143233 2/27/2008 12:30 08THEHAGUE185 Embassy The Hague CONFIDENTIAL VZCZCXYZ0003 OO RUEHWEB DE RUEHTC #0185/01 0581230 ZNY CCCCC ZZH O 271230Z FEB 08 FM AMEMBASSY THE HAGUE TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1140 INFO RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE PRIORITY RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 2752 RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL PRIORITY 0352 RUEHSI/AMEMBASSY TBILISI PRIORITY 0138 RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY RUEKJCS/CJCS WASHDC PRIORITY RUEKJCS/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY C O N F I D E N T I A L THE HAGUE 000185
STATE FOR EUR/WE, EUR/RPM
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/27/2018 TAGS: MARR, PGOV, PREL, AF, NL SUBJECT: NETHERLANDS: DEFENSE ISSUES HEADING INTO BUCHAREST
Classified By: CDA Andrew Schofer, reasons 1.4 (b, d)
1. (C) Summary: The Dutch MOD is facing several defense issues leading up to and beyond the NATO Bucharest summit in April. Dutch MOD senior leadership is facing criticism over the way it is handling the investigation into three possible friendly fire incidents in January. The MOD continues to review a possible Georgian contribution to its ISAF extension in Uruzgan. Defense officials remain hopeful that funding can be found to allow the Dutch to participate fully in the C-17 strategic airlift initiative, but are doubtful they will be able to sign the MOU prior to the summit. Noise pollution associated with AWACS aircraft at Geilenkirchen Air Base continues to cause political problems for the Dutch, who are looking for creative ways to address parliamentary concerns. The Dutch also are looking to contribute 60 marines to the EU mission in Chad, although parliamentary support at this point is questionable. Finally, the MOD is leading a 18-month long task force designed to examine the possibility of defense budget increases as a fixed percentage of GDP. End summary.
2. (SBU) On February 26, Dutch MOD working level contacts discussed defense issues leading up to the NATO Bucharest Summit in April. Dutch participants included CAPT Turnhout (MOD Policy Officer for the United States), LTC Parthesius (Dutch military liaison for the United States), and COL Vermeij (acting head of the Joint Chiefs International Military Cooperation Directorate).
3. (SBU) Vermeij and Turnhout addressed recent parliamentary and public criticism of Dutch CHOD Gen. Berlijn's interim report regarding three possible friendly fire incidents in mid-January. Berlijn's report found that all three incidents were likely the result of friendly fire in which Dutch forces did not "fully comply in accordance with tactical procedures." Defense Minister van Middelkoop is awaiting the results of a separate investigation by the prosecutor's office before releasing the "final" MOD report on the incidents in question.
4. (C) Parliament and public criticism has lambasted Berlijn for issuing a report that is not yet final, while Dutch troops in Afghanistan are incensed the report does not take into account the "extreme circumstances" (night time, inclement weather, lack of radio equipment) under which the incidents transpired, and depicts Dutch troops as "rank amateurs." Vermeij argued that Berlijn and van Middelkoop would equally have been criticized for "keeping parliament in the dark" if they had decided to wait until the investigation had been completed before releasing any findings -- essentially, the Dutch MOD senior leadership is "damned if you do, damned if you don't."
5. (C) On the possible Georgian contribution to the Dutch ISAF extension in Uruzgan, Vermeij acknowledged the Dutch are still determining whether they will be able to use the Georgians, and expected an answer in three to four weeks -- any questions regarding potential Dutch funding of task force training will have to wait until after the Dutch assess whether the Georgian offer was more than "just a political facade" to bolster NATO membership action plan aspirations. He understood "high interest" in Washington -- and potentially Canada -- to use the Georgians elsewhere should the Dutch determine they are not a good fit for the Dutch task force.
6. (C) Turnhout still expected the Dutch to be able to participate in the C-17 strategic airlift initiative, but noted that funding remains an issue within the GONL. He understood that the United States and others seek to soon sign the C-17 MOU so that it may be announced as a deliverable for the Bucharest summit. Turnhout said the timing is unfortunate for the Dutch -- and for the Swedish and Italians for different reasons -- especially since the Dutch will not be able to resolve their internal budget funding questions until after the summit.
7. (C) Turnhout raised Dutch efforts to reduce the noise pollution associated with NATO Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft flying into and out of the NATO air base just across the border in Geilenkirchen, Germany. He acknowledged that the "business case" to replace the noisy E-3 engines is proving difficult to make to NATO Allies. As a result, the Dutch have been forced to think creatively, including van Middelkoop's proposal at the NATO Defense Ministerial in Vilnius to replace 1,380 training sorties with a flight simulator. Unfortunately, Turnhout doubted the Dutch would receive an official answer from NATO until the next NAMSO board of directors meeting in June -- and the GONL is on the hook to report to the Dutch parliament by the end of March "progress by NATO" on resolving the noise pollution. Turnhout appreciated any assistance from NATO Allies -- and the USG specifically -- to indicate in advance that the flight simulator proposal might prove acceptable. Turnhout also said that the Dutch Minister for the Environment was taking a more proactive role on this issue, and has tried to gain support from other EU environment ministers for the Dutch cause. (Note: On February 21, the Dutch floated a paper at the EU Environmental Council requesting EU legislation assistance in restricting noise pollution associated with the AWACS aircraft. End note.)
8. (C) Vermeij noted that the MOD has proposed contributing a reconnaissance unit of 60 marines as part of an Irish battalion to the EU mission in Chad. He expected the Cabinet to approve the deployment on February 29, followed by a parliamentary debate the following week. Parthesius confirmed strong opposition in both parliament and the military labor unions, noting the argument that the Dutch military is already stretched too thin by its deployment to Afghanistan. (Note: Members of the previous coalition government Liberal Party (VVD) approved the extension in Afghanistan under the condition that no other significant Dutch military deployment happen concurrently. VVD traditionally has frowned upon Dutch involvement in Africa. End note.) Vermeij expected parliament to ultimately agree with the deployment given coalition party support for the mission, including especially efforts by the Labor Party (PvdA) to engage in Africa.
Defense Budget Review
9. (C) Turnhout has been picked to lead the working level of an interagency task force to examine whether the defense budget should be structurally increased as a fixed percentage of the GDP; the 18-month long task force will officially begin work on March 5. Turnhout explained that from the MOD perspective, the aim of the task force is to lay the foundation necessary to effectively make the case to the next coalition government that the defense budget should be increased. He noted, however, that the issue is politically sensitive: the Ministry of Finance -- headed by PvdA party leader Wouter Bos -- will argue in favor of decreasing the defense budget. He said the results of the task force will be highly scrutinized, and may carry significant weight in determine the future direction of the Dutch military. Schofer