5.1 Introduction

In the preceding Chapters (2, 3 and 4) we have discussed the changing nature of security and the expansion of the concept of security and explored their consequences for the formulation of strategy. In this and the following chapters, the consequences for defence policy and the armed forces are analysed.

The strategic trends that are decisive for the security of the Netherlands impose new demands on Dutch defence policy. To determine the type of defence policy required in a changing security environment, this chapter addresses the following questions:

  • What are the historical background and points of departure of security policy and what defence policy has the Netherlands pursued in the last decade? (Sects. 5.1 and 5.2)

  • What developments and trends are currently occurring in the international security environment? (Sects. 5.3 and 5.4)

  • What consequences should they have for the main tasks of defence policy? (Sect. 5.6)

5.2 Background to Defence Policy

Beyond Entrenchment

For centuries, the Netherlands has had an international and European orientation that accords with the goals, interests and values of an increasingly urbanised and relatively prosperous trading country. The country has aspired, particularly since the second half of the nineteenth century, to an open, international economic system and a stable international legal order that curb arbitrary action and power politics by means of strong institutions, legal frameworks and the peaceful settlement of disputes. This is why the Netherlands was a driving force behind The Hague Peace Conferences (1899, 1907) and the establishment of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. It is aware that openness and interconnectedness are accompanied by dependence on the external environment and vulnerability to shocks originating elsewhere.

The idea that the Kingdom’s security, and thus the security of our democratic society, is mainly a question of shutting ourselves off from the world around us has long been untenable. Although the general image of ‘defence’ is that of defending a fortress or a walled city, a new perspective was already emerging in the nineteenth century. Although colonial and trade interests played an important role in that respect, it is noteworthy that the Constitution of 1814 already instructed the Sovereign Ruler (the later King) “to maintain an adequate navy and army, recruited from volunteers, either indigenous or aliens, to serve inside or outside Europe according to the circumstances”.Footnote 1 However, there was an important difference compared with the present situation, because protection of the national territory, and more specifically the province of Holland, was the military and mental fall-back position. From the end of the eighteenth century until 1940, a system of forts and areas of land that could be inundated if necessary formed the New Dutch Water Line (Nieuwe Hollandse Warterlinie), a line of defences designed to protect the cities of Holland and Utrecht against advancing hostile armies.Footnote 2 This view of defence as entrenchment against external forces – in the same way as dykes protect against encroachment by the sea – was a response to the characteristic feeling of most people in this country, which was described by the sociologist Weidenhaus as ‘concentric-linear’: life unfolds in the same region in a succession of similar experiences. The nineteenth-century nationalism and the preference for forming culturally and economically homogeneous nation states, separated by borders from other states, reflected that view.Footnote 3

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, however, a change started to occur in the thinking about international relations. This transformation of the world (as the title of Osterhammel’s book in 2011 puts it) set in motion a trend where a growing number of people, some driven to it by their circumstances, became less bound to a single place but lived their lives more in networks and as a succession of episodes. This led to tremendous growth of the transport sector, migration and international trade.Footnote 4 The Netherlands’ trade interests also prompted a change in perceptions of international relations, which was partly, but certainly not exclusively, connected with colonial interests; the international regulation of shipping on the Rhine was also an important subject of Dutch diplomatic activity. The understanding that trade and transport were best served by peaceful international relations was an important driving force of Dutch foreign policy, which was manifested, among other things, in the preparation and organisation of The Hague Peace Conferences in 1899 and 1907, which resulted in treaties on the peaceful resolution of international disputes and on the restrictions to be observed in war. With these treaties, the first steps were taken in moving away from defending oneself by halting hostile armies towards preventing the need to do so.

Active Membership

The still fragile development of treaty-based international relations suffered a dramatic setback with the First World War. New efforts to revive them, such as the General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy (the Briand-Kellogg Pact) signed in Paris in 1928, also collapsed when Nazi Germany and the imperialistic Japan again launched wars of aggression. In the first decade after the Second World War there were fears of a Third World War, potentially even more disastrous because of the availability of nuclear weapons.Footnote 5

The Kingdom of the Netherlands, which until the Second World War had tried to remain safe through a policy of neutrality, immediately joined nato after the war, while in its foreign policy it played a prominent role through diplomacy and aid for the Third World. The amendment of the Constitution in 1953 reflected this, for example, with the instruction to the government to promote the development of the international legal order (currently Article 90). The Dutch armed forces (which were made up in part of conscripts) made a qualitatively and quantitatively significant contribution to the alliance. Nato and the Warsaw Pact, with disproportionate contributions from the two superpowers, armed themselves to be prepared for the worst and developed military strategies for a war in which the North German plains would be an important battleground.Footnote 6

Since the 1950s, the Netherlands has protected itself through its active membership of the un institutions, nato, the eu and other regional European institutions such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (oecd) and the Council of Europe, and later the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (osce). The un institutions provided the platform for peaceful resolution of international disputes, multilateral cooperation and protection of human rights.Footnote 7

The threatening crises over Berlin and Cuba at the beginning of the 1960s were de-escalated just in time.Footnote 8 In the ensuing years, the threat of war gave way to an international security environment in which stability was derived from mutual deterrence and – on balance – adequate means of communication, symbolised by the un Security Council and the ‘telephone hotline’ established between Washington and Moscow, to prevent wars from starting by mistake. In addition to the availability of forums for diplomatic negotiations and the resolution of disputes, the realisation in the United States (with its nato allies) and in the ussr (with the Warsaw Pact countries) that nuclear annihilation would not produce any winners in a world in which countries all depended on one another ultimately also had a salutary effect.

The policy of détente (from the 1970s) and agreements on arms control, followed by the implosion of the communist power structures, heralded the start of a new era at the end of 1989. With the United States as the sole remaining superpower, the expectation quickly spread that that country would be the guardian of international peace. Euphoria was the dominant emotion and that gave a powerful boost to the eu. Although the savage civil wars in the former Yugoslavia and military conflicts in the Caucasus disturbed the picture of a peacefully reunited Europe, optimism prevailed. Defence spending was substantially reduced throughout Europe; in the Netherlands by 25% between 1990 and 2014, a figure that is not corrected for the growth of gdp. As a percentage of gdp, expenditure fell from 2.5% to 1.2% (see Chap. 6). National service was suspended in the Netherlands in 1997. The total number of personnel in the armed forces declined by three-quarters, not even counting the disappearance of the reservists.

In the context of this Pax Americana,Footnote 9 the Dutch armed forces no longer concentrated on defending the territory of the Western European allies against attacks from the East – it was assumed that this threat had disappeared for good – but on participating in military actions in other countries, usually under the title of ‘crisis management and peacekeeping operations’, under the auspices of nato, the un or the eu. This task has gradually evolved in the sense that human rights and the democratic rule of law are not seen as the preserve of this country’ society, but are also an entitlement of peoples elsewhere in the world.Footnote 10 The collective defence under American leadership in nato protected the Netherlands against the threat from the Soviet Union and spared international relations from ‘continental’, Franco-German dominance. And the European Community gave the Netherlands access to a stable internal market with the other member states, an economic level playing field and the growth of prosperity which, with the establishment of its own welfare state, acted as a buffer against global economic shocks.

In 2000, the article of the Constitution devoted to the tasks of the armed forces, which were previously exclusively the defence and protection of the interests of the Kingdom, was supplemented with ‘to maintain and promote the international legal order’ (Article 97), together with the obligation for the government to inform the States-General in advance if the armed forces are to be deployed or made available to maintain or promote the international legal order (Article 100).

The Dutch armed forces have participated in approximately 50 international military missions since 1990. The structure of the streamlined Dutch armed forces was tailored to these types of operation, with a fairly wide range of military capabilities, but with scant possibilities to carry out the operations for more than a few years. During this period the image of the ‘Swiss army knife’ was introduced to symbolise the versatility and flexible deployability of the armed forces.Footnote 11 The symbol of the Swiss army knife was intended to express the fact that a range of instruments had been combined in a single toolbox, but that each could be taken out and used as required. In that context it was assumed that the Netherlands “(is) an open and prosperous country in a safe region” (p. 298) and that the changes since the 1990s could be extrapolated into the future (p. 303). As provided for in the Coalition Agreement in 2010, the Minister of Defence at the time wanted to remain “as close as possible” to this concept, but with the reservation that this was “very risky” as a result of the continuing cutbacks.Footnote 12

More than a quarter of a century after 1989, the observation has to be made that the expectations of peace and stability have been rudely shattered. The current situation of shortages and vulnerability in the Dutch defence forces has to be attributed to the fact that even long after the signs that times had changed, in other words even after 2008, policy continued to build on the expectation that serious military conflicts would pass us by. H.A. WinklerFootnote 13 describes how the triumph of the Western model of society ended in tragedy with the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. The succeeding period was devoted to the war against terror, followed by the global financial crisis in 2008. In the ensuing years Obama’s America was evidently overburdened, according to Winkler,Footnote 14 while the problems accumulated for the eu and the West: the debt problem, the demise of the Arab Spring, the growing ambitions of Russia and China, the Ukraine crisis and, since the crisis year of 2014, a ‘globalisation of terror’ (p. 549).

The coinciding of the financial crisis with the radical change in the international security environment led, even after 2008 and right up until 2015, to a continued reduction of spending on defence by the Dutch government, but also of spending for conflict prevention through (adequate forms of) development cooperation. This determines the complexity and urgency of finding a new frame of reference for Dutch policy. The finding from the Ministry of Defence’s foresight studies that security policy must be equipped to meet multiple challenges was in itself correct. The dramatic deterioration in the outlook after 2001, and even more so after 2014, confirms that the old model of security behind a territorial line of defence is no longer fit for purpose. Insecurity presents itself in the same continental and intercontinental networks that characterise our lives and societies.

5.3 International Operations and Multilateral Frameworks

The points of departure and developments outlined in the previous section, the reactions to them and the lessons that have been drawn from them are still apparent. The Netherlands makes an active contribution to international crisis and stabilisation operations (Sect. 5.3.1) and invests in more intensive cooperation within the tried and trusted multilateral frameworks (Sect. 5.3.2), but today it does so with fewer resources (financial and otherwise) than in the 1980s and 1990s.

5.3.1 Contributions to Crisis and Stabilisation Operations

When the Cold War ended, the classical threat of aggression against the country’s own territory was no longer regarded as germane. Since then the Netherlands’ ambition has been to make an active contribution to crisis and stabilisation operations with the aim of promoting the development of the international legal order, addressing the fundamental causes of conflicts and translating its own military performance into political influence. Since 1990, the armed forces have been transformed into a flexible expeditionary force in a high state of readiness.Footnote 15 Conscription was suspended and the Netherlands’ professional soldiers started participating in numerous peacekeeping and other missions.Footnote 16Footnote 17

Since then the relevance of the armed forces is no longer determined by the extent to which they are not deployed (deterrent), but by the frequency with which they are sent out on missions.Footnote 18 The question is whether that should be the case, since it has an impact on defence planning. The central question is no longer what the Netherlands needs in terms of defence capabilities in light of the security situation, but what political ‘ambitions’ – expressed in numbers, scale and intensity of troop deployments – are formulated in the Netherlands and how the armed forces can achieve those ambitions with diminishing financial resources.Footnote 19

The participation in these operations also resulted in agreements on the political decision-making in the form of the Assessment Framework (1995) and the new Article 100 that was inserted in the Constitution in 2000. That article provides that “[the government] shall inform the States-General in advance if the armed forces are to be deployed or made available to maintain or promote the international legal order. This shall include the provision of humanitarian aid in the event of armed conflict.”

The political support for the invasion of Iraq and the contribution to nato’s isaf mission in Afghanistan made it clear, however, that in practice the lengthy list of criteria for assessing the desirability and possibility of participating in missions in the Assessment Framework provided no guarantee of the legal legitimacy of Dutch military action or of political support for it. Outspoken objections and counter-arguments were not sufficiently considered and too often the expertise of specialist academics was left neglected. In its report on the intervention in Iraq, the Davids Committee referred explicitly to the importance of an international-law mandate.

The Assessment Framework has therefore also been amended a number of times. The most recent change came in 2014, when the importance of protecting the civilian population and providing care for soldiers after a mission were added as issues that needed to be considered.Footnote 20 Nevertheless, there is still an area of tension between the ambition of retaining international influence and relevance by contributing to international operations, the objective of strengthening the international legal order and the aim of retaining political and social support for that ambition. This has been illustrated once again by the debate about the bombing of Da’esh in Iraq and Syria. Only if such actions are embedded in a widely-supported international long-term strategy for reconstruction, which also includes protection of the civilian population and the prevention of new conflicts, might this tension possibly diminish.

5.3.2 Further Integration with Multilateral Frameworks and Bilateral Partners

There are various underlying reasons for the further integration of the Netherlands’ efforts in the field of security with those of its allies: the Netherlands’ declining political weight since the enlargement of the eu and nato, the growing significance of the eu in the areas of justice and home affairs and foreign and security policy, the waning commitment of emerging powers to multilateralism, the declining American willingness to pay the costs of European security and the Netherlands’ wish to cut spending on foreign and security policy. ‘Peace without money, war without Americans’ − that is the dual challenge facing countries in Europe, especially since Donald Trump became President of the United States.Footnote 21

That challenge has to be faced in an altered landscape of conflicts. As Fig. 5.1 shows, there are few conflicts between states and internal problems within countries also do not seem to have increased in the last 20 years. The intensity of conflicts seems to be diminishing, see Fig. 5.2. The latent threats have changed, however, and that calls for a revised defence policy with a different role for the armed forces.

Fig. 5.1
A line graph of number of conflicts versus years. 2 lines of intra and interstate with a fluctuating trend between the years 1945 and 2010.

Intra- and inter-state conflicts 1945–2013. (Source: Clingendael Strategic Monitor 2014)

Fig. 5.2
A dual axis line graph of conflict magnitude, number of conflicts, versus years. 4 lines of intra state and interstate conflicts and total conflicts with a fluctuating trend between 1945 and 2010.

Trends in conflicts: 1946–2012, total magnitude (number and scale) and numbers of inter-state and intra-state conflicts worldwide. (Source: HCSS Strategic Monitor 2013: 15)

For some time, Dutch policy has been a ‘policy of contribution’; the Netherlands never undertakes international missions alone, but is asked to participate, and can use that position to exert political influence.Footnote 22 Consequently, there is also a growing realisation that the further consolidation and sharing of essential capabilities is imperative, but also creates mutual dependencies and vulnerabilities. After all, the decision-making in nato and the transition from a European Security and Defence Policy (esdp) to a genuine Common Security and Defence Policy (csdp) are intergovernmental processes, depend on differing and often conflicting – also in domestic political terms – agendas of the member states and proceed slowly and with difficulty. In that constellation, countries like the Netherlands are relatively vulnerable to the attitude of the larger countries.Footnote 23

The Netherlands also supports the growing practice of civil-military coordination in un and nato operations; the international centre of expertise on this subject is based in the Netherlands. In this practice, military units coordinate their actions and the necessary support with the civil parties on the ground.Footnote 24 The un already appealed in 1992 for intensive efforts to ensure that crisis management operations made a genuine contribution to enduring peace and security. There have been numerous publications since then containing calls for more coherent approaches to security and development. In 2003, the Netherlands developed its own policy framework based on the principle “as civil as possible, as military as necessary”.Footnote 25 The aim of civil-military coordination is to support the peace process and security, win the trust of the local population and – where necessary – repair the infrastructure and temporarily perform administrative and policing duties on a modest scale. An interdepartmental consultative structure was created for these subjects, in which the ministries of Foreign Affairs (including the Directorate-General for International Cooperation) and Defence participate, and other ministries and ngos attend by invitation.Footnote 26

In addition to the track focusing on the eu, nato, the un and the osce, the Netherlands also follows a bilateral track with countries including Germany, Belgium, France and the United Kingdom. It also explores the possibilities for closer cooperation in coalitions of the able and willing. The Netherlands pushes for closer bilateral cooperation with Belgium, France, the United Kingdom and Germany. Examples of the steps it has taken are the gradual deepening of the army’s integration with the German Bundeswehr, the intensive cooperation with Belgium in naval affairs and protection of airspace and the closer operational cooperation with France arising from the Netherlands’ contribution to the eu mission in Mali (minusma).

The European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (cfsp) has become a fixture of Dutch security policy.Footnote 27 It reflects various cornerstones of Dutch policy, particularly the need for an ‘integrated approach’ in order to enhance the cooperation between the various actors in the eu and nato, the desire to strengthen Europe’s military capabilities, for example through pooling and sharing as is done at nato level. Another urgent issue mentioned is the need to improve political decision-making within the eu on rapid reaction units (the eu Battlegroups) and to involve national parliaments in those decisions.Footnote 28 The Netherlands also contributes to various eu civil and military missions.

At present Dutch security policy does not assign the eu a significant role beyond the domain of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, with the exception of the maritime security strategy, the European defence industry and, in that context, the provision of funds for research into the use of dual-use capacities for dual use, in other words for civil and military use. Some areas of common ground have arisen, however, such as those between migration and border control and between development cooperation and security, in the African Peace Facility for example. At the European Council meeting in June 2015, the Netherlands again stressed the importance of better and more systematic European defence cooperation and of strengthening partnerships with the un, nato, the osce and the African Union.Footnote 29

The experiences in Libya, Mali and the Central African Republic and the crisis in Ukraine demonstrate that the member states lack the political will to use the eu for crisis management. Progress in jointly tackling the shortfalls in European military capabilities via pooling and sharing of national investments and expanding the European security agenda to policy areas outside the Common Security and Defence Policy is also advancing very slowly. In December 2013, the European Council called on the High Representative to present new proposals for effective cooperation. Since then, the European Maritime Security Strategy (June 2014), an eu Cyber Defence Policy Framework and a Policy Framework for Systematic and Long-Term Defence Cooperation have been adopted, but these initiatives are still in their infancy.Footnote 30 The strategic challenges in the regions surrounding the eu will certainly also require changes in the European Neighbourhood Policy (enp), which has proved ineffective and should provide for differentiated relationships with the countries in the Middle East and North Africa and a more extensive toolbox of instruments, including capacity for a migration strategy and a rapid reaction force based on the Common Security and Defence Policy. At the European Council meeting in June 2015 it was decided that the eu will continue to develop “an effective, visible and result-oriented Common Security and Defence Policy, further develop both civil and military capabilities, and strengthen Europe’s defence industry”.Footnote 31

The eu’s High Representative subsequently prepared a strategic vision of the eu’s role in the world. After an extensive consultation process, the Global Strategy for the eu’s Foreign and Security Policy was published in June 2016 (Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe). The strategy calls for strengthening of defence cooperation in Europe. The presentation of the Global Strategy coincided with the referendum on the United Kingdom’s eu membership. With Brexit, the United Kingdom will also find itself ‘outside’ the Common Security and Defence Policy, which will complicate efforts to intensify European defence cooperation. Britain’s departure from the eu would seem to increase the chances of a more European, but less military Common Security and Defence Policy.Footnote 32 Nevertheless, there is still a lot of uncertainty about how Dutch policy should react in this context without the United Kingdom as a permanent partner.

The priorities in the Global Strategy will be translated to the Common Security and Defence Policy.Footnote 33 The euImplementation Plan on Security and Defence contains proposals for deepening defence cooperation, for example through the use of so-called ‘permanent structured cooperation’ (on the basis of Article 42(6) of the Treaty of Lisbon; for more on – reform of – the pesco mechanism, see also ceps 2015). A proposal for a European Defence Fund was unveiled on 30 November 2016. On 11 December 2017, 25 Member States committed to the activation of pesco by means of a Council Decision.

Since the difficult missions in Afghanistan, and particularly the growth of instability on the eastern and southern flanks of the eu, nato has been engaged in a reorientation to ‘essential core tasks’, including the collective defence of allied territory, as well as global military crisis management and security cooperation.Footnote 34 The process is not proceeding without problems. After all, the Ukraine crisis also exposed the divisions within nato: over the relative importance of the threats on the eastern and southern borders in the long term, over the most urgent investments in the military forces (flexible, mobile troops or rather a permanent force stationed on the border), over the feasibility and desirability of closer military cooperation and integration of troops.Footnote 35 This will also come to the fore in the forthcoming review of the Strategic Concept from 2010 (‘Active Engagement, Modern Defence’) and the new Comprehensive Political Guidance, which sets out the priorities for the next cycle of nato’s planning process.Footnote 36

The nato summit in Wales in September 2014 underlined the renewed importance of collective defence (c.q. Article 5 of the nato treaty, which provides that an attack against one member state shall be considered an attack against all of them and that all member states will cooperate in repelling the attack). For example, the Readiness Action Plan (rap) to improve the deployability of allied troops was adopted. The plan encompasses a reorganisation of the nato Response Force (nrf), including the establishment of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (vjtf), comprising a so-called rapid reaction force of 5000 troops.

The allies also committed themselves to raising defence spending towards 2% of gdp, decided to intensify nato patrols of the airspace over the Baltic states and announced large-scale military exercises along the eastern border. The Netherlands, together with Germany and Norway, is supplying ground troops for the vjtf. The Netherlands also signed a declaration of intent in 2013, together with the United Kingdom, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Norway, concerning participation in the British initiative for a Joint Expeditionary Force (jef) capable of responding quickly to crises without having to rely on decision-making in all 28 member states. Allies can decide on a case-by-case basis whether to contribute to the modules to be deployed. The Netherlands chose to contribute to maritime security with a joint British-Dutch amphibian force.

At the nato summit in Warsaw in July 2016, decisions were made on the forward deployment of units in the Baltic states, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. This ‘trend’ could continue in the coming years (and have consequences for the Dutch armed forces), depending on developments in relations between the us/nato and Russia. Also indicative of new threats to the collective security of nato is the Cyber Defence Pledge, which was adopted at the nato summit in Warsaw, in which cyberspace was recognised as a domain in which nato has to defend itself in the same way as the allies defend themselves on land, at sea and in the air. In principle, therefore, a cyber attack can be equated with an attack with conventional weapons (and therefore activate Article 5).

5.4 The Security of the Caribbean Parts of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

When one speaks of Dutch defence policy, thoughts normally turn only to that part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands that lies in Europe. But that is an incorrect constraint. The Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands leaves no doubt about that. International relations and defence encompass the entire Kingdom, not just the Netherlands or the European part of the Netherlands. The policy on international security extends to the entire state in the international law sense, in other words also those parts of the state situated in the Caribbean region.

However, international relations and defence as they relate to the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom do possess specific features. In the first place, there are differences arising from geography. The distance from Europe is too great and the scale of the relevant islands is too small to organise military activities there in the same way as in the European part of the Netherlands. Articles 30–33 and Article 35 of the Charter regulate the contributions of the countries of the Kingdom in terms of the staffing, materiel and financial requirements of defence. Article 34 grants the government of the Kingdom the power, in the event of war or the threat of war or a threat to or the disturbance of internal order and peace, to declare any part of the Kingdom to be in a state of war or a state of emergency with a view to maintaining internal or external security. This provision cannot be applied, however. The national law that should regulate itFootnote 37 has never been passed and a proposal in 1994 to rectify the situation has still to be implemented.

It is also relevant that Article 6 of the North Atlantic Treaty limits the obligation of collective self-defence to the territory north of the Tropic of Cancer. Although the obligation for the eu member states to provide mutual assistance in the event of armed aggression (Article 42(7) of the Treaty on European Union (teu)) does extend to the ultra-peripheral regions of the eu south of the Tropic of Cancer, such as the French Antilles, it does not apply for the so-called overseas countries and territories, in other words those parts of the member states to which, in principle, eu law does not apply by virtue of Article 52 teu and Article 355 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (tfeu).Footnote 38 The Caribbean parts of the Kingdom of the Netherlands currently fall into the latter category, although there is a possibility – in particular for the islands falling within the Dutch state system, Bonaire, Saint Eustatius and Saba – that this will change in the near future. Although the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom lack the protection of nato and the eu under international law, their defence is de facto embedded in alliances with the us and the two other European states with Caribbean territories, France and the United Kingdom. These countries coordinate the coastguard’s activities to combat drug trafficking and by special agreement the us has an air force support base on Curaçao.

In addition to these differences arising from geography and from treaties, there are also differences in the nature of the security issues. The Caribbean is a part of the world with a large number of island states and regions that differ from one another in various respects. The changes in international relations in the Caribbean region in the last century were caused by decolonisation and revolutions, not by wars aimed at territorial expansion at the expense of another state. Naturally, this does not mean that the region is assured of lasting peace. Since the Argentine-British war over the Falkland Islands, the question is raised from time to time of whether Venezuela will always respect the sovereignty of primarily European governance of three nearby islands.Footnote 39 It is not inconceivable – as was the case in Argentina at the time – that domestic unrest will spill over into a foreign adventure. For its part, Venezuela might, in the event of serious disturbances on one of the islands, feel called upon to protect its interests in the oil refining on Curaçao and Aruba by military means.

In other words, as in Europe and around the Mediterranean, internal and external peace are interconnected in this part of the world. Placing the connection between external and internal peace on the agenda is complicated, however, by the fact that, with the exception of the ‘guarantee function’ and ensuring compliance with treaties, the Government of the Kingdom has no general powers in internal matters. Nevertheless, the binding nature of treaties on the Kingdom is important when it comes to the essential features of a free and socially just society. When internal peace is disturbed by clear violations of civil, political, economic, social or cultural rights – the subjects covered by, among other things, the principal un conventions – the organs of the Kingdom are obliged to defend the citizens of every part of the Kingdom. The same applies for other possible causes of social disruption, such as major corruption, drug trafficking and other forms of organised crime. Those issues also involve treaty obligations of the entire Kingdom – but the responsibility of each individual country must always take priority, both for constitutional reasons and in the interests of the political cohesion within each of the societies. An excessive inclination to intervene could itself become a source of tension.

Little research has been conducted into the special features and requirements of security policy in the Caribbean region. Twenty years ago Ivelaw Griffith investigated the unique security problems in the Caribbean in a study for the American Institute for National Security Studies (part of the National Defence University). The region is vulnerable partly because of its fragmentation in a constitutional sense: ‘traditional concepts of sovereignty cannot cope with torrential trans-border flows of narcotics, money, arms, and immigrants’.Footnote 40 In addition to a number of unresolved border disputes, the most important of which involves Venezuela and Guyana, major risks arise from the ‘geonarcitics’, the term Griffith uses to denote a multi-dimensional phenomenon with “drug production, consumption-abuse, trafficking, and money-laundering” as the principal problems and joint actions by the Caribbean entities in response to them.Footnote 41 He refers to the need to strengthen the stability of democratic governance, in conjunction with protection of human rights and a properly functioning judicial system (pp. 69–72). Mutual cooperation is needed for survival, but is not enough; help from outside – he mentions the US in that context, but France, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands could also feel they are being addressed – is also essential (pp. 73–74). Twenty years later, these observations have lost none of their actuality, but would now have to be supplemented with the subject of migration, including the criminal abuse of migrants in the form of human trafficking. Like drug trafficking, human trafficking is accompanied by other forms of crime (money laundering, corruption and intimidation of public officials).

The wide-ranging studies by Prevost, Vanden et al. in 2014 are also concerned with Central and South America. In relation to the drug trade, they refer in particular to a loss of sovereignty in regions where armed gangs (maras) and large-scale criminal organisations have assumed power.Footnote 42 They too advocate external support for fragile states in order to contain the risks arising from failing states and uncontrolled regions (pp. 187–188). Furthermore, a situation could arise in this part of the world where large numbers of people migrate because of civil wars, pandemics or climate change and so further undermine the fragile stability of the Caribbean political entities.

When one compares the experiences in the last few years with the findings from this research, what stands out is that they point in the same direction. In the fragmented Caribbean environment, security policy has to be implemented on the basis of cooperation aimed at creating stability. The Dutch military component can only function in a supporting and supplementary role alongside those of the Caribbean states and other entities, the us, France and the United Kingdom. But that involvement of the Netherlands is essential, given the relatively great importance of the islands connected to the Netherlands in this part of the world. Strengthening the stabilising institutions of the Caribbean countries and island territories in the Kingdom, such as the judiciary, the public prosecution service and politics, must remain a high priority. Stronger socio-economic development ultimately offers the best counterweight to the creation of power vacuums; these can also be no-go areas in slums or sectors of the economy without effective supervision.

The Kingdom’s armed forces will have to continue playing a role in maritime security. Although there are no complaints of shortcomings on the part of the Royal Netherlands navy at the moment, its capacity is also under pressure in the Caribbean region. Capabilities to protect against threats to flow security will also demand attention – given the risks associated with abuse of vital transport routes –from the perspective of security in the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom.

5.5 Developments and Trends in the International Security Environment

Defence policy is emphatically confronted with the deep-seated changes in the security environment. As a result of the convergence of ‘old’ and ‘new’ threats to security, together with the greater interconnectedness of internal and external security, the negative consequences of globalisation are appearing alongside traditional geopolitical threats. Complex global issues, such as climate change, migration and the crumbling liberal international order based on laws and treaties, demand attention. The same applies for the growing rivalry between (groups of) states over issues such as spheres of influence, open spaces (the sea, airspace and space), scarce natural resources (including water, energy and raw materials) and markets. Non-state enemies have profited from globalisation and become increasingly important actors. Security is no longer primarily territorial or static, but shifts within and between networks, both physical and digital. A great deal of research is therefore being conducted into the impact of these developments on the future deployment of armed forces. nato, for example, is drafting future scenarios for developments such as the use of and denial of access to regions, large-scale disasters due to climate change, weapons of mass destruction and cyber threats (interview with act nato, February 2015).

What developments and strategic trends are likely to determine the security environment in the Netherlands and Europe in the coming decades? The analyses performed by various think tanks (including the Centre for European Policy Studies, the Clingendael Institute, The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, the Institut des Relations Internationales et Stratégiques, the European Institute for Security Studies, the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik and the German Marshall Fund) can provide an initial impression.

The Eastern Flank of the eu

The states on the eu’s eastern flank are high on the list of potential flashpoints of future instability and conflict, because of their weak institutions, imbalanced economic development, corrupt political elites, ethnically diverse populations and arduous leadership changes. These states are expected to become more exposed to the disrupting influence of Russia. Popular revolutions such as the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, the failed Tulip Revolution in Kyrgystan in 2005 and the Arab Spring have awakened Russian fears of growing political ‘contamination’ from the Western world. Since the war with Georgia (2008), the orientation of the Russian Federation has steadily shifted to its own multilateral institutions, such as the Eurasian Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation. In this way, the country is claiming strategic leadership of the Central Asian region.Footnote 43 Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 illustrates the fact that hard military confrontations have not disappeared, even in the current era of globalisation, greater mutual dependencies and indirect exertion of power.Footnote 44 There is considerable debate among experts about whether the Russian action in Georgia and Crimea – involving, among other things, a combination of diplomatic pressure, propaganda and interventions by special troops and local activists – marks the start of an era of less inter-state trust with hybrid threats and warfare.Footnote 45 Russia’s military and economic strength in the longer term is also debated. But there is little doubt any longer that ‘Ukraine’ is sending a warning.

The Southern and Eastern Flanks of the eu

The instability and potential for conflict along the southern and eastern flanks of the eu will persist in the coming years. With the descent of the popular uprisings in the Arab Spring in 2011 into large-scale destabilisation and refugee crises, the Middle East and North Africa (mena) region is experiencing a turbulent period. Europe is feeling the effects of that in the form of an influx of refugees and irregular migrants, which has caused a severe escalation of social and political tensions within and between eu member states. The instability on the southern border seems set to continue for the time being. With the exception of Oman and Morocco, the human rights situation has deteriorated in all of the mena countries and their governments are under pressure from economic shocks and enkindled terrorism. The south of Algeria, Libya, the Sinai region of Egypt, parts of northern Iraq and Syria and Yemen all face acute security problems because terrorist and criminal networks have stepped in to fill the vacuum left by the complete or partial absence of central authority. The civil war in Libya is feeding terrorism, drug trafficking and people smuggling and destabilising the global oil market. The death toll in the civil war in Syria has climbed into the hundreds of thousands and the war will probably set the country’s economy back by several decades. The stream of Syrian refugees into neighbouring Lebanon also increases the risk of internal uprisings in that country.

The Sahel countries and the Horn of Africa (Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti) form a region of growing instability (see Figs. 5.3 and 5.4). The relative vulnerability of each country is indicated by the depth of the colour in Fig. 5.4 which is based on the State Fragility Index (sfi). These countries are characterised by rapid population growth and suffer from recurring cycles of violence and weak governance. Fighting drags on, levels of violent crime remain high and development is stagnating. The result is labour migration and streams of refugees. Various forms of violence are also increasingly interconnected in these countries.

Fig. 5.3
A location map. It presents the location of the terrorist groups in the Middle East and North Africa, with details of their origin, goals, and targets.

Terrorist groups in the Middle East and North Africa. (Source: Missiroli et al. 2014: 58)

Fig. 5.4
A table of 6 columns. It presents the S F I with an overview of overall state vulnerability.

Vulnerability of countries in the Middle East and North Africa. (Source: HCSS 2014: 198)

Local political movements, for example, are financed with money from criminal activities or by international terrorist movements that join them. Local political grievances, social and economic deprivation and increasing drought brought on by climate change increase the potential for more violent conflicts, terrorism and refugee crises.

Asia and South and Central America

The further growth of the economic and political importance of countries like China, Indonesia, India, Brazil and Mexico will probably translate into greater tensions in trade policy, rivalry over access to raw materials and transport routes and expansion of their military potential. Pressure will also increase on the international architecture constructed under the auspices of the un. On a positive note, that architecture now extends to practically every social domain (domains that are in fact also covered by other international organisations): peace and security, human rights, economy and trade, development and, more recently, the management of the oceans, the Arctic region, airspace and space.Footnote 46

Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction

It is reasonable to expect that these power shifts and the fragmentation of power towards non-state actors will be manifested in a growing proliferation of and threat from nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the coming years. Despite earlier us-led attempts to establish such a system, there is still no global monitoring of the safe storage of nuclear materials or robust multilateral frameworks for reducing stockpiles of nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, most nuclear powers are busy modernising their arsenals. A third of the Russian defence budget, which has risen by more than 50% since 2007, is devoted to nuclear weapons. China, Pakistan and North Korea are also expanding their arsenals, and the us is investing in a modernisation programme.Footnote 47 Twenty-five countries currently possess nuclear material that could also be used to manufacture nuclear weapons.Footnote 48 Consequently, the risks of a further proliferation of nuclear weapons to states in the Middle East, of misunderstandings and accidents and of weapons falling into the hands of terrorists or criminals are many times greater than they were during the Cold War era, when only a small number of countries had nuclear weapons. It is also important not to underestimate the issues surrounding the maintenance and security of nuclear weapons and keeping the security systems up to date.

Cooperation and Solidarity with Alliances

The developments in the security environment also raise questions about the future solidarity of alliances. The Clingendael Monitor 2016, Grootmachten en mondiale stabiliteit [Great powers and global stability] (which formed part of the Dutch government’s Strategic Monitor together with the hcss 2016 report The Wheel of Fortune referred to below), focused mainly on forms of cooperation and conflict between the great powers (including the eu). The most important conclusions were: cooperation and conflict are not mutually exclusive; there are many forms of ad-hoc cooperation (not involving the forming of blocs); the us-China relationship will grow in importance but its nature will change (specifically, it will be based less on trust) and will consequently be less stable than the us-eu relationship; relations between the great powers will become less predictable; and the international order will become less liberal. In its Strategic Monitor 2016 (The Wheel of Fortune), the hcss analysed patterns of cooperation and conflict in the international relations between both state and non-state actors. Important observations made in the report were: forms of cooperation are diminishing; the major powers are becoming more assertive in pursuing their own direct interests; the number of major conflicts with large numbers of victims is increasing; classical inter-state crises have returned. However, the negative developments were balanced by some positive trends/sources of security (people worldwide are better educated, better fed, healthier and more tolerant).

The conclusion could be that the security environment in which the Netherlands and Europe find themselves has changed, but the possibilities for cooperation with other countries are also evolving. The stability of the relationships within the alliances will become less predictable with the United Kingdom’s exit from the eu and with the course being taken by Trump’s presidency in the United States. Concurrent conflicts with countries with which we have trade relations are likely to become more rather than less frequent, while the diversity of partners with whom action is taken in response to a threat or a conflict will increase, as will the forms of partnership. In that environment, the Netherlands’ security policy (both national and international) needs to be reviewed – and the position of the armed forces in particular needs to be reassessed.

5.6 Changes in Warfare

It is impossible to say with certainty what future conflicts and what form of deployment the armed forces need to prepare for – the world is constantly changing. However, a number of dominant trends can be identified.

Hybrid warfare is receiving far greater attention as a result of Russia’s actions in Crimea and in East Ukraine, where the Russian approach was characterised by the denial of military involvement (such as the so-called ‘proxy war’) and the use of non-military means (including propaganda, destabilisation of the public debate by distributing fake news and damaging the reputation of individuals and authorities, cyber warfare – including hacking and the use of ‘trolls’ on social media – and economic pressure).Footnote 49

Hybrid warfare is the collective name for warfare involving the use of a range of military and non-military instruments (see Fig. 5.5). It is not an entirely new form of warfare. It offers states – and non-state actors – various possibilities to exert influence in the current security environment without engaging in large-scale military confrontations. Although large-scale military conflicts cannot be ruled out, hybrid forms of conflict and warfare appear more likely. The use of non-traditional instruments – not necessarily targeted at an enemy’s military strength – can have a seriously disruptive effect and fundamentally change the traditional points of departure for operations.Footnote 50

Fig. 5.5
A graph. Y axis is labeled frequency. Peacetime and crisis, low intensity conflict, medium intensity conflict, and high intensity conflict are all listed on the X axis. A concave up decreasing curve is drawn, and various labels are listed from top to bottom, among them humanitarian assistance and global war.

Differences in involvement in conflicts and warfare. (Source: Hoffman 2009)

Warfare in urban environments is another scenario for future deployment of the armed forces. This is a logical consequence of the forecast that in 20 years’ time the majority of the world’s population will be living in ‘megacities’. That will impose specific demands on military action, based on the use of technologically advanced tactical capabilities. Another dominant trend concerns the expectation that armed forces will be called on more frequently to tackle the effects of natural disasters, in their own country and elsewhere, as a consequence of climate change.

Technological developments will also influence the operational environment and the deployment of the armed forces – (see Fig. 5.5).Footnote 51 They include advances in communication (resulting in steadily greater integration, provided systems are compatible), observation, precision (targeted use), autonomy and automation (of weapons systems). These developments will probably benefit armed forces, but at the same time – in the hands of state and non-state enemies – will inevitably make societies, and particularly their critical infrastructure, more vulnerable. That infrastructure could also involve (civil) capabilities in space, in the form of satellites. Achieving military superiority will be more challenging and more expensive because of the accelerating pace at which technologies are being developed and disseminated. Electronic warfare is an example of this. Effective access to the information domain – by gathering, analysing and using data (Big Data) (see the wrr’s report Big data in een vrije en veilige samenleving [Big Data in a free and secure society] (2016)) – will be a critical success factor in military operations. Embracing these technological innovations is vital for future-proofing the armed forces, whether as a deterrent to (potential) enemies, for gaining and retaining the upper hand in (armed) conflicts or minimising the country’s own vulnerability.

Whether this will lead to a major military upheaval, as was assumed in the 1990s, remains to be seen. With the shift from large-scale conventional (classical) action to mainly irregular and asymmetric warfare, the assumption that quick and resounding victories would come within reach has, in any case, not come about. In addition to the impact of technological developments, the importance of social development and the need to clearly understand the security environment are now recognised far more clearly than they used to be. Above all, the capacity to act in a complex security environment calls for knowledge and understanding of local conditions and the underlying causes of conflicts, both in the preparations and during the actual deployment.

5.7 Significance for the Main Tasks of Defence Policy

What do these developments imply for defence policy? That question can be answered on the basis of the three main tasks of defence policy:

  1. 1.

    protection of national and allied territory, including the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom;

  2. 2.

    promotion of the international rule of law and stability;

  3. 3.

    support for civil authorities in national law enforcement, providing disaster relief and humanitarian aid, both nationally and internationally.

What are the implications of the changed security environment for the performance of these three tasks? Political choices determine security policy. The deployment of the armed forces is not fixed, but is a consequence of political decisions. Nevertheless, defence policy rests on a number of constants that determine in part the relevance of the armed forces for security policy.

In the first place, the policy is not determined solely by the Netherlands’ own choices and interests. Allies and partners expect contributions from the Netherlands. They also count on the smaller countries.Footnote 52 Secondly, the Netherlands has indicated that it wants to retain a high-class expeditionary force in the future in accordance with the principles laid down in In het belang van Nederland [In the interest of the Netherlands] (2013). This was the reason why a sum of approximately 0.5 billion euros was added to the defence budget in the 2014 Budget.

That political choice reflects the continuity of the policy of deploying the armed forces as an instrument for making relevant Dutch contributions to stabilisation operations that has been in place since the policy document on defence priorities Een andere wereld, een andere defensie [A different world, a different defence] in 1993. This choice is a perfect fit in the current era, with its heavy emphasis on the effects of instability in the regions around Europe for the country’s own security. The defence of the territory of the country and its allies has ‘reappeared’ as a meaningful task of the armed forces. At the same time, this defence task will primarily involve making a relevant contribution to the defence of the alliance, since there is no question of a large-scale conventional threat against Dutch territory.

The Netherlands’ participation in the us-led coalition against Da’esh illustrates the second constant in Dutch security policy: the contribution to intensive peace-enforcing operations under American leadership, under the auspices of nato or otherwise. In light of the Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, the relationship with the us carries even greater weight than before 2014. The consideration that Dutch involvement in intensive peace-enforcing operations opens doors (and keeps them open) in Washington – and in the major European capitals – is as applicable as ever today. It creates possibilities for the Netherlands to exert influence.Footnote 53

The possibility of contributing to both stabilisation and intensive peace-enforcing operations is also a reflection of the political spectrum in the Netherlands, with Europeanists and Atlanticists (both of whom are in fact to be found in all of the political parties) and their associated preferences for operations higher or lower in the spectrum of the use of force.Footnote 54 Accordingly, alternating coalitions have a menu of options, whereby parties can ‘concede’ missions to one another. For example, although there was broad political support for Dutch involvement in Iraq, the political debate about whether the mission could be extended to Syria underlined the fact that legitimacy and public support cannot be taken for granted. Politicians and the public are not a priori opposed to the use of force, but the aversion to genuine ‘warfare’ is deeply rooted in the Netherlands.Footnote 55

The Assessment Framework for the deployment of the Dutch armed forces for crisis management operations illustrates the circumspection with which politicians operate. The political risks are not insignificant, as demonstrated by the fall of the fourth Balkenende government in 2010. The government and parliament therefore hold intensive consultations about Dutch contributions to crisis management operations, before the decision is made, during the operation and, in the last few years, on occasion after a mission has ended. In addition to the regular post-mission evaluation, the government can also decide to re-evaluate a mission 5 years after it has ended.Footnote 56 Strict demands are also made on the method of operation and the composition of Dutch military contributions. Examples are protecting the civil population or guaranteeing the necessary protection of soldiers sent out on missions.

5.7.1 Significance for the First Main Task

The changing security environment and the demands made on the armed forces give a specific interpretation and significance to the constitutional tasks. Treaty obligations mean that the first main task, the defence and protection of the interests of the Kingdom, naturally including the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom, has to be seen as including the defence of allied territory as well as the territory of the country itself. This has become far more relevant with the withdrawal of Russia as a cooperative security partner. Under the Readiness Action Plan, the mutual assistance clause, laid down in Article 5 of the nato treaty, will be reinforced in the coming years in the form of more exercises, a larger presence with rotating units, aerial reconnaissance and enforcement along the Alliance’s eastern border (see the nato Wales Summit Declaration, 5 September 2014). These measures will be supplemented with more and heavier firepower (decision at the Warsaw Summit in 2016).

The greater instability in Eastern Europe has again drawn attention to the importance of the ‘traditional’ conventional capabilities that are required to form a credible deterrent.Footnote 57 In that context, nato attaches great importance to Dutch military capacity such as F-35 fighter planes and submarines, as well as the Netherlands’ contribution to ballistic missile defence with air defence frigates. That does not signify a return to the Cold War and the static defence strategy of that period, however. Military action today calls for a dynamic approach with mobile and rapidly deployable units, spearheaded by the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (vjtf) from 2016.

nato is prepared for a variety of scenarios, with special attention – because of Russia’s actions in Crimea and East Ukraine and vis-à-vis the Baltic states – for hybrid warfare. That calls for specific capabilities in the field of cyber warfare, special units and capacity for intelligence gathering and analysis. Hybrid warfare is also receiving attention at eu level, where the emphasis is on the combined use of every available instrument, civil and military, in close cooperation with nato.

Very important in this regard is the debate about what is known as A2/ad: Anti Access and Area Denial. With A2/ad weapons systems such as ballistic missiles or by disrupting communication, parties can be denied operational access to a region, both on land and at sea. Russia (near Kaliningrad and during the intervention in Syria) and China (the southern and eastern China Sea) have both created such areas. This not only prevents nato from taking action during conflict situations, but also its ability to protect shipping routes, thereby also impairing flow security.

The following issues and the tasks derived from them require special attention in relation to this first main task:

Alliances with nato and eu

The annexation of Crimea, Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and various Russian statements, written and spoken, clearly illustrate the pressure on the international legal order in Europe. Deterrence and collective defence have assumed renewed significance. They demand an increase in nato’s state of readiness and compliance with the agreements made by the nato countries in Wales (September 2014) and Warsaw (July 2016) to increase their defence efforts.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, former Soviet Republics but now member states of nato, are vulnerable and their defence requires special attention.Footnote 58 The Netherlands is playing its part in their protection, for example through its participation in the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (vjtf) and Baltic Air Policing. This brings with it additional financial costs, in the short term to strengthen the sustainability of the Dutch armed forces and in the longer term to strengthen Europe’s military capacity to act. Contributions to solving Europe’s military shortfalls will not necessarily always comprise additional investments in personnel and materiel. More intensive cooperation is also an option, an area in which the Netherlands already has a good track record.Footnote 59

Protection of Vital Infrastructure

The Netherlands and its inhabitants function by virtue of the country’s vital infrastructure. The government and business community therefore work closely together to protect that vital infrastructure against disruption caused by disasters, attacks, technical faults and sabotage. In 2014, a new assessment of what constitutes the society’s vital infrastructure was made on the basis of the economic, physical and social impact and cascade consequences, with a view to ensuring that instruments and scarce resources intended to enhance their resilience are employed as efficiently and effectively as possible. In that context, in the coming period the ministries of Justice and Security and Defence will continue the Enhancing Civil-Military Cooperation (vcms) programme, thus creating a permanent partnership for crisis management between civil actors, such as the police, and the armed forces.


In addition to measures already taken, fighting jihadism, both in the Netherlands and at the source, is a priority. In the Netherlands, the nctv – which is part of the Ministry of Justice and Security – is responsible for implementing the Comprehensive Action Programme to Combat Jihadism, which was launched in August 2014. The eu has also formulated a counterterrorism strategy. Focal points of that strategy are pursuing jihadist fighters and cutting off financing of terrorism and seeking cooperation with strategic partners, particularly in the Gulf region. With initiatives at bilateral, eu and un level, the Netherlands focuses on eliminating breeding grounds for terrorism. Through the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law (iij), the Netherlands supports the process of judicial capacity building in North Africa and the Middle East. The intelligence and security services (the nctv, aivd and mivd) play a crucial role in fighting terrorism and received additional funding for those activities in February 2015.

Flow Security: Energy, Trade, Raw Materials and Cyberspace

The world has become deeply interconnected. The Netherlands has one of the world’s most open economies. Security is no longer location-bound, but depends to a large extent on unimpeded trade flows, uninterrupted availability of energy and raw materials and an open, free and secure Internet. The Netherlands must continue to actively campaign for the adoption of balanced rules and standards for global trade, which also benefit developing countries, in the World Trade Organisation (wto) and through specific agreements such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. On the question of energy, the Netherlands should lobby in the eu for a reduction of the eu’s dependence on Russia for gas.Footnote 60

Cyber security is crucial for the Netherlands’ prosperity and security (see also wrr (2015) De publieke kern van het internet [The public core of the Internet]). In the last few years, the Netherlands has taken steps to strengthen the country’s resilience against state and non-state criminal activities with the formulation of a National Cyber Security Strategy (2011, 2013) and the establishment of the National Cyber Security Centre. The government, the business community, institutions and citizens will have to continue these efforts. In addition to defensive cyber capabilities (protection of their own networks, systems and information), the armed forces will also have to strengthen their offensive cyber capabilities (with digital instruments designed to disrupt or disable the enemy’s actions). At international level, the Netherlands can promote international cooperation and the formulation of international rules. The organisation of the Global Conference on Cyberspace in April 2015 reflects the country’s ambition of playing an active role in placing these issues on the agenda.

The Dutch armed forces also safeguard flow security with the deployment of the navy to combat piracy and to protect shipping routes (in addition to private security). This is a domain where the A2/ad phenomenon discussed above, which might make such operations impossible, could affect the Netherlands and in particular its trade interests and distribution channels. Innovation and resolve, but particularly training and exercises in dealing with these new phenomena in conflict situations, are required.

5.7.2 Significance for the Second Main Task

As the previous chapters have shown, particularly the second main task of the armed forces, the maintenance and promotion of the international legal order, has been called into question. Nevertheless, that task will remain as relevant as ever for the time being – in its own right and as an extension of the national interest (wrr (2010b) Aan het buitenland gehecht [Attached to the World]). Although large-scale interventions and the formation of the nation state have become less likely as a result of negative experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, the greater instability in North Africa and other parts of Africa and the Middle East calls for active involvement, particularly on the part of Europe. Especially in Africa there will be a great need for stabilisation and peacekeeping missions, which should be based on an integrated approach to the complex and intransigent intra-state conflicts in the region.Footnote 61 The Netherlands is likely to be called on repeatedly in that context, in which case the armed forces could be deployed in various ways as part of an integrated Dutch contribution. This might involve peacekeeping operations with a broad mandate, including the possibility of using force, usually under the auspices of the un. minusma is the most recent example of such a mission.

The armed forces could also be regularly deployed for smaller-scale missions to train and advise the armed forces and the police in fragile states. The eu has been a frontrunner in this type of operation in the last decade and is also expected to develop security-related activities outside the traditional domain of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, for example in the context of the European Neighbourhood Programme, the Mediterranean Union and the Khartoum Process.

These are initiatives in which the armed forces are deployed in a preventive role in the pre-conflict or post-conflict phase. A specific consideration in relation to the deployment of the armed forces in the context of their second main task is the desired duration of Dutch involvement in reducing instability. The government recognises this and refers to the long-term effort required to tackle the underlying causes of instability. In terms of the specific military capabilities that are needed, the minusma mission in Mali can serve as an example. The main requirements are intelligence (gathering and analysis), special units, firepower (in the context of the desired escalation dominance, in this case with attack helicopters) and mobility (transport helicopters). The use of units operating in remote areas and under difficult circumstances (in terms of terrain, climate and accessibility) also makes major demands on logistics and support.

The following issues and the tasks derived from them require special attention in relation to this second main task:


Prevention is better than cure, particularly when it comes to crises and conflicts. The International Security Strategy refers to the importance of early warning and prompt action. This depends mainly on timely access to adequate information. In the meantime, additional information becomes available via the intelligence and security services, ngos supported by the Netherlands and international organisations. However, the capacity to respond to early warnings – independently; with or via state and non-state partners; or via international organisations – is still very limited. The capacity to identify warnings in time also needs to be improved at international level. The eu and nato were able to formulate responses to the Ukraine crisis, but, like the individual member states, ignored or underestimated the early warnings. Measures to strengthen the capacity for preventive action must therefore also include putting threats that have been identified on the agendas of international organisations and with the member states. That calls for (additional) mechanisms, starting with the development of preventive policy detailing the specific possibilities for national and multilateral measures to prevent conflicts.

Fragility: Tackling Instability at the Source

Fragility is one of the major causes of instability. The Netherlands has implemented 3d policy and fragile states policy and promoted an integrated approach in a series of crisis management operations, in combination with diplomatic and aid efforts. In the process, the relevant ministries, ngos, the business community and knowledge institutes have acquired relevant knowledge and expertise. For example, networks have been created in which the actors concerned work closely together in preparing and carrying out operations. De Leidraad Geïntegreerde Benadering [Guidelines for the Operationalisation of the Integrated Approach] (2014), in which cooperation is identified as the critical success factor, reflects that trend. However, the integrated approach was developed mainly as an executive instrument in the context of specific operations.

The experiences with the fragile states policy (see Chap. 3) should be translated into action perspectives, however difficult that may be. After all, the fragile states policy dates from 2008 and DeLeidraad Geïntegreerde Benadering (2014) focuses mainly on collaboration between the various actors, but there is no strategic long-term plan that takes account of the underlying causes of instability and the possibilities of preventive action. An integrated prevention and stabilisation unit within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (including Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation), with the participation of all the relevant ministries, could develop such an approach and then coordinate all of the activities dedicated to preventing and reducing instability in fragile states and regions.

Even with the further development of the integrated approach, it will still be necessary to anticipate the need for military interventions in the future. Wherever genocide, serious human rights violations or other humanitarian emergencies occur, military intervention must, if necessary, still be an option in light of the principle of the ‘responsibility to protect’ (the responsibility to protect the populations of other countries from mass atrocities) and invoking human security.

Support of States in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa

The Netherlands should actively concern itself with the position of countries in the ‘ring of instability’ in Africa and the Middle East that have not (yet) descended into chaos and conflict. Cooperation with these countries, particularly Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia, is required. These countries are struggling under difficult circumstances and are important players in the region.

The Netherlands should review the possibilities of intensifying the cooperation with these countries, both bilaterally and via the cooperation programmes of the eu and nato. In Eastern Europe, where Russia is a major source of instability, various countries are facing similar circumstances, in particular countries that are not members of nato or the eu, but would like to join them. The security and stability of these countries is threatened by the disruptive activities of Russia. Balkan states such Kosovo, Bosnia and Macedonia are also far from stable and there lies an important overlap with the European Neighbourhood Policy that has been developed since 2004.

Promoting the Rule of Law, the Legal Order and Human Rights

Violations of the international legal order, such as Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea, must not go unpunished. Countries must be held accountable for their actions. The same applies with regard to respect for human rights. After all, in every country that is currently experiencing instability, the rights and freedoms of citizens, regardless of their religion or ethnicity, are not adequately protected. Personal security demands a political and civil order that protects everyone’s rights and freedoms, not just those of certain groups. The Netherlands should continue to press as hard as ever to promote the rule of law, the legal order and human rights, in the firm conviction that a stable world order is only possible if the rights and freedoms of citizens are protected worldwide, including those of citizens of fragile states. But those efforts will have to be in proportion to what can actually be accomplished by exerting influence in the geopolitical arena. The question of how values can be conveyed cannot be seen separately from the question of what type of ‘power’ is needed to actually give effect to those values. Promoting the international legal order will therefore remain a main task of the armed forces.

Investing in Global Institutions, Particularly the un

Global institutions such as the un, the World Trade Organisation (wto) and the World Bank are under pressure, partly because of the diminishing interest among emerging countries in participating in institutions in which they do not feel properly represented. This development is also the result of regionalisation, a process in which groups of like-minded countries make agreements among themselves. The Netherlands is rightly concerned about this trend, since the international (legal) order depends on these institutions. They are moreover the primary vehicles for reaching agreement on global issues such as climate change. The Netherlands should continue to lobby forcefully for an international order based on legal rules and agreements and should be willing to reach compromises with countries that demand a greater role. The modernisation of institutions extends beyond a redistribution of influence. Reforms are also necessary.

5.7.3 Significance for the Third Main Task

Because of the growing interconnectedness of internal and external security, the third main task of the armed forces, providing support for civil authorities in upholding the law and providing disaster relief and humanitarian relief, both nationally and internationally, will grow in importance. After all, the armed forces are directly involved in preventing and reducing external threats ensuing from the greater instability in the region around Europe and the greater vulnerability of the Netherlands in globalised international relations. But their role also includes coordinating and supplying part of the coastguard’s capacity and providing unique capabilities in explosive clearance, aerial reconnaissance, firefighting and special assistance. There will be growing demand for these capabilities.

The following areas of attention and ensuing tasks require special attention in relation to this third main task:

Assistance in Controlling the Borders of the Netherlands and Europe

Border control is an important aspect of the armed forces’ role as a permanent security partner of the civil authorities. With the emergence of border security as a new priority, the third main task will only become more explicitly devoted to this aspect. In addition to the operational issues, the support of border security ensuing from defence policy should also be explicitly addressed in the policy on Europe. With border security increasingly justifying European cooperation, defence policy will become an intrinsic component of the thinking about future European cooperation.

Civil-Military Cooperation in Response to Disasters or Calamities

Another important role for the armed forces in support of the civil authorities is to be on call to prevent or mitigate social disruption in the event of natural disasters or human-induced calamities in the context of the Intensifying Civil-Military Cooperation (icms) programme. Some of the necessary military capabilities are provided by specific branches of the armed forces, in particular the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee (which is statutorily responsible for border policing, guarding and securing important objects and individuals and performing international and military policing tasks), and some are regular military capacities, such as F-16 fighter planes. A substantial proportion of the armed forces can be called on for the purposes of the icms.

The changes in Europe’s immediate security environment have major consequences for defence policy and the performance by the armed forces of their tasks. The focus since 1993 on the second main task, maintaining and promoting the international legal order, needs to be recalibrated given the growing demands being made on the armed forces for the country’s own security, both in the context of their defence task and in support of the civil authorities. Furthermore, in relation to the first two main tasks there is a need to take greater account than in the past of a simultaneous, additional call on military capacities in the event of a deteriorating security environment in Eastern Europe or a calamity in the Netherlands that demands an immediate response. The significance for the third main task is that these tasks are not clearly distinguishable in territorial terms but largely overlap, and that national and international are increasingly connected with one another. Examples are growing threats of terrorism as a result of the Netherlands’ interventions in other countries and the continuing instability in the region around Europe. Tensions in the regions often have historical, cultural and economic connections with Europe, European policy and European interventions – or lack of them – so that external security is interconnected with internal security.

Defence policy must therefore be seen explicitly in the context of the strong mutual dependencies between the national, regional and global levels. The main tasks in themselves remain as important as ever, but their significance is changing because they have to be consistently understood in the context of the interconnectedness of internal and external security. The altered significance of the main tasks as outlined in this chapter provides a template for setting substantive priorities in security policy and the ensuing choices with regard to the resources of the armed forces discussed in the next chapter.