Late 2011 it emerged that the Indonesian army was seeking surplus Leopard tanks, which both Germany and the Netherlands had on offer. The Indonesians preferred the Dutch type and came over to see the tanks. But, soon after the potential sale became public, parliamentarians put their weight against such a deal, as they feared possible abuse against Papua’s and Moluccans.
Very much to the chagrin of the (previous) Dutch government, a majority of votes supported a parliamentary motion demanding to stop negotiating the deal. Meanwhile, in Jakarta MPs also questioned the logic of the deal, as it seemed to boost the army’s status rather than having much practical use for a nation of thousands of islands.
After a final debate on the deal in June 2012 the government had to face the fact that it would not get the required support from parliament, which is a necessity for Dutch surplus military sales. Within weeks Indonesia announced it would no longer seek to buy Dutch Leopards and try instead to get them from Berlin.
Previous announcements of a deal appeared to be premature. Last week however the deal was finally agreed, as the German government confirmed. Jakarta will get 104 Leopard 2 tanks, 50 Marder infantry fighting vehicles and 10 special-purpose vehicles as well as ammunition.
This it raises serious questions about the European Union ability to coordinate arms export policies. To create a level-playing field and to prevent that arms deals turned down in country A are taken over by less scrupulous country B, a harmonized policy on arms export licensing has been a goal of the EU Common Position on arms exports, as it is commonly known.
Normally, when a licence is denied in country A, this country sends a notification to Brussels, so that other member states know about it and consult with A whenever they get a similar request. This way, the EU aims for harmonisation of export policies and therewith prevention of undercutting practices. The Dutch government actually made prevention of undercutting its top arms control priority for 2011.
In the Indonesian tank deal case however, the Dutch government held the position that no denial notification had to be sent to Brussels, as it had not officially rejected any licence request. Does this mean that a deal rejected by the Dutch parliament is not covered by the EU Common Position policy? Even officials from other countries privately admit that in this case the blocking by the parliament should haved the same effect as the denial of an export licence by the government.
Willingly, the Dutch government, while championing prevention of undercutting as a policy, did not bother seeing its eastern neighbour walking away with the very same deal that was stopped by the parliament. The message to the public and the parliament seems to be: If we do not sell, somebody else will, so do not stop our export plans. It makes Dutch reference to the benefits of European harmonisation a complete laugh.
[FS, 15 May 2013]