Each autumn the official lobby group for Dutch military and security industries, the NIDV, is organising an arms fair in the Netherlands, like many other arms fairs called an exhibition. Another prominent Dutch arms fair is the Underwater Defence Technology fair. It used to be organized in Dutch capital Amsterdam and welcomed with anti-militarist actions. This year UDT is organized in Rotterdam. Originally planned for 2020 (when a anti-militarist committee Sink UDT was preparing a welcome) and now after two corona years it will finally take place and welcome the creme de la creme of international military companies. Not only British Aerospace (one of the winners of the 2021 AUKUS-deal, see below), but also the three companies contending for the new Dutch submarine: the Naval Group from France, SAAB from Sweden, and Thyssen Group from Germany.
The meeting is timely. Last week the commander of the Dutch armed forces announced the builder for the new Dutch submarines will be chosen within a year. But naval experts consider this highly (over) ambitious and the Dutch government said a week earlier that the awarding is “foreseen before the end of 2023”. Although military establishments are getting impatient, speed is a bad advisor. The previous Dutch submarine acquisition led to an affaire, with enormous cost overruns caused by tenders based on frictions between industrial and military arguments, mis-communications, unclear procedures and secrecy in the naval top during the acquisition process. It led to an official investigation and report by the Dutch general accounting office and the whole Dutch military acquisition policy was changed to prevent similar irregularities in the future.
In the recently published Dutch Defence White Paper it is repeated that the submarines must be able to fire long distance and precision weapons and to deploy special forces. Its intended role in collecting intelligence is questioned by a senior Dutch defence expert. Its special design – differing it from other submarines around – makes it useful for global deployment and suits it for the developing Cold War on China. A Cold War with a risk of nuclear conflict, as Michael T. Klare, eminence grise of the international security establishment, recently warned against. But taking a hard line and flexing muscles seems to be the fashion of today.
The enthusiastic supporters of the Dutch defence industry keep on promoting Dutch naval military products and the government seems never to get tired to state this is unfeasible. Since the nineties there is not any Dutch wharf capable to independently develop and build a submarine (see answer on parliamentary questions 4 & 77) as even the government admits. Since the acquisition of the present submarine-class the then-supplier Rotterdam Droogdok Maatschappij of the flamboyant and fraudulent Joep van den Nieuwenhuizen builder is closed down.
The chances for Dutch involvement in building the new submarine might have changed when in September the Australians rammed the prospects for the French Naval Group to build twelve conventional submarines (valued € 35 billion). Canberra changed its policy overnight and declared it wants to acquire nuclear submarines. In the Netherlands this was greeted with joy like by Dutch think tank for foreign policy Clingendael, who concluded this gave Dutch ship wharf Damen an advantage: the cancellation of the Australian order would increase the per-unit price of the French Naval Group submarines, making them too expensive for the Dutch. Even shipyard Damen itself tempered expectation, as Damen knows the military market is not like other markets. Arms acquisition is close to the pockets of governments supporting their industries when deemed necessary when export opportunity arise. The price difference might be compensated.
There is still some technical know-how in the Netherlands on developing submarine parts. The Taiwanese Sea Dragon class is e.g. supplied each year with parts from the Netherlands. The involved industries have joined in the so-called Dutch Underwater Knowledge Centre (DUKC) a platform formed by the Dutch defence lobby. Most, but not all of the DUKC participants are present at UDT arms fair in Rotterdam. It is a welcome opportunity for Dutch and foreign companies to showcase what they have to offer for this billion Euro acquisition. One of the most remarkable parts of the Dutch military industry present is Nevesbu, a ship designing bureau which has earned its states during the thirties of the last century as developer of submarines for the German navy. Germany was prohibited to build ships domestically by the Treaty of Versailles. Elsewhere in the Netherlands German torpedo’s were made (see § Duitse onderzeeboten for sources). But that is history.
Now the two – by far – largest military firms in the world, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, give acte de presence in Rotterdam. Combined with the presence of military companies from Turkey and Israel at the UDT fair this is a reminder that weapons are used for war, gross human rights violations, autocratic rule or Apartheid. The companies at UDT sell their arms and military platforms like submarines allovr the world and also export the weapons to counter those weapons sold previously to the neighbours (submarines to Turkey and anti-submarine weapons to Greece e.g.).
While the military industry tries to polish its brass, they are far from the arsenals of democracy as they like to depict themselves. The comments made by the anti-militaris action group Sink UDT from 2020 still stands: Big companies that are responsible for exporting arms to conflict areas and militarising the borders of Europe such as Thales, BAE Systems and Damen are exhibiting on the fair. The technologies promoted by these companies not only play a devastating role in wars and border control, but also have a huge impact on the climate and animals