Money in the blue depths of the Netherlands

King Willem-Alexander announced that 12.5 billion euro will be spent on defence in 2022 during his state of the union on Prinsjesdag. This money will be distributed between the four military branches of the Netherlands armed forces among which is also the Royal Netherlands Navy. The navy itself will receive 884.7 million euro. However, in times of peace not all Dutch taxpayers seem to understand why the budget for the navy is so high.

The main tasks of the Dutch navy nowadays are police tasks, according to Diederick Wildeman (61), who is the navy expert and curator at the National Maritime Museum of the Netherlands. “For example, they try to intercept drug smugglers or human traffickers who try to enter the country by sea. That’s one thing that they need the money for”, the curator, who also studied at the naval academy of the Netherlands says.

Wildeman thinks that the reason why the government still spends so much money on the navy is the Netherland’s long naval history. It dates back to a pre-second world war situation when the Dutch colonial power had to defend islands like the Dutch East-Indies, now Indonesia. “Back then they needed the money, now probably not that much anymore”, Diederick Wildeman explains. The historian says that the Netherlands also have a tradition of building and operating submarines, which is another reason why the government still invests in new fleets.

However, these statements don’t seem reasonable to a lot of Dutch citizens and even some employees of the navy. Brian Gentenaar has been working for the navy as a cook and medic for seven years now and is currently being trained to become a corporal of the navy. Even Gentenaar is unsure about the necessity of a budget this high. He empathizes with spending money on repairing old boats and combating crimes on water but does for example not understand why the navy invests in submarines. “My sympathy for these kinds of expenses is limited. I don’t think or hope that we are preparing for a war”, the young man expresses his concerns.

The Netherlands is not preparing for a war but wants to have a say in marine affairs, Diederick Wildeman believes. According to him, the Netherlands itself doesn’t play a big part in the naval arms race of the big maritime powers like the United States, China or India. In 2019 the Royal Netherlands Navy however decided on replacing the four old submarines that currently exist. Together with a Swedish company, the Dutch company Damen offered to build the new submarines for the Royal Navy. However, other French, Spanish and German companies are also vying for the multibillion-dollar contract. The government has postponed its decision for a supplier until now. Maybe the Netherlands will show sympathy with the French after the torn-up contract with Australia. Who knows?