, citing human rights abuses in the world’s largest Muslim country.

Ruling party lawmakers insist that Indonesia is a democratic country that enjoys strong bilateral ties with the Netherlands which can only benefit from the arms deal. Jakarta would probably turn to Germany to purchase tanks if the Netherlands cancel their sale. Opposition figures dismiss this line of thinking as “unscrupulous” and argue that “narrow” Dutch trade and strategic interests shouldn’t exclusively guide defense and foreign policy.

The government admits that there are still “internal tensions” in the Maluku and Papua islands, majority Christian provinces that once aspired to autonomy or independence, but says that human rights in Indonesia have “markedly improved” overall. Sectarian violence has largely subdued. Uri Rosenthal, the foreign minister, further argues that the tanks sale would fully qualify with the European Union’s criteria for weapons exports.

Whatever the opposition’s concerns, the Dutch Leopard tanks could hardly be deployed to the Moluccas and Papua given the mountainous terrain and dense forestation there. Indonesia seeks the vehicles as part of a military buildup that is aimed at countering China’s rise in East Asia.

The government could ignore the political opposition. Arms sales do not require a parliamentary consent. Lawmakers could in turn call a confidence vote against the defense or foreign minister if not the cabinet altogether but it has already resigned. The coalition lost its majority in April when it failed to agree on a budget and governs on a caretaker basis.

Elections are scheduled for September. It is expected that the next government will make the final decision on the arms sale.

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