This afternoon, the Minister of Defense Ank Bijleveld presented the Defense Vision 2035. A plan that shows the new course that Defense is going to take. A course that will be taken regardless of the budget. However, to do everything right, more money is needed, 13 to 17 billion euros to be a little more precise. The Defense Division also has a striking turn: specialization, some we will no longer do.
Minister Bijleveld listens to a question from a journalist. In the front row State Secretary Barbara Visser and LADM Rob Bauer. (Image: Youtube / Defense)
Minister Bijleveld is clear: money needs to be added. During the press presentation of the Defense Vision 2035 this afternoon, she repeated it several times: the Netherlands will soon be the fifth largest economy in Europe, but will be at the bottom of the list of countries when it comes to the NATO standard of 2% defense expenditure. “You can’t,” she said. She also pointed to the signature that Prime Minister Rutte put in 2014 under the agreement to comply with that requirement in 2024. But Bijleveld is no longer about it. The current cabinet has passed Budget Day and discussions about budgets are now a lot easier for Bijleveld: that will be for the next cabinet, after the elections in March 2021.
Yet the Defense Vision is not an empty document, because “regardless of the budget, Defense must change,” said Bijleveld this afternoon. “Otherwise we will fight yesterday’s war and you will lose.” What does that new course mean? “From now on we will work differently: high-tech, information-driven, scalable from small to large and independent.” Defense does not wait for the organization to be restored, because, said Bijleveld, the restoration must also be based on the new way of working.
That Defense cannot wait explained Lt. Admiral Rob Bauer, Commander of the Armed Forces (CDS), using an example: “We used to have too little intelligence and now we have so much data that we will drown in it if you don’t watch out. must be able to get into that huge mountain faster, more differentiated to the unit it needs, at sea, on land, in the air, at the border, and get the commander on site for the next 30 minutes information he needs. Setting up that whole process is technology, IT, and is about storage, searching and being able to get that information there. That is what it will be about in the coming years. ”
In order to make the ultimate goal, all ten of the ‘design principles’ mentioned in the Defense Vision must be followed. These are principles in the field of technology (personnel, innovation, flexibility, escalation dominance), information-driven action (intelligence and far-reaching cooperation between the armed forces at home and abroad), reliability (transparent and visible in society, stronger Europe, specialization).
Specialization: “we are not going to do some things anymore”
It is striking that Defense opts for specialization. Specialization was one of the spearheads of the PvdA’s plans in 1974. Because the navy also had plans to purchase new submarines around that time, the new Den Uyl cabinet saw a possibility not to purchase those boats, the Onderzeedienst op and leave the tasks to other countries. It gave a false start to the Walrus project, but it did not happen any further, Defense was opposed to specialization. Later on it was often criticized that during cutbacks too much work was done with the cheese slicer to keep all parts upright.
In later years, specialization was mainly something that was repeated by parties such as GroenLinks and D66. The times when the cheese slicer was not maintained and parts were discontinued (Orion naval patrol aircraft and tanks), the Ministry of Defense regretted it afterwards.
Now it is not about cutbacks, not about the wish to abolish the Submarine Service (submarines are precisely mentioned as examples of specialization) and (as far as is known) not the political pressure to specialize. But specializing means rejecting anyway. “Specialization ultimately means that we will no longer do business. This is possible if these tasks are taken over by our partners and vice versa,” says the Defense Vision.
In the chapter on specialization, the Defense Vision also mentions what the Netherlands is good at now. Where does Defense excel according to the Defense Vision?
• High-quality personnel (but you cannot specialize in that);
• F-35 (not really a specialization: although there are 11 countries with the same type as the Netherlands, and 8 European countries get a type F-35)
• the submarines;
• capabilities in the cyber domain;
• Special Forces;
• integrated air and missile defense (think of air defense and command frigates, radars from Thales, chips from TNO)
• training and advice to safety institutions;
• and nationally: “through our organizational structures, resources and the knowledge of our people, also in crisis management”
“We can further expand our specialisms based on these qualities.”
A lot is not mentioned and Defense also wants to strengthen and expand specialisms. Still, the plans are a serious change of course for the Defense organization, which has advocated since World War II to be as widely deployable as possible, not to be dependent on other countries when it comes down to it, and to keep its own knowledge in-house. For example, if you raise the submarines, you also lose knowledge in the field of fighting submarines.
The navy has also been working on a more complete navy in recent years. So by increasing the supply capacity again with the purchase of a new tanker. New mine-fighting vessels have been ordered, hydrographic survey vessels are being replaced, amphibious transport ships are also being replaced and the Marine Corps is more integrated into the fleet. What business will the navy stop doing in the future?
Marineschepen.nl has asked questions about this to the Ministry of Defense.
More European cooperation is associated with the specialization. No European armed forces, assured Bijleveld, but more committed to a self-reliant Europe. “We must also dare to speak within Europe about what is strategic autonomy? That is new that we are putting that on the agenda. And we must talk much more about standardization, interoperability and joint investment.”
The Netherlands already cooperates a lot within Europe in the naval field. The almost merged Belgian and Dutch navies, with joint purchase of frigates, submarines and similar uniforms, is of course an example. But the Spanish-Dutch development of supply ships and amphibious transport ships, the German-Dutch cooperation in the field of air defense frigates and the shared use of the Karel Doorman are other examples.
Yet Bijleveld said: “We have to do much more together.” She cited an example of three working together with France and the UK in the Caribbean to support the authorities in the fight against corona earlier this year.
The opening video of the press presentation highlighted many different threats and challenges for the Netherlands. From the South China Sea to North Korea’s ballistic missiles and domestic terrorism. Many of these threats require adapted armed forces. Defense has not been up to its task for decades and the armed forces need a clear vision in order to have perspective, but also to communicate clearly to, among other things, politics where it should go according to its own experts. That course has now been set.
Bijleveld also repeated several times that now for the first time concrete amounts have been linked to the plans of Defense. The whole provides a nice overview, with a clear financial growth path. Whether that path will be followed by the next cabinet remains to be seen. At this time, the Ministry of Defense runs the risk that, during the future cabinet formation, there will be much appreciation for the new course that has already been set in motion – regardless of budget -, the financial plans are parked and the willingness to specialize and divest tasks becomes with both hands. seized.
The Defense Vision 2035 is unlikely to end up in a drawer.
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