The Dutch government will cut 12,000 military jobs, or more than one in six of all armed forces personnel, as part of spending cuts aimed at balancing the budget by 2015, officials said Friday.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the country was making "difficult choices," but still expects to be able to contribute to military and peacekeeping missions as a member of NATO and the U.N.
In recent years Dutch soldiers have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and on anti-piracy missions. Dutch F-16s are now serving with NATO forces above Libya.
Rutte said that after the cuts the country would still be able to engage in foreign missions, including combat missions, but he conceded they would not be able to continue such missions "for years" at a time.
The country's previous government collapsed in 2010 in a dispute over whether to extend again its mission with 1,400 troops in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan, who had been stationed there since 2006. The troops were pulled after the government collapsed.
Defense Minister Hans Hillen said the job cuts _ which were greater than the 10,000 the new Cabinet indicated in its governing accord _ include selling 19 F-16s, 17 Cougar transport helicopters, four de-mining ships and scrapping all of the country's 60 tanks.
Hillen said up to 6,000 of the jobs lost could be forced firings, but his ministry is still researching the possibility of shifting soldiers into other jobs in the country's police forces, among others.
The cuts will reduce basic spending to euro7.5 billion ($10.8 billion) from euro8.5 billion per year, reducing military spending to around 3 percent of the Dutch budget from 3.4 percent in 2010. That compares to around 19 percent in 2010 for the country's biggest military ally, the U.S.
Critics said the cuts threaten the military's ability to carry out some of its basic functions.
"In particular, the strategic function of the military forces are being damaged," said Jean Debie, chairman of the Military Union in an interview with state broadcaster NOS.
He said the military was valuable not only for its contributions to "keeping international order and stability, but also for support for civil authorities when there are disasters."