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​Netherlands Sold Its Leopard 2 Tanks to Germany and Then Rented Them Back

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Bundeswehr Leopard 2A7 tanks formally leased to the Netherlands Armed Forces during joint exercises in Lithuania in October 2021 / Photo credit: Andy Meier / Nato’s Enhanced Forward Presence In Lithuania​
Bundeswehr Leopard 2A7 tanks formally leased to the Netherlands Armed Forces during joint exercises in Lithuania in October 2021 / Photo credit: Andy Meier / Nato’s Enhanced Forward Presence In Lithuania​

Or a few words on how Western countries first thoughtlessly and radically reduced their tank fleet and then were desperately looking for solutions to the problem

Against the latest reports of various countries handing their tanks over to Ukraine, it is quite surprising at the first glance that NATO countries are struggling to give their tanks because they have too few of them (e.g. Germany) or they are in poor operational condition (e.g. in Spain).

Actually, there are even more extreme cases among the countries of the Alliance. For example, the Netherlands suddenly decided to get rid of all its Leopard 2A6NL main battle tanks in 2011, and Germany was quick to capitalize on it. In 2014, the Dutch realized they made a strategic mistake but they had no better choice than formally "rent" their former own tanks, which have already been modernized to Leopard 2A7 by that time by the new owner.

Read more: How Long It Took Poland to Buy Leopard 2, And How Long It Took Germany to Help Repair Them
Leopard 2A4 of the Royal Dutch Army / Archive photo credit: The Tank Museum (UK)

Precisely speaking, by the end of the Cold War, the Netherlands Armed Forces had as many as 441 Leopard 2A4 tanks at disposal. However, after the "iron curtain" dividing Europe fell, the Dutch started to actively sell their military equipment. By the mid-1990s, there were only around 200 Leopard 2A6NL tanks in the Dutch army.

Then by 2011, the armored vehicles fleet of the Netherlands shrank to 73 units of Leopard 2A6NL after they sold 38 combat vehicles to Portugal and 20 more to Canada. It was when Hague decided it was time to discard the tanks as a type of weapon entirely.

In the open domain, we cannot find any data on the fate of all seventy-three remaining "Leopards", which were decommissioned in the Netherlands in 2011 for good. However, there are indications that it was Germany who got interested in 20 of these vehicles in 2013.

One of the former Dutch Leopard 2A6NL in service with German Bundeswehr, 2017
One of the former Dutch Leopard 2A6NL in service with German Bundeswehr, 2017 / Open source photo

The year 2014 came, and the russian federation started a hybrid war against Ukraine, occupied Crimea and launched warfare in Ukraine's eastern regions. Amid these events, the Netherlands realized that misjudging the tank arsenal's importance was a strategic blunder.

The only way to correct the mistake, in their opinion, was to formally ask Germany to lease 18 of its former tanks that had already been modernized by the new owner, the other two were remade as practice vehicles.

One of the former Dutch Leopard 2A6NL remade into a training vehicle in the German Bundeswehr, 2017
One of the former Dutch Leopard 2A6NL remade into a training vehicle in the German Bundeswehr, 2017 / Open source photo

On paper, the mechanism of rent provides for the following conditions: former Dutch Leopard 2A7 belong to Bundeswehr and serve Germany, but in case of necessity they will come to protect the Netherlands as well once Hague issues a request. Even without repainting the German cross, but under the flag of the Netherlands, like in the main photo of this article.

Interestingly, as of 2014, the Dutch had about 100 more tanks in their warstock reserves but they sold these, too, to Finland; the last tranche of these combat vehicles was delivered in 2019. And it looks like these exact Dutch tanks were put to reserve in the same manner, and now they've become the object of debate, "who and how many Leopard 2 has to provide to Ukraine" in the joint effort of Ukraine's allies in the ongoing russian aggression.

One of the former Dutch Leopard 2A6NL that were sold to Finland
One of the former Dutch Leopard 2A6NL that were sold to Finland / Open source photo
Read more: How Big is the Difference Between Western and Soviet Tanks and Why Its Not Just About Weight or Automatic Ammo Loading