Later this week, voters in the Netherlands will elect a new government after the center-right coalition government, led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte, collapsed in April.
Unsurprisingly, the top election issue is the eurozone crisis and how it is affecting the Dutch economy. Other issues, such as the continued Dutch participation in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), could also be at stake—especially with the Socialist Party doing so well in recent polls.
After the national elections that were held in June 2010, Rutte became prime minister at the head of a center-right coalition. In April 2012, this pro-economic austerity coalition collapsed when one of its coalition partners, the Freedom Party, led by Geert Wilders, refused to back the government’s economic austerity package.
The economic crisis in Europe has directly impacted the Dutch. Riding this wave of discontent has been the Dutch Socialist Party, which is consistently second (and sometimes first) in the national polling just behind Rutte’s center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy.
The Socialist Party, with help from the center-left Labour Party, led the campaign to scrap the country’s participation in the JSF program in July. Thankfully, since there was no government, this was a non-binding vote. Nevertheless, it should have been viewed as a warning shot to the Department of Defense.
It is assumed that the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy will win the largest share of the vote after this week’s election but not enough to form a majority government. What the shape and configuration of the subsequent coalition will look like, and what role the Socialist and Labour Parties will have, remains to be seen.
As with all coalition building, there will be the inevitable policy tradeoffs. With the European economic situation being the pressing political issue, there is a concern that other policy issues, such as Dutch participation in the JSF, may be traded to ensure that the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy can get its economic agenda adopted.
Sacrificing the Dutch participation in the JSF program for short-term political gain may be tempting for Dutch politicians, but its impact would be felt in the U.S. and throughout the NATO alliance.
As The Heritage Foundation recently pointed out:
For the Dutch, cancelling the Joint Strike Fighter program would be a blow to NATO. The Dutch are one of the few NATO countries that actually has a capable air force that they are willing to use. The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNAF) has provided close air support to NATO troops in Afghanistan, contributed to NATO’s Baltic air policing mission, and recently flew patrols over the skies of Libya.
Without the JSF, the RNAF will be without a fast jet capability after 2025, when their F-16s are expected to leave service. If they choose to procure anything other than the Joint Strike Fighter, put simply, it will be outdated before it leaves the tarmac.
There is a nuclear deterrence aspect to this as well. Dutch F-16s and their F-35 replacements are dual-capable aircraft—meaning they can also deliver NATO’s tactical nuclear weapons if required. A Dutch failure to procure the F-35 would create an additional problem inside NATO regarding the future of its tactical nuclear weapons.
From a purely economic point of view, a decision to cut the JSF would also mean cutting Dutch jobs. As part of the Dutch participation in the JSF program, the defense sector is expected to win several important contracts worth tens of millions of euros for the manufacture of various component parts of the JSF.
The Department of Defense—and all countries participating in the JSF program—should keep an eye on the Dutch elections. If the Dutch leave the program, it could have far-reaching consequences.