Dutch defense minister Hans Hillen has warned that deeper defense cuts would jeopardize national security.
“You cannot say that the world is safe,” he told the Nieuwsuur television program. “If we reduce [spending] further, we won’t be safe anymore.”
Hillen responded to an opinion poll which found that 60 percent of Dutch voters wouldn’t object to deeper defense spending cuts.
Opposition to the F-35
Most respondents also agreed with left-wing opposition parties that the Netherlands should pull out of the Joint Strike Fighter program, which produces the F-35 fighter jet that is slated to replace the aging F-16.
Parliament voted to end the Netherlands’ participation in the project in July, but Hillen, who is the member of a caretaker government, refused to carry out the motion.
The next government will need to decide whether or not to continue the F-35. Elections are due in three weeks’s time.
The NATO country originally committed to invest $800 million in the development of the fifth-generation fighter aircraft and buy 85 planes.
However, as the aircraft’s costs have mounted, the number of total acquisitions could drop to as few as 42.
The Royal Netherlands Air Force operated 87 F-16 fighters until 2011, when, as a result of spending cuts, nineteen jets were retired.
Because of the Dutch involvement in Afghanistan, defense spending rose from €7.7 billion in 2007 to a high of €8.5 billion in 2009.
This year’s budget allocates €7.8 billion to defense, 4 percent of total government spending.
Dutch security may not be directly threatened if there are further reductions, but it is already doubtful if the country can field another military operation on the scale it did in Uruzgan between 2006 and 2010.
Its present mission in Afghanistan involves a police training mission in the province of Kunduz.
The Netherlands’ ability to mount naval operations is unlikely to suffer as four new frigates of the De Zeven Provinciën class have joined the fleet in the last decade.
Three Royal Netherlands Navy ships are currently involved in anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that 75 percent of Dutch voters support deeper defense spending cuts, but that is the share of voters who support cuts to procurement. 60 percent agree that defense in general can be cut.