No Tomahawks - yet - for Dutch defence minister

26 November 2004

No Tomahawks - yet - for Dutch defence minister

While the Dutch government remains committed to a broad package of extensive spending cuts, Defence Minister Henk Kamp wants the country to beef up its military capability by buying Tomahawk cruise missiles. It’s a controversial wish on his part at a time when most people in the country are feeling the effect of government cutbacks. On Thursday, parliament in The Hague blocked the plans, with only Mr Kamp’s liberal-conservative VVD actually backing his proposal. The left-wing opposition is opposed, and even the VVD’s main coalition partner, the Christian Democrats, wants to wait and not take a final decision until 2006.

by the Radio Netherlands Internet desk

Harry van Bommel, a member of the Dutch Socialist Party, says it’s wrong for the minister to try and buy new weapons at a time of cutbacks:

"This government has a policy of cuts in all sectors of the welfare state. We have three million people now not having dental care any more because it’s out of the national health service […] everybody has been facing cuts. At the same time, our defence minister is suggesting that we should buy a new weapon system worth over 100 million euros. I think it is very inappropriate at this moment in time to have this discussion."
However, retired Major General Frank van Kappen of the Dutch marine corps says the minister is pushing for the acquisition of cruise missiles because of the radical changes taking place in the nature of modern military operations:

"The situation has changed in the world, and what he is trying to do is tailor the Netherlands’ defence forces for the new operational environment. He believes that the Netherlands should be able to participate in combined operations over the full spectrum of violence."
If the green light for the new military hardware is ever forthcoming, the missiles will be deployed with the Dutch navy. Mr van Kappen explains that this is because this branch of the armed forces needs to shift its focus to be able to go on cooperating fully with the navies of allied nations:
"Traditionally the Netherlands navy has been focussed on anti-submarine warfare in the Greenland-Iceland-UK gap, and land-attack capability in the Netherlands navy is virtually non-existent. In the new operational environment, the role of the Netherlands navy will be defined by how well they can contribute to a joint and combined operation that eventually focuses on land. The Tomahawk cruise missiles provide that land-attack capability, and they’re relatively cheap."

But Socialist parliamentarian Harry van Bommel sees things differently. He believes Minister Kamp’s plan to acquire the cruise missiles has more to do with pushing the Netherlands forward as a more significant player in international crisis situations:

"I think he wants to use Tomahawk cruise missiles because he wants the Netherlands to play a more important role if it comes to an international crisis. The cruise missiles are going to promote this because they are to be used at an earlier stage of war or any conflict. And he has even said that, in some cases, that might even be without UN authorisation, and that’s why we are so very much opposed to the Netherlands buying cruise missiles."

As Mr van Bommel sees it, once the country has such missiles it could, when a crisis arises, be put under a lot of pressure to actually use them:
"The Dutch army would be asked by NATO or by an ally to step into a war at an earlier stage. We would be pressed to do so because we then have the possession of these cruise missiles, we also have frigates that have to be used to fire these missiles."

The Netherlands has already committed itself to participation in the United States Joint-Strike Fighter project, and Harry van Bommel believes that buying the Tomahawks as well would push the country even more under the umbrella of US foreign policy, further away from a joint European approach, and limit The Hague’s ability to chart its own independent course:

"It also links us more closely to the United States’ foreign policy, because US satellites will be used to fire their missiles […] By buying the Joint Strike Fighter, by buying cruise missiles; we are hooking up to American foreign policy stronger than we ever did. Therefore, it will be in future virtually impossible to define our own course of action in foreign policy; we will follow the Americans more often and at an earlier stage of conflicts. We as the Socialist Party in the Netherlands have no intention to do that."

In Mr van Bommel’s view, the defence minister’s plan has a lot to do with the government’s support for last year’s war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and a related desire to take active part if such a conflict arises in the future:

"The Dutch gave political support to the invasion of Iraq, not militarily. But that was only because there was a formation of a new government going on. Now, buying these cruise missiles would enable us to take part really in the first stages of a war, and therefore the support is coming from those parties who originally said that we should have taken part [in Iraq] in a military way as well."

You are here