COLUMN – DIEUWERTJE KUIJPERS
Only the Dutch can go Dutch in an Alliance
Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, military spending in Europe grew at a record pace in 2022 – even surpassing Cold War levels, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). In the Netherlands, the elections have opened up the possibility of finding a political majority that will allow the country to legally enact the 2% norm. While social democratic (PvdA) and green (GroenLinks) legs are normally not willing to step up to the 2% plate, the new leader of the combined-left ticket – Frans Timmermans – has already pledged his support.
Of course, during election campaigns every political leader channels their inner Oprah Winfrey (“You get a car! And you get a car! Everyone gets a car!”) but this never materialized into pacifist left-wing promises for more guns and ammo. Normally, countries that have a strong defense industry with some considerable political influence and economic power (such as France) or countries that are dealing with more direct security risks (such as Finland) are prone to up their military expenditures during election time. Furthermore, Jeroen Klomp of the Dutch Defense Academy (NLDA) found in his meta-analysis an overall (weak) negative effect of elections on military expenditures, suggesting that “governments follow a more contractionary policy in defense spending.”
We can conclude that this Dutch electoral promise of Timmermans is the product of great momentum, but I fear it has more to do with political-party – rather than geopolitical – momentum. Even less is it inspired by – to name a random left-wing value – solidarity. Sure, 2% sounds nice, until you realize no one can answer the question of what that actually entails. There is no clear-cut NATO-approved and common, applied definition of “national defense spending.” Some countries include R&D or humanitarian operations, others do not. Some include pensions, others do not. Germany even includes development aid and other contributions (such as overflight rights) in their budget because they believe in “better spending instead of more spending” (according to Foreign Minister Gabriel in 2017).
So theoretically the Dutch left-wing parties can decide to include military pensions – as did Belgium (33% of total defense budget), France (25%) and Germany (17%) – and development aid like our Eastern neighbors. They can present themselves to the right as a potential, trustworthy partner (by supporting the new conservative, liberal and Christian Democratic law to legally enforce the 2%) and to the left as the party that is able to make the NATO Alliance about more than guns alone. Because in multiparty systems, you want to be an Oprah Winfrey to both voters and potential coalition partners. The broader, the better. Especially if you have the ambition of becoming the new prime minister.
My 2 cents on the 2%: NATO is about to experience the political application of “going Dutch.”
Dieuwertje Kuijpers (foto: Bianca Toeps)
August 30, 2023
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 Jeroen Klomp, ‘Political budget cycles in military expenditures: A meta-analysis’, Economic Analysis and Policy 77, March 2023. See: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0313592622002193.