Today newly appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands presented his foreign policy. The successor of Frans Timmermans, Mr. Bert Koenders, just returned from his post as United Nations special envoy for the Mali peacekeeping mission. Possibly this was the best training a Minister of Foreign Affairs could receive. Though previously serving as a Minister for Development Cooperation, Mr. Koenders left the aid & trade agenda to his colleague Mrs. Ploumen and focussed on safety and security in his first parlementarian debate on his new policy choices.
The notion of self-interest, consistently present in Dutch foreign policy during the last decade, still prevailed with the concerns of Dutch citizens taking centre stage. What is interesting is a broad concept of safety and security that Koenders presented. This translates in a refocus on countries bordering Europe called the first ring. Countries bordering Libya were a case in point. If this also translates into a shift in the investment agenda is still to be seen. However, I can imagine that the current instability really requires economic opportunities for citizens to counter balance the sense of being left behind. Lastly values take the centre stage again. "Our values are our interests" was a motto that Koenders expressed. This is a much needed correction on the economic diplomacy agenda that had the upper hand in the past couple of years.
Safety and justice
Koenders also connected safety to justice, which refers to the lack of chances for those minorities that are turning to extremism. Again a ring of investment around Europe will try to undo some of the sensitivities herein. Explicit reference was made to the situation in Libya, of which Koenders experienced the spin-off in Mali. Increased investment in Tunesia and Egypt seems opportune in this respect though this was not explicitly mentioned. Naturally also Russia and the situation in Syria received ample attention, in particular the belt of nations to the south of Russia was mentioned as a forgotten region that needed due attention. At the same time Koenders was a realist in stating that a lot needs to be done at European level and within the context of the UN and NATO, however often a broker role was envisaged to bring parties around the table. Political solutions featured heavily in Koenders speech where he emphasized that the Netherlands should not be tempted to choose sides, in particular in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He did not want to follow the example of Sweden who recognized the Palestinian State, despite peer pressure from Mr. Servaes of his own Labour party and his colleague from the Socialist party Mr. van Bommel.
Prevention & Early Warning
It was good to hear that also due attention was given to prevention and early warning. Mr. Koenders made very clear that when conflicts get to the surface suffiicent media attention is received and as a result funds are mobilised to help victims. However, preventing conflicts to erupt is not much rewarding in terms of political gains. Nevertheless he considered it worth investing, also in the aftermaths of crises. This is good news for our Disaster Recovery Management students that will be looking for jobs in a while, but more importantly it is good news for the communities that are highly vulnerable to conflicts related disasters. The technical solution does not always suffice. Often you need political solutions first. However, that is quite a challenge in the current geo-political landscape. Anyway, it kept our parlementarians busy till 2:22 AM next day.
My name is Reinier van Hoffen.
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Also find the text of a lecture Dr. Achterhuis held at the 2012 Bilderberg conference.