October 17, 2017

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A national security strategy for the Netherlands?

By Barend ter Haar.

The centerpiece of Dutch foreign policy has been to promote an international order composed of security alliances, international institutions, and economic openness. The Netherlands chose to define its national interests broadly, not narrowly, and to help build and maintain this order out of a conviction that it both served its long-term interests and the interests of most other states.

In 2017, for the first time, the Dutch people might give most votes to a politician who is highly critical of this international order. Foreign policy was not the dominant issue in the election but the popularity of Mr. Wilders demonstrates, like the Ukraine referendum did last year, that many Dutchmen believe they are not beneficiaries of the existing international order. They worry that the Netherlands has lost sight of the national interest. A significant number believe globalization benefits elites at the expense of ordinary Dutchmen.

Should the Netherlands therefore no longer prioritize sustaining an international order and instead pursue a narrower, more nationalist approach to foreign policy?

We believe that abandoning traditional Dutch support for the international order would be a serious strategic error that would leave the Netherlands weaker and poorer, and the world more dangerous. The best-case outcome would be a spheres of influence system whereby Russia dominates much of Eastern and Central Europe, and the United States is preeminent in its own hemisphere and possibly Western Europe.

Russia would have a veto over all major issues of European security. It would also like to weaken the European Union and have it reduced to a customs union with no coherent foreign and security policy, including the exercise of economic power. The greatest strategic threat is that this deterioration will accelerate and worsen, resulting in a fundamental shift away from democracy, cooperation and prosperity and toward nationalism, isolationism and economic stagnation.

The Netherlands should encourage its European allies to find a way of keeping Britain formally and fully engaged in these issues, possibly by creating an “EU Plus One” process whereby Britain would continue to sit on the EU’s Political and Security Committee.

The Netherlands should also take steps to increase the net levels of international cooperation to tackle shared problems, like climate change, pandemic disease, and economic volatility. This means working within existing multilateral institutions, like the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Paris climate accord, and the United Nations. The United Nations is not perfect and needs reform, but this can best be accomplished through constructive engagement.

Stop, I should not fool you. The text above is not mine, but consists of almost direct quotes from Building “Situations of Strength” A National Security Strategy for the United States[1]. The most substantive changes I made are the replacement of United States by Netherlands and President Trump by Mr. Wilders and a reference to the Ukraine referendum.

The quotes illustrate how similar both countries are, despite the big differences in size, position and political system. Both have during many decennia invested a lot in international cooperation, convinced that international security and prosperity are the best way to ensure national security and prosperity. Both are now confronted with political movements that threaten to replace international cooperation by antagonistic nationalism.

[1] Published last month by Brookings: https://www.brookings.edu/research/building-situations-of-strength/

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