UPDATE 7/13: See here for some additional context on the Dutch Parliament’s vote on the F-35 and why it’s unlikely to be the last word on the matter.
Last Friday the Dutch parliament voted to end the Netherlands’ investment in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Via Dutch News:
As expected, a majority of MPs have backed calls for the Netherlands to pull out of the joint strike fighter jet project, 10 years after the order was originally placed.
Left wing parties, the anti-Islam PVV and animal rights party PvdD backed a joint Labour and Socialist motion calling for Dutch investment in the JSF to be halted.
Defence minister Hans Hillen said after the vote he was not in a position to stop Dutch investment in the JSF because of the pending election. Instead, it will be up to the next government to decide whether or not to proceed, he said.
When the project was first put forward in 2002, the cost was put at €4.5bn and the first plane was due to be operational in 2014. The price of the 85 aircraft has now risen to over €64m each, with an initial delivery date of 2019.
The Netherlands is one of the five NATO countries that hosts US tactical nuclear weapons (i.e. B-61s) on its territory and the F-35 was slated to replace its existing dual-capable F-16s, which are scheduled to go out of service in 2025.
Though a future Dutch Parliament could reverse the action taken by the current Parliament or a cheaper alternative could be found to replace the F-35, the Netherlands (like Germany) now has no system planned to sustain a nuclear delivery capability once its F-16s are retired.
As we’ve written previously, “The longer NATO puts off a collective decision about removing tactical nuclear weapons, the greater the odds that financial and political realities in Europe could force changes to alliance nuclear policy under circumstances not of its own choosing….This could lead to a situation where the weapons are removed in a disorganized fashion, undermining alliance cohesion and effectiveness.”
Instead of grappling with the very real possibility of disarmament by default, NATO continues (most recently in Chicago) to kick the can down the road. Some experts have suggested that consolidating the B61s to Italy and Turkey could serve as a “middle way” between the status quo, which, as the Germany and now the Dutch situation demonstrates, is not sustainable, and complete withdrawal. However, I’m skeptical that Italy and Turkey would agree to be left as the sole remaining nations if Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium get out of the business.
The uncertain (at best) future of dual capable aircraft also raises questions about the B-61 life extension program, which is now slated to cost nearly $6 billion. Given that at least a portion of the European host nations won’t sustain a nuclear delivery capability, meaning there will be far fewer, if any, weapons remaining in Europe by the end of the decade, it would seem to make sense to at least revisit the scope of the program. Not all of the B-61s set to be life extended are non-strategic versions, but a large portion of them are.
In addition to the fact that these warheads and their delivery systems are archaic, they have no deterrent value, are a security risk, and are a source of division within the alliance. Let’s move on without them.