The Netherlands publishes national plan on the NATO Defence Investment Pledge

– the first NATO member state to make plan publicly available

– plan airbrushes out nuclear role

21 December 2018

On the 14 December, the Netherlands government approved and published its national plan on the NATO Defence Investment Pledge. This 3-page document includes a commitment to increase defence spending in 2019.

At the July 2018 NATO summit, government leaders and heads of state agreed to announce by the end of 2018 their plans on how to increase their defence spending up to 2024. As far as is known – and NATO Watch would welcome being corrected on this point if wrong – to date, the Netherlands is the first and only member state to have published such a plan.

NATO allies had agreed at the 2014 Wales Summit to increase their defence spending over a 10-year period to achieve the NATO norm of 2% of GDP. They also agreed to invest more in key military capabilities and equipment, and to contribute personnel to NATO missions and operations. In 2017 NATO member states agreed to report annually on how they intend to make progress on all three commitments: more money, capabilities and contributions. Before this 2014 Defence Investment Pledge was agreed, only three allies met the 2% target. By the end of 2018, eight allies are expected to meet the target, and by 2024 this is expected to increase to 15 member states.

At the February 2018 meeting of NATO Defence Ministers the first national annual reports on NATO’s Defence Investment Pledge were reviewed, but apparently not all member states submitted plans and none were made public. It was reported by the Wall Street Journal on the 9 February, for example, that fewer than half of NATO’s 29 member states actually submitted one.

The 2018 Brussels Summit Declaration, notes that two-thirds of NATO member states have national plans in place, but seemingly the Netherlands is the first member state to actually publish one. This lack of transparency within a ‘values-based’ alliance remains deeply troubling. Openness, trust and public accountability are among the obvious benefits arising from transparency in military spending plans. It is also vital to promoting integrity in public governance and strengthening anti-corruption policies.

The Netherlands plan sets out five investment priorities:  additional F-35 combat aircraft; increases in land forces; expansion of maritime forces; reinforcement of special operations forces; and strengthening of the cyber and information domains. Additional follow-up steps are expected to be included in a review of the Netherlands Defence White Paper in 2020, which is expected to cover matters such as personnel, operational management, national security and knowledge and innovation.

While the plan sets out that the Netherlands will purchase additional F-35 aircraft, it does not give numbers and neither does it mention the aircraft’s controversial dual role of delivering nuclear weapons under NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangement. Under this arrangement, an arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons consisting entirely of US-owned air-delivered B61 gravity bombs, are hosted by five NATO countries—Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey—and all of these but Turkey have dual-capable aircraft dedicated to their delivery.

In the case of the Netherlands this currently involves F-16 combat aircraft, but these are due to be replaced by the F-35 from 2019 onwards. In 2013 the Dutch Government announced that it would purchase 37 F-35 aircraft at a cost of around 4.5 billion Euros. In January 2014, the Dutch defence and foreign affairs ministers revealed that their F-35s could be used for delivery of nuclear weapons, despite a 2012 motion approved by a majority of Dutch parliamentarians that there should be no nuclear role.

In September 2018, the Dutch Ministry of Defence removed the cap of 4.5 billion Euros allocated to the procurement of the F-35, and with this potentially enlarged budget it was anticipated that the initially planned 67 aircraft would be procured, spread over 4 squadrons. It is assumed, therefore, that the increases noted in the NATO investment plan refer to these additional 30 aircraft. However, it would have been useful if the plan had explicitly stated the exact number of aircraft being procured and whether the nuclear role remains part of the Faustian bargain.