Sputnik: Do you agree Mike Hookem's assessment that 'EU Defense is a bad joke when tanks don't work'?
Jan Van Benthem: Well if you're talking about a European army then that is the case. But if you're talking about combat readiness of European troops then that to a certain extent is a bad joke but there are also some more elite units which are really combat ready and are often used in UN missions — like the Netherlands does, like Germany participates in these missions, the UK also.
So if you look at defense in total there is an enormous lack of material, lack of maintenance, lack of munitions, which now is being looked at by strengthening the budget for the military. But if you look at the possibility of using certain units for certain missions — the European army can still pose a figure on the international stage, but not as large as people think.
Jan Van Benthem: Well, first of all, a lot of military staff are looking at replenishing supplies. I'll give you one example from the Dutch perspective. 1000 Dutch soldiers who were to be deployed at a NATO exercise in Norway were asked by the Ministry of Defence to purchase for themselves extra underwear for the cold conditions. The Ministry of Defence didn't have that and didn't have it in time for the operation. The parliament was of course very angry about that —you can't send your soldiers into the freezing cold without real good clothing so in the end the Ministry of Defence had to buy it — but it wasn't there! You need to be prepared for these kinds of operations.
Sputnik: If one of the main goals of boosting the military is in order to combat the perceived threat from Russia — where is the evidence for this Russian aggression and would they not be better off funding measure to counter terrorism and jihadism for example?
Jan Van Benthem: Well they are very focused on combating terrorism and jihadism — if you look at the Dutch army we have been in missions in Afghanistan several times and we are in a mission in Mali at the moment against Islamic terrorism there. A lot of our missions are directed at terrorism. But you also have the classical function of being able to defend your territory — whatever the threat. The threat is not only Russia.
If you look at the position of western European armies and navies at the moment they are no real threat for Russia. Not in an aggressive sense of the word. You cannot say that western European armies can pose a real existential threat for Russia. But you need to have the possibility to defend your country together in a NATO alliance against any possible threat and you need to have a basic defense for that.
The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker, and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.