Dutch Government Rejects Blue Ribbon Review Findings

The nuclear base at Volkel is pixeled out on Google Earth (why, Google?). Click on image to download map of the base (note: 1 MB). Image: GoogleEarth (outline and label added)

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By Hans M. Kristensen

The Dutch Government today rejected the findings of the U.S. Air Force’s Blue Ribbon Review, saying the safety and security at the nuclear weapons base at Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands “are in good order.”

The Blue Ribbon Review final report in February concluded that “most” nuclear sites in Europe do not meet U.S. safety requirements and that it would take “significant additional resources” to bring them up to standard. The disclosure of the findings has led to calls in some European countries that the remaining tactical nuclear weapons should be withdrawn.

During a meeting earlier today in the Defense Committee of the Dutch Parliament, Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoop responded to a question from Krista van Velzen (Socialist Party) about the findings of the Blue Ribbon Review:

“Ms. van Velzen asked a question about the American report concerning the storage of nuclear weapons and Volkel. Insofar as this is relevant, safety and security at Volkel are in good order, but the government of the Netherlands does not make any announcements concerning the presence or absence of nuclear weapons embodying that single Dutch nuclear mission.” (unofficial translation)

Figure 1:
Middelkoop-Gates Meeting 2007

Dutch Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoop (left) met with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in October 2007. Afghanistan was on the agenda, but isn’t it time to talk about the withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe?

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Although Mr. Middelkoop refused to confirm or deny whether there are nuclear bombs at the base, he did confirm that the Netherlands still has a nuclear mission. It would have been more interesting to hear his explanation for why that mission is still needed. The enemy is gone, the weapons would take “months” to ready for strike, and the U.S. Air Force would like to see the weapons withdrawn. The deployment increasingly looks like nuclear social welfare for a small group of NATO bureaucrats.

There are an estimated 10-20 U.S. B61 nuclear bombs stored at Volkel Air Base for delivery by Dutch F-16 fighter jets, part of an arsenal of approximately 200 nuclear bombs at six bases in five European countries.

Previous reports: USAF Report: “Most” Nuclear Sites in Europe do not Meet US Security Requirements (FAS, June 2008) | U.S. Nuclear Weapons Withdrawn From the United Kingdom (FAS, June 2008) | United States Removes Nuclear Weapons from German Base, Documents Indicate (FAS, July 2007) | U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe (NRDC, 2005)

One thought on “Dutch Government Rejects Blue Ribbon Review Findings

  1. Not only Volkel is pixeled out, but also Leeuwarden AB, MVK De Kooy, Den Helder harbour and all the other operational navy and airforce bases, and the same goes for some military installations in France.

    Reply: Good catch. I was aware of the installations in France, but not the other sites in Holland. That means the Dutch government has accomplished what the Chinese, Indian and Pakistani governments want so badly but cannot get Digital Globe or Google to agree to.

    At first it appeared that the explanation might be that the Dutch images on Google Earth are provided by Aerodata International Surveys; perhaps the company was more receptive to secrecy demands by the Dutch government than Digital Globe. But then I checked the Aerodata web site, which in December 2007 announced the launch of a new web site aeroGRID.nl with aerial images of all of Holland, including Volkel Air Base (navigate a little to the east of the town to see the base). Within a few minutes I was able to purchase and download a relatively high-resolution image of the base.

    This is a great example of silly secrecy. Has the Dutch government been able to persuade Aerodata to pixel out the basis or has Google Earth agreed to pixel out Aerodata’s image? It’s hard to imagine (although little surprises me when it comes to excessive secrecy) that the excuse is to hide the bases from other military adversaries, all of whom have their own satellites. Perhaps the excuse is that satellite images enable terrorist to target the bases; the terrorists who planned to attack Belgian Kleine Brogel Air Base a few years ago may have caused the Dutch authorities to overreact.

    Whatever the reason, pixeling out the bases serves no real purpose – other than secrecy – because commercial high-resolution images of the same bases are readily available to anyone with a credit card. Moreover, although the bases are pixeled out on Google Earth, all other high-profile Dutch facilities – civilian airports, oil refineries, hospitals, power plants – are not, even though they are much more vulnerable to terrorist attacks and more vital to the Dutch society on a day-by-day basis than military facilities. HK

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