War is no solution
this article is a translation of "Manifest tegen de verhoging van het Defensiebudget"
Last April an initiative involving the former Labour politician, Harry J. van den Bergh; the former Commander of the Armed Forces, Dick Berlijn; the former Liberal politician, Arend Jan Boekestijn; the former senior civil servant in the Defence Ministry, Lodewijk Casteleijn; the former Secretary of Defence for the Christian Democratic Party, Hans Hillen; General (ret.) Cees Homan, and the former Labour politician, Gerrit Valk, issued a ‘Manifesto for boosting Dutch defence’ that argues for a rise in our country’s defence expenditure with 1.5 billion euros. The Manifesto has been signed by 31 personalities from the defence policy area broadly speaking (that is, even including the prominent former peace activist, Mient Jan Faber).
OorlogIsGeenOplossing.nl emphatically rejects this call for reasons that can be summed up under the following headings.
1. The responsibility of the West in calling forth the ‘threats’ identified in the Manifesto is systematically ignored Instead of investing in a world order focussed on peace, just development, and restoring the Earth’s biosphere, the West, under American leadership, right after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 has begun a forward march that has meanwhile brought us to the Russian borders and has set the Middle East and North Africa on fire. In contrast to our neighbouring countries the Netherlands in not one of the separate conflicts (Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Ukraine… ) has distanced itself from American and/or NATO policy.
2. Not a single ‘threat’ has been caused by military weakness on the part of the West, NATO, or the Netherlands
All developments today presented as ‘threats’ date from the period after the United States had defeated the Soviet Union in the arms race. Since then the American defence budget hovers at a level of around half that of global military expenditure, more than the next ten largest countries together. What threatens us are the regime changes in a number of countries forced by the West; inequality and poverty in the world, and the exhaustion of the biosphere (from climate change to fish stocks)—not an insufficient defence effort on the part of the Netherlands.
3. The Manifesto expresses an unfounded nostalgia for the military doctrine of the Cold War
The downsizing of the armed forces is spelled out in detail but it is not related to the changed remit of NATO: from the defence against a large conventional invasion in a separate sector, to an expeditionary force with a global mission. The replacement of heavy armoured units by lighter mobile ones, the reduction of the First Army Corps with its two combat-ready divisions of conscripts (and one mothballed division) to nine battalions of professional soldiers, directly flow from that change. If one would object to this, the 50th anniversary of NATO at the time of the Kosovo war in 1999, when the choice was made for ‘out of area’ missions, would have been the time to protest. No serious defence specialist today can maintain that a return to the military situation as it existed until 1991 would be a real option or one serving the security of the Netherlands.
4. The ‘threats’ identified in the Manifesto cannot be compared to each other and each requires an appropriate responseThe fact that Russia is responding to military activities on its borders with a power politics of its own should not obscure that throughout, Moscow has attempted to reduce tensions as well. In Afghanistan NATO has been able to use bases in Russia. In Syria Russia came to the rescue of the US and the West by having the chemical weapons of the Syrian army destroyed abroad; in Iran it did so by coming up with solutions for uranium enrichment with guarantees against abuse. That Russia actively resists the integration of Georgia and Ukraine into NATO can hardly be considered a threat against the Netherlands. That is why the Russian desire to negotiate and lift the sanctions should be honoured.
As far as jihadist terrorism is concerned, the West bears a huge responsibility because from 1978 in Afghanistan it has supported just that, directly and through allies such as Saudi Arabia. To eliminate the breeding ground for a recruitment of jihadists, we do not need a reinforcement of Dutch defence, but an effort against unemployment and poverty, both here and in the Middle East and Africa.
5. The Dutch contribution to a stabilisation of international relations will have to consist of a rehabilitation of the international legal order
Instead of further destabilising international relations by increasing the Dutch contribution to it, there is an urgent need of a contribution by the Netherlands to a rehabilitation of the international legal order. The Manifesto actually does point to that, but fails to mention that the attacks on Yugoslavia and the invasion of Iraq took place without a UN mandate, or that in Libya, a mandate to protect the civilian population was interpreted as a licence for regime change. The Netherlands has a long tradition of commitment to international law, even if this was primarily motivated by well-understood (economic) self-interest rather than any altruistic motives. Instead of banking on further militarization of our foreign policy, an additional investment in negotiations, conflict management and (development) cooperation, is urgently needed.