The Dutch Retreat from the World Stage

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The Dutch Retreat from the World Stage Empty The Dutch Retreat from the World Stage

Post by BubbleBliss on Sun Feb 28, 2010 5:22 pm

The Dutch Retreat from the World Stage

A commentary by NRC Handelsblad Staff

The international standing of the Netherlands is in decline. From the climate debate to Afghanistan, the Dutch global presence is no longer what it once was.

Since World War II, the Dutch government had never once collapsed due to a dispute over foreign policy. Until earlier this week. Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's coalition partners, the Labour Party, quit government over the weekend due to Balkenende's efforts to extend the Dutch mission in Afghanistan.

The collapse has triggered a political crisis in The Hague. And it has raised important questions about what the likely Dutch pullout means for the country's geopolitical standing.

In the absence of a parliamentary miracle, the chances that the Netherlands will remain active in the Afghan province of Uruzgan, where they have led a provincial reconstruction team since 2006, are close to nil. Now, when the mission's headquarters there is abandoned, the Dutch presence in Afghanistan will be effectively reduced to nothing.

The Dutch presence there has brought the country substantial international prestige over the last four years. In 2009, for instance, the Dutch government was asked to host the Afghanistan conference in The Hague. In addition, Holland has been a participant in G-20 meetings since the advent of the financial crisis. And Jan Peter Balkenende has likewise had the ear of US President Barack Obama. As recently as last July, Balkenende visited the White House to discuss the Dutch role in the new American exit strategy, the cornerstone of Obama's Afghanistan policy.

Marginalized in the International Arena

Now, though, the Netherlands has managed to marginalize itself in the international arena. It is a shift has been a long time in the making. The Dutch secretary general of Nato, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, left his post in August of last year. Balkenende failed in his quest to become the new European "president" -- a post that was granted instead to the non-descript Belgian Herman von Rompuy. The European commissioner from Holland, Neelie Kroes, was given only a lightweight post in the new Commission. And last week, Yvo De Boer announced his resignation as chief of the UN climate bureau.

Still, the loss of face should not be exaggerated. Eyebrows were first raised in the US government when the Dutch refused to take detainees held in Guantanamo, the prison camp Obama has been urged to close by other countries, including the Netherlands.

Moreover, the decision to leave Uruzgan should not come as a surprise to Dutch allies, nor to the Dutch military. Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoop has long said the Dutch armed forces are stretched to the breaking point and have no capacity left for large scale operations. Furthermore, political support for the mission was fragile from the start.

The Bad Example Set by the Dutch

In 2006, the government narrowly decided in favor of the Afghanistan deployment. Support to extend it in 2008 was only given on the condition the mission would end in 2010. This compromise was then supported by the entire opposition, but now only one opposition party is willing to consider a limited presence in Uruzgan after this year.

It is for this reason that the cabinet, before splits began to emerge, never tried to extend the mission. This option was only raised by Prime Minister Balkenende and Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen, both members of the center-right Christian Democratic Appeal, in an attempt to test Labour leader and Deputy Prime Minister Wouter Bos.

Still, the Dutch political crisis cannot easily be ignored by the international community. The inability of the Dutch government to contribute to Uruzgan is a setback to NATO's mission in Afghanistan. And there is concern that other countries could now follow the bad example set by the Dutch.

The Dutch Retreat from the World Stage Junmem10

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