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‘The Netherlands should also consider the possibility of direct confrontation with Russia’

There is a real chance of war closer to home, political and military leaders in Europe have warned. Some in the Netherlands are calling for a war economy and conscription. What does Frans Osinga, Professor of War Studies, think about the threat and what we should do?

How great is the military threat to the Netherlands?

‘It is growing all the time. Dutch and European security are interlinked. The Netherlands is within reach of the missiles that are striking Ukraine. Russia already has a war economy and can fully restore its armed forces to previous levels within three to eight years. That means a direct threat to the Baltic States and other East-European countries because Russia wants to bring them back under its wings.

‘If a NATO country is attacked, Article 5 applies and American units can suddenly land in Rotterdam and be transported to the eastern border. That makes Dutch ports and airports a logical target for Russian missiles and they can be here within minutes. So the threat is near.’

‘If American units land here, that will make Dutch ports and airports a logical target for Russian missiles ’

People are losing interest in Ukraine, thanks in part to the war in Gaza. With the symposium War in Europe (see below), you want to draw attention to the impact of the war in Ukraine. What is the main focus of the symposium?

‘This is the biggest war on European territory since the Second World War. It is a genocidal war with Russia wanting to erase the identity, culture and sovereignty of the Ukrainian population. It is also a war about the future of Europe and that is a direct threat to our way of life. In Russia’s eyes, it is a war against Western civilisation, and China is watching from the sidelines. So we urgently need to look back at the past two years and the impact on Ukraine and European security. The elections and now the formation talks in the Netherlands are almost completely focused on national matters, which I find most regrettable.’ 

War in Europe Symposium, 23 February in The Hague

Experts including researchers, the Ukrainian Ambassador and the Dutch Chief of Defence will analyse the impact of the war. The symposium is fully booked but you can watch the live stream on the Spanish Steps in the Wijnhaven building. Registration is required.

What do you think we should do first?

‘We have to rapidly produce more military equipment in Europe and cooperate better to increase capacity. Germany, for example, is going to produce thousands of Patriot missiles and the Netherlands is joining them. Here too, we may need to move to production facilities for drones, artillery shells, you name it.

‘So we have to invest more in defence. The NATO target of 2% of the GDP probably no longer suffices. Our deterrence strategy is only credible if we have much more modern equipment on the eastern border. Then you probably need 3 to 4% to invest in aircraft, artillery, long-range missiles, jamming equipment and more personnel, for example.

‘Another problem is that if Trump becomes president, America’s reliability as a NATO partner will be cast into doubt and military supplies will no longer be certain. Europe should put up its strategic socks in the short term. That is important under Biden too because there are more conflict hotspots in the world such as around Taiwan where America may want to use military equipment.’

Are you also calling for the reintroduction of conscription?

‘No, not necessarily. The advantage of conscription is that it strengthens the ties between society and the armed forces. But conscription is also a big investment that asks a lot of society. For now, the year of service (where young people and people from other professions can choose to do a year of paid service, Ed.) and more reservists should be enough. The armed forces currently have 15% job vacancies but conscription wouldn’t necessarily solve that problem. You wouldn’t let conscripts tinker with an F-35 radar system, for example.’

‘You wouldn’t let conscripts tinker with an F-35 radar system’

Some politicians such as CDA MP Derk Boswijk think we should move to a war economy. Is that a good idea?

‘That is taking it very far but when it comes to prioritising materials and natural resources, we may have to make other choices. Should lithium batteries go to bikes and Teslas or to a factory that produces drones for the armed forces? Maybe that’s where we will start to see the guiding hand of government but we’re not there yet.’

Isn’t there a danger of too much war rhetoric? Tensions continue to rise and more warmongering could increase the chance of confrontation.

‘That’s complete rubbish. Russia invaded Ukraine because it was under the impression that Europe was divided and would not offer help. Weakness actually provokes aggression in authoritarian regimes. An old saying is: if you want peace, prepare for war because then political opponents won’t consider starting a war.

‘In recent months, various political and military leaders have warned of an increased risk of direct confrontation with Russia. The type of threat and confrontation may vary from country to country. What it boils down to is that society has to become more resilient. In 2018, Sweden sent leaflets to millions of households warning that in the event of a war or major crisis, amenities such as water and electricity could suddenly be cut off. And that citizens should prepare by assembling emergency kits (including water bottles, non-perishable food, etc., Ed.).

Should the Dutch government do that too?

‘The government here has been trying for some time via the ministries and local government to get the message across that we need to protect our infrastructure and democratic processes against cyber attacks and Russian and Chinese influence tactics. A direct campaign like in Sweden might be good to warn citizens here that security cannot be taken for granted and that this also applies to amenities such as electricity or water. That’s why it’s always good to have an emergency kit at home.’

Text: Linda van Putten
Photo of an F-35: 
Jonny Gios/Unsplash

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