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Between the Polder and a Hard Place?

Julian Lindley-French and Anne Tjepkema
Whitehall Reports, 12 October 2010
Defence Policy, Europe
As budgets are slashed across the continent, Dutch defence planning may offer vital lessons for other European states

In February 2010, the Dutch government fell over whether to extend the deployment of Dutch forces in Afghanistan. The subsequent election focused the defence debate on three simple but pivotal questions: how big should the armed forces be, what should be their purpose, and above all how much should they cost?

This Whitehall Report explores those questions in depth and considers the defence planning challenges for all smaller European countries in light of the Dutch experience. The pivotal issue of defence affordability runs through the report and how best to strike a critical balance between effectiveness and efficiency. To that end, the report calls for the return to sound military strategy if tight defence investment is to properly support the main effort – and a fundamental re-organisation of the structure of the Netherlands’ armed forces to better meet the challenges of the age. Above all, the report calls for consistency and stability so defence planning can be conducted systematically.

The core message of the report is clear: a new strategy is needed, but once established it must be adhered to, with the political short-termism that has so marked the past twenty-years brought swiftly to an end. Failure to do so will merely transfer risk onto the Dutch young men and women who will be called on again to fight. They deserve better than that. These are lessons for all European states – big or small.

About the Authors

Professor Julian Lindley-French is the Eisenhower Professor of Defence Strategy at the Netherlands Defence Academy and Special Professor of Strategic Studies at the University of Leiden. He is also Head of the Stratcon 2010 project on the NATO Strategic Concept for the Atlantic Council of the US in Washington, DC and Chief Editor of the Oxford Handbook on War. He is a member of Royal United Services Institute, as well as an Associate Fellow of Chatham House and the Austrian Institute for European and Security Studies.

Colonel Anne Tjepkema, a retired Royal Netherlands Air Force pilot, is an Associate Professor at the Netherlands Defence Academy. He spent much of his career considering the role of the Netherlands’ armed forces in a series of high-level staff positions. A widely published and respected author, Colonel Tjepkema was involved in the drafting of the 2009 Dutch Strategic Defence Review (Verkenningen).

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