After Dutch Hesitation, Indonesia Buys German Tanks

Political resistance killed a planned Dutch tanks sale to Indonesia, forcing the island nation to turn to the Germans.

A German Leopard tank participates in a military exercise, September 28, 2011
A German Leopard tank participates in a military exercise, September 28, 2011 (Bundeswehr/Kazda)

Indonesia’s deputy defense minister Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin announced on Monday that his country will buy $280 million worth of German Leopard tanks. The island nation had planned to buy the tanks from its former colonial master the Netherlands but political resistance to the arms deal forced the government there to suspend the sale.

“We chose Germany because we can have certainties in terms of time of procurement and volume to meet our needs,” said Sjafrie to a press conference in Jakarta.

The ruling coalition of Christian Democrat and liberal parties in the Netherlands had hoped to sell up to eighty Leopard tanks to Indonesia but except for the liberal Democrats, left- and right-wing opposition parties condemned the sale, citing human rights abuses in the world’s largest Muslim country.

The Dutch caretaker government, which will rule at least until September when parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place, admitted that there are “internal tensions” in Indonesia’s Maluku and Papua islands, majority Christian provinces that once aspired to autonomy or independence, but argued that human rights in the country had “markedly improved” overall.

The tanks can 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 first fifteen German-made Leopards are expected to arrive in Indonesia in October. The remaining 85 will gradually arrive until the middle of 2014.

The next Dutch government will now have to find up to €200 million in additional defense spending reductions.