Snippet: A WRR report on Dutch foreign policy

A 2011 WRR (Wetenschappelijke Raad voor het Regeringsbeleid, translated: Scientific Council for Government Policy) report on reshaping Dutch foreign policy is critical in light of the tendency of Dutch cabinets to pursue an overly active and unrealistic foreign policy.

During the Cold War, it was believed that the end of the Soviet era would bring about a calmer world politics. However, the opposite was true. Increased threats and conflict, terrorism and conflict in sub-Saharan Africa, in the Balkans, in the Caucasus, and in the Middle East (continued) translated into an ever more “overloaded” foreign policy. In addition to the complex and broad range of issues to address, cross-ministerial interrelatedness on matters of security, energy and the climate further blurs and fragments Dutch foreign policy. “[O]ver the past two decades, the Dutch foreign policy agenda has not only become less predictable but also much more overloaded.”

The report compares the Dutch foreign policy to what an advisor to President Clinton, Michael Mandelbaum, said about American foreign policy in 1992: “We have a foreign policy today in the shape of a doughnut – lots of peripheral interests but nothing at the centre.”

The Netherlands has had the ambition to want to solve global human rights, poverty, energy, climate change etc on it’s own – which is of course unrealistic. “The Netherlands must accept its responsibility, but this does not automatically imply that it should do or continues to do everything in all of these areas.”

The increasing dissent over foreign policy issues by the Dutch public could jeopardize the credibility and ability for the Netherlands to act abroad. The (further) rise of far-right nationalism is testifies to a part of the population wanting to have to do less and less with the ‘international community’, and have a lowered sense of responsibility to tackle global problems than before. Also, issues like migration and the economy have national and international dimensions, as such, bringing international issues to the doorstep of the Dutch, where migration is believed by some to cause a loss of cohesion and identity.

Towards a more specific foreign policy

1. Awareness of the global context: “In order to establish a strategic foreign policy, politicians, government officials and citizens must be fully aware of the consequences that living in a hybrid world involves.”

2. Interest-based prioritising:

  • What is important for the Netherlands?
  • What are the interests of other actors and what do they do to realise them?
  • Where can the Netherlands make a difference?

3. Niches as specialisations

Foreign policy niches are certain key policy areas which would receive more funding than regular FP issues and which would allow the Netherlands to set long-term key foreign policy goals. This would have three distinct advantages:

  • Excellence in specific policy areas is one of the few ways “medium-sized” powers can make a contribution to international and global issues.
  • Specialisation brings perfection of those specific areas.
  • Niches are sources of influence and power on the world stage.

Some examples of niche markets for the Netherlands would be

1 Water and climate;
2 Food and sustainability; and
3 Building the international rule of law.

The Netherlands already has very distinct knowledge in water (crisis) management and agricultural technology. Also, the Hague is the international capital of justice.


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