The armies of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg are to be largely merged into a Benelux army. The three countries will make a joint statement today at a NATO meeting in Brussels, according to Defence Minister Hans Hillen.

The alliance calls itself the Northern Group within NATO. The minister said on BNR radio that “in a short while, joint paratroops must be trained.” Also, “we can jointly train in the airforce, and join forces in the area of equipment.”

Hillen has for some time been pushing for more defence partnership, not only with Belgium and Luxembourg but also with other countries. “I am seeking friendly countries in the immediate neighbourhood, logical partners like Norway, Denmark and even closer by, Belgium, Luxembourg, the UK and even closer by, Belgium, Luxembourg, the UK and Germany,” said Hillen.

The partnership links within Europe are a bitter necessity in order to arrive at more efficient armed forces, according to Hillen. “Europe spends much more on defence than the Russians, but an awful lot gets stuck in command layers and structures that are no longer necessary. What I try to do in Europe and NATO is to make much more partnership possible.” The minister does not rule out that some airfields may be closed as a result.

A large amount of costs can be saved by, for example, doing the successor to the F-16 in partnership with the Norwegians, Danes and Belgians. This goes further then simply joint purchasing. “Joint training, development, maintenance, repairs; there are very big cost advantages o be achieved. You can use each other’s planes. Without having to give up your own identity, you can achieve much, much more.”

The Netherlands and Norway are already working in partnership on the successor to the F-16s, likely to be the F35 Joint Strike Fighter. The partnership is within the framework of Pooling & Sharing, a concept that was presented to the 27 EU countries at an informal summit in Gent in September 2010.